NASA demonstrates another way to reduce aircraft noise

Photo credit: NASA

David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

I hope you’ve read the new post by our chairman, Dr. Daniel Fink, about the “denialist playbook.” It has been actively used for decades to sideline and undermine all efforts to address aircraft/airport noise. In fact aircraft/airport noise is a textbook case of well-organized and well-funded “denialism” in action.

What’s particularly astonishing is that answers already exist—they’re just not being implemented by aircraft manufacturers or by airlines. Nor are the FAA and the UN agency ICAO (the International Commercial Aviation Organization, based in Montreal) encouraging their adoption. For instance, the EU manufacturer Airbus already produces aircraft that are substantially quieter. The A380 and the A320neo, with it’s American-produced engines from Pratt & Whitney, are reportedly 75% quieter. How many of those planes are in the fleets of U.S. airlines? Why not a higher percentage?

We’ve also reported on work by NASA to quiet helicopters and launch electrically-powered aircraft. Now here’s another example of significant progress, in this case progress on reducing noise from the airframe itself. Wouldn’t a 30% reduction in airframe noise be a good idea?

In fact, there’s no lack of “good ideas”—the problem is that the air travel industry, including manufacturers, airlines, and local airport agencies, refuse to acknowledge that noise is actually a health hazard for people living near airports. In fact, the “denialist” argument is that aircraft noise is merely local “annoyance,” but there’s plenty of credible medical and public health evidence that health effects are real, serious, and wide-spread.

The Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus recently submitted a request to the Chair and Ranking Member of the House Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development requesting funds to evaluate the health effects of airport and helicopter noise—though many would argue that the existing evidence is already sufficient to prove the case.

We support the work of the Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus, but respectfully submit that there’s little need for more evidence to prove this point, so if this request fails, there’s no need to wait and write another one.

What’s needed is for more members of Congress (in addition the the 36 who are already members of the Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus) to wake up and realize that the Department of Transportation, of which the FAA is a part, has been playing the “denialism” game for far too long, that the agency is a victim of what economists call “regulatory capture.”

Let’s stop arguing with the denialists because the science is clear. Let’s instead start demanding that aircraft manufacturers and airlines simply adopt the technologies and solutions that are already available. Doesn’t that sound like progress we can all live with?

In addition to serving as vice chair of the The Quiet Coalition, David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: The Acoustics Research Council, American National Standards Institute Committee S12, Workgroup 44, The Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Working Group—a partner of the American Hospital Association. He is the lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0 (2012, Springer-Verlag), a contributor to the National Academy of Engineering report “Technology for a Quieter America,” and to the US-GSA guidance “Sound Matters”, and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics (LARA) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He recently retired from the board of directors of the American Tinnitus Association. A graduate of the University of California/Berkeley with graduate degrees from Cornell University, he is a frequent organizer of and speaker at professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

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