Aviation noise

Here’s why Amazon won’t be delivering by drone anytime soon

Imagine a fleet of these flying over you. Always.

A NASA study has discovered that people find the buzz of drones more annoying than any other kind of vehicle. Not convinced? Well, this is what a swarm of 103 micro-drones sounds like (Caution: sound level is very loud at first, so lower volume. Drone sound starts at 1:52):

Mind you, those are micro-drones with a wingspan under 12 inches, not drones capable of delivering your new microwave or big box of unnecessary things.

Something that has become increasingly clear is that planners, engineers, regulators, and legislators need to think about noise and its consequences when they consider new ideas like drone delivery. Everything is connected, perhaps even more so as we live closer together, and the freedom of individuals, organizations, or commercial operations to do something must be balanced with the rights of those affected so that their lives are not disrupted by this new activity.

And what happens if we fail to consider the impacts of new technologies on others? Imagine walking down a city street with a loud, never-ending buzz hovering over you, as your fellow city denizens anxiously wait for the delivery of their new shiny thing. Jane Jacobs would spin in her grave. One hopes, at least, that your flying car will be sound insulated.

 

 

Supreme Court on airport noise: “Go away!”

By David Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition (with contributions by Jamie L. Banks, Jeanne Kempthorne and Gina M. Briggs)

The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear the airport noise case brought by the town of East Hampton, Long Island (of The Hamptons in New York).
This is an important case that The Quiet Coalition wrote about back in January and March.  This case is significant as it addresses an important issue of public health, because noise not only causes hearing problems, it also contributes to heart disease and other conditions.

There are 15,000 airports in the USA, 5200 of which have paved runways, and 376 have regularly scheduled flights. That’s a lot of neighborhoods and people exposed to the pollution and noise from take-offs and landings! Perhaps now that the Supreme Court has denied their petition for a writ of certiorari (i.e., seeking review of a lower court decision), the East Hampton group will join the 36 communities in the National Quiet Skies Coalition and press their congressional representatives to join the Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus. The Caucus has already petitioned the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and submitted a bill to Congress. But it’s going to take many more communities joining the battle to win this one.

Many people around the U.S.—on both sides of the airport noise problem—were watching to see what the Supreme Court would do. What the Court did was let the Second Circuit Court decision stand. That decision had invalidated the town’s restrictions on flights to and from the East Hampton Airport—which the town owns–after finding that the town did not have the right to impose the restrictions owing to a 1990 federal law that “limits the town’s authority to impose rules at the airport.”  NOTE: The FAA’s argument relied on federal preemption, and, in particular, the Town’s failure to comply with the procedural requirements of the federal Airport Noise and Capacity Act of 1990. The Second Circuit held that the Act applied even though the Town was had forgone federal funding for the airport.

Many locals were unhappy, with one telling the New York Times:

“The Supreme Court’s decision not to hear the case was ‘indicative of the fact that when it comes to our own airport, we don’t have local control,’ said Barry Raebeck…. ‘It strikes me as decidedly unjust, as un-American. This is what we’re all about, local control. We have federal agencies dictating. I consider the F.A.A. a lobbying group for airport operators. You don’t have any rights unless you’re in an airplane in their minds.’”

Is this the end of the matter? No. But getting a case to the Supreme Court is a long, time-consuming, and expensive process. We congratulate those who have been waging this battle so far and urge them: PLEASE TAKE THE NEXT STEP! We’re reminded of Theodore Roosevelt who said:

“…Credit belongs to the [people] who are actually in the arena…who err and come up short…who spend [themselves] for a worthy cause; who…know the triumph of high achievement, and who, if they fail, fail while daring greatly; [their] place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”

We believe the key to winning the airport noise battle—indeed all battles about noise in America—is to challenge the FAA’s (and its parent, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s) long-held and politically convenient view that noise is “merely annoyance” with no appreciable effects on health or well-being. This is unfounded. In fact, the adverse health effects of noise are strongly supported by decades of authoritative evidence from medical and public health professionals. The use of the term “annoyance” is a shibboleth; that is, a term used to characterize the problem that is fundamentally wrong.

Noise control advocates now need to re-focus their efforts on the public health effects of noise—for which solid scientific evidence exists and continues to grow–and go back to court with new arguments until this battle is won.

David Sykes chairs/co-chairs four national professional groups in acoustical science: The Acoustics Research Council, ANSI S12 WG44, The Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Working Group. He is also a board member of the American Tinnitus Association, co-founder of the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics (LARA) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0 (2012, Springer-Verlag), and a contributor to “Technology for a Quieter America” (2011, National Academy of Engineering). 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.

Tired of jets flying over your neighborhood? Here’s what FAA is (not) doing to help you

By David Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

You may already know about the movement in Congress to address the problem of aircraft noise. A specific congressional caucus, The Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus, was formed to encourage the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to address the problem of aircraft noise around airports, specifically the problems caused by FAA’s “NextGen” program. “NextGen” is a bungled FAA program that has made the noise problem much worse for many communities across the USA–35 communities are already aligned with The Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus.

The noise problem applies to all airports, not just big-city transportation hubs. A recent Sun Sentinel article about NextGen problems in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida is a good piece to read about NextGen because it spells out what the FAA is—and isn’t—doing to “help” affected communities. Bottom line: If you squawk loud enough and long enough, they may agree to replace your windows and doors with “sound-insulating” ones—but how much money you might get depends on the assessed value of your house. But replacing doors and windows doesn’t stop the earth-shaking vibration from big jets, and it certainly doesn’t stop the noise outdoors in your backyard. As long as the FAA and its parent, the Department of Transportation, perpetuate the decades-old myth that noise is “merely annoyance” (i.e., has no appreciable effects on you other than to make you irritable), all you can do it take their money and suffer quietly. Only by changing the discourse and carefully spelling out that noise is a public health hazard will communities have the chance to turn this situation around.

The Quiet Coalition Chair, Daniel Fink, MD, asked me to add this note:

“Rest assured that if you are bothered by aircraft noise, you are not alone! ‘Noise as a Public Health Problem’ was the theme of the 12th Congress of the International Commission on the Biological Effects of Noise (ICBEN) which recently took place in Zurich. I presented two papers there and am now preparing a summary of what I learned. The European Union is well-aware of the adverse health effects of transportation noise (aircraft, rail, and road traffic noise) and is taking steps to minimize its effects. I also presented a paper on the adverse health effects of transportation noise at the Institute for Noise Control Engineering meeting on June 12 in Grand Rapids, Michigan.”

There’s another very hopeful perspective on this problem, although admittedly down the road a few years: the development of quiet (electric) aircraft. Lithium-ion battery-powered airplanes and helicopters have already been developed and flown in Germany and in the U.S. So take heart, quiet electric aircraft could very well be flying by 2027, the 100th anniversary of Charles Lindbergh’s historic transatlantic flight.

David Sykes chairs/co-chairs four national professional groups in acoustical science: The Acoustics Research Council, ANSI S12 WG44, The Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Working Group. He is also a board member of the American Tinnitus Association, co-founder of the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics (LARA) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0 (2012, Springer-Verlag), and a contributor to “Technology for a Quieter America” (2011, National Academy of Engineering). 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.

‘Uber for helicopters’ driving Hamptons residents mad

Mary Hanbury, Business Insider, writes about how “[t]he introduction of new ride-sharing helicopter companies, most notably BLADE,” has made air travel to the Hamptons more convenient for Wall Streeters, but a hellscape for local residents.

Uber for helicopters? It must be inexpensive, yes? Not for the average joe, because unlike Uber, Silicon Valley apparently isn’t subsidizing every Blade ride which “costs as little as $695 for a one-way seat to the Hamptons and takes just 40 minutes to travel from Midtown Manhattan to the end of Long Island.”  Just $695 for a one-way seat? It’s a veritable bargain, and no better way to loudly announce to the world that you’ve arrived. Literally.

The Hamptons braces for noisy aircraft

because self-important people need their helicopters. The AP reports that “for some eastern Long Island residents, the annual arrival of the jet set also brings the thumpety-thump of helicopters and whine of airplane engines.” Why? Well, how else do you signal to the others (i.e., mere millionaires) that you’ve “arrived.” Sadly for those who live nearby, this summer may be worse than it has been. The AP explains:

Last fall, a federal appeals court struck down nighttime curfews and limits on the frequency of “noisy” flights that town officials had imposed on the East Hampton Airport, which serves as a hub for rich beachgoers zipping in from New York City and points beyond.

The court said only the Federal Aviation Administration has authority to regulate flying hours.

The town asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear an appeal, but in the meantime, some fed-up Hamptons’ residents are now saying they want the airport shut down altogether. It’s something Santa Monica, California, decided to do over similar concerns earlier this year.

For those who haven’t been exposed to the sound of a nearby helicopter, the people living in the Hamptons explain why it is so disconcerting. One resident notes that “you can almost feel them coming before you hear them.” And another adds that, “[f]irst you will feel the low-end bass, then the flop-flop noise. You can feel it in your body and it rattles your walls.”

In the end, people all along the flight path will suffer so that a handful of people can commute in style.

Yeah, this will happen

I believe I can fly.   Photo credit: sv1ambo CC by 2.0

In “Uber’s Flying Car Chief On Noise Pollution And The Future Of Sky Taxis.,” Fast Company tells us that Uber has a shiny new thing to distract its billionaire investors from its extraordinary burn rate and man-child CEO.  What is this game changer?  FLYING CARS! No really, they are coming and Uber is on it. Fast Company’s Sean Captain writes that “Uber is taking the technology seriously and this week it takes another step forward with a summit meeting that lays out its vision.”  A vision that surely will make up for all of the bad press Uber has garnered in the last couple of months.

After rolling our eyes at the thought of “an urban flying taxi system” somehow maneuvering through Manhattan without killing anyone, we focused on the claim of Uber’s Flying Car Chief, Mark Moore, that “the slower-spinning electric motors will keep noise to a hum.” “What were (sic) looking at is, in the next several years, being able to bring experimental aircraft into and test them in the relevant environment of the city,” says Moore, who fails to mention that Uber had to stop its self-driving car program in California because they were operating their test vehicles without proper permits.

So back to noise. Captain tells us that “Uber plans to use electric VTOL planes that briefly tilt their wings and propellers up to take off vertically like drones, then tilt them forward to fly forward.” Uber is opting for planes because helicopters are too noisy. Moore assures us that Uber’s planes “will be higher-pitched..blending into the hum of car traffic in cities rather than rumbling on over a longer distance and rattling windows.” Then a discussion follows about the difference between helicopter blades and airplane blades, with Moore asserting that plane propellers are “as much as 32 times quieter.” “That’s where the magic happens,” says Moore.  Hey everyone, Uber’s flying care are going to be quiet because of magic!

Sadly, there are naysayers who counter Moore’s rosy view. Says Brien Seeley, founder of the Sustainable Aviation Foundation, “the sound of a plane or helicopter has to be below 50 decibels, about the volume of a conversation at home, at a distance of 40 meters from its landing area.” Why? Because “[o]therwise either the noise will annoy neighbors or the airport will have to be too big to create a buffer.” Seeley has proposed a competition to develop air taxis “that meet the 50-dB at 40 meters target.”  A competition?  Surely we will have a quiet air taxi in no time! Or maybe not–Seeley describes the development effort as a “Herculean challenge.”

The article then focuses on Uber’s “mini-airports, called vertiports (complete with fast battery charging),” that will be put on top of buildings “to minimize the noise.” And there is a discussion about gridlock. All of this while Uber is effectively out of the self-driving car market because of the California snafu discussed above, and that little matter of Google’s Waymo lawsuit against Uber for allegedly stealing its self-driving technology, which Wired suggests could “kill Uber’s future and send execs to prison.”

We will believe in Uber’s magical noise-free airplane taxis after Uber makes an actual profit.

Update: Noise aside, Popular Mechanics offers “6 Reasons Why Uber’s Flying Taxis Are a Mirage.”

 

 

 

A victory for residents living near NYC’s LaGuardia Airport!

Photo credit: Eric Salard

If it seems like airplane noise has been in the news lately, it’s because it has.  Whether it’s East Hampton residents petitioning the Supreme Court to overturn an appeals court decision on the town’s proposed airport noise regulations, or an opinion piece debunking a study by a conservative think tank that tries to dismiss legitimate complaints about aviation noise due to the Federal Aviation Administration’s program known as NextGen, airplane noise is an issue that simply isn’t going away.  And with the money and power squarely on the side of the FAA and the airlines, it’s exciting to see residents win a round, as neighbors of LaGuardia Airport did this past week.

Donald Wood, Travel Pulse, writes that “officials from Delta Air Lines announced the carrier will no longer be flying one of its loudest aircraft at New York City’s LaGuardia Airport due to complaints from residents around the facility.”  Specifically, Delta is replacing the noisier MD-88 aircraft “with quieter, more fuel-efficient Airbus A320s, Boeing 737s and several MD-90 mainline aircraft.”  Naturally LaGuardia Airport’s neighbors are thrilled.  Wood writes that the old planes “caused some residents in the Queens borough of New York City to deal with noise so loud that it shook their homes on a near constant basis since the Federal Aviation Administration changed flight paths four years ago.”

The Times Ledger reports that U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing), former co-chair and founder of the Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus, weighed in, saying:

Delta’s move will have a positive impact on airplane noise over our borough, and it will make a difference to those who reside near the airport. I look forward to building on this switch to quieter aircraft and working with airline officials to further mitigate airplane noise.

U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) added that:

[Delta’s] move that is not just about improving the quality of the traveling experience but also about improving the quality of life for New Yorkers on the ground. While airplanes can never be truly silent, we can work to make them less disruptive to the families who live nearby and I applaud Delta for taking steps toward that goal.

Here’s hoping Delta and other airlines employ this fix at other airports around the U.S.

 

Noise, the “ignored pollutant.”

“The sonic backdrop to our lives is increasingly one of unwanted technospheric noise,” writes Paul Mobbs for the Ecologist.  Mobbs, an independent environmental researcher and author, explores the sounds of nature and the toll that noise takes “on our health, wellbeing and quality of life.”  He writes about a ritual he has engaged in from since before his teens, where a few times a year he goes for a walk “well before the dawn, in order to listen to the ‘dawn chorus.'” “Over that period,” notes Mobbs, “there’s been one inescapable change in the countryside around my home town of Banbury – noise.”

On his recent walk, Mobbs’ objective was to reach Salt Way, an old Roman salt route fringing the south-western quadrant of Banbury. “Due to its age Salt Way has exceptionally dense, wide and species-rich ancient hedgerows which demarcate it from the surrounding fields,” which Mobbs asserts is “[p]erfect for listening to birds.” Except that morning a slight breeze was wafting the sound of a large motorway that was over 2 1/2 miles away.  Reflecting on this walk, Mobbs examines lost tranquility and noise as a nuisance, and introduces us to ecopsychology as he ponders “the fundamental psychological human dependence upon the natural environment.”  It’s a fascinating piece that really should be read in its entirety.  Click the first link to do that.

 

Will the Supreme Court take on airport noise?

Photo credit: Matthew Grapengieser

East Hampton Petitions U.S. Supreme Court to Hear Airport Noise Case. Beth Young, East End Beacon, reports that East Hampton Town filed a petition for writ of certiorari asking the Supreme Court to overturn an appeals court decision on the town’s proposed airport noise regulations “that would rob East Hampton and thousands of other local airport sponsors of their ability to manage their airport, in the best interests of their residents.”  Young writes that in April 2015 the town adopted two local laws that established year-round curfews–a mandatory nightime curfew and an extended curfew on noisy aircraft–and “also enacted a third law imposing a one-trip-a-week restriction on noisy aircraft.”

The laws were challenged by “a group of aviation advocates.”  The district court upheld the two curfews but “issued a preliminary injunction against the one-trip-per week limit.”  On appeal, the Second Circuit issued a preliminary injunction blocking all three three local laws.  According to Young, “[t]he town maintains it has the right to exert local control over its airport after not taking federal funds for upkeep of the airport for several years.”  Said Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell in a press release Monday afternoon:

We followed the FAA’s advice and elected to forgo federal funding so that we could protect our residents. We engaged in a lengthy public process to identify meaningful but reasonable restrictions, and the District Court agreed that we met that test. But, with the stroke of a pen, the appeals court decision has federalized our airport and stripped us – and the thousands of similarly situated airports – of the ability to exert local control. We cannot let that decision stand.

The town filed its petition on March 6th, and the response is due on April 5th. In the event that the Supreme Court rejects the town’s petition, it will pursue other avenues for relief. Said East Hampton Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez,”[t]he town board is pursuing all avenues for redress – both in the courts and in Congress – and we will continue the fight until we regain local control of East Hampton Airport.”

Imagine flying from New York to London in only three hours–and in silence.

Like this, but quiet.
Photo credit: Dean Morley

Nope, it’s not just the stuff of dreams: NASA tests “quiet” supersonic jet. Rob Waugh, metro.uk.co, writes that NASA is paving the way to supersonic travel with “Quiet Supersonic Technology (QueSST),” which is designed to reach “supersonic speeds over land – without people on the ground hearing a sonic boom.”  According to Peter Iosifidis, QueSST program manager at Lockheed Martin Skunk Works, the “aircraft design is shaped to separate the shocks and expansions associated with supersonic flight, dramatically reducing the aircraft’s loudness.”  He adds that the airplane’s noise signature will be “more of a ‘heartbeat’ instead of the traditional sonic boom.”

This will come as welcome relief to the many people around the U.S. (and the world) who are trying to cope with airport noise.