Pandemic delivers relief from aircraft noise to Minneapolis-St. Paul

by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, and Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition

As a researcher, I am well aware of how important it is to conduct studies in natural settings, not just in laboratories. A recent article by Janet Moore, Star Tribune, addresses how the COVID-19 pandemic created a natural setting observation where human reactions to aircraft noise before the onset of the pandemic could be compared with their reactions during the outbreak and then after things got back to “somewhat normal.”

Complaints related to noisy aircraft landings and departures at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport have been a constant reminder of how disturbing aircraft noise has been to the adjacent communities. This Airport has had “an uneasy, and sometimes, litigious relationship with its neighbors” for many years. In response, the Metropolitan Airports Commission (which owns and operates the Airport) has spent “nearly a half-billion dollars for building improvements for about 15,000 houses, apartments and schools to mitigate the noise.” Yet, noise complaints continued to be filed against the airport.

Then came the pandemic. The noise complaints fell considerably. With so many fewer planes, there was much less noise. People living near the airport were able to enjoy their backyard barbecues and breezes through open windows during the nighttime. One resident said, “I thought I’d die and had gone to heaven, it was so lovely.” Then the planes started coming back and this same resident noticed that the flights over the past month “are right back where they were” before the pandemic. Yes, noise complaints have gone up as well, according to the data collected.

With the airlines claiming that it is still too soon to say that passenger volume has returned to pre-pandemic levels, the noise levels at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport may still be lower than they were. Yet, there has been an increase in UPS and FedEx flights which could add to noise complaints. And more people are working from home, which could lead to increased noise complaints with people hearing daytime flights over their heads. It has also been conjectured that residents having experienced the quiet without the aircraft noise may be even more upset with the return of the noise and file even more complaints.

As I stated at the beginning of this writing, the pandemic has opened up the opportunity to study people’s reactions to an environment with less and more intrusive noise. More flights—more complaints; fewer flights—less complaints. Noise does intrude on the lives of people!

Dr. Arline Bronzaft is a researcher, writer, and consultant on the adverse effects of noise on mental and physical health. She is co-author of “Why Noise Matters,” author of “Listen to the Raindrops” (children’s book illustrated by Steven Parton), and has written extensively about noise in books, encyclopedias, academic journals, and the popular press.  In addition, she is a Professor Emerita of the City University of New York and Board member of GrowNYC.

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