Aviation noise

Help for those bothered by airplane noise

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article in the Los Angeles Times describes a new tool, the Airnoise button, developed to help people report airplane noise. Airplane noise has always been a problem, but airplane noise has been exacerbated by the Federal Aviation Administration’s NextGen program, which uses satellite navigation to guide airplanes on more precise approach paths to their destinations. NextGen increases fuel efficiency and allows closer spacing of planes, but it also concentrates airplane noise over smaller areas. The complaints about the NextGen noise problem has been covered in these pages and in many newspaper reports from around the country.

Due to a phenomenon called “regulatory capture,” the FAA appears more concerned about the profits of the airplane manufacturers, airline companies, and airports than about the health and well-being of the Americans under the flight paths. And the FAA believes airplane noise is “just a nuisance,” even though it has been shown to be a risk factor for hypertension, heart attack, stroke, and death.

One of the things government officials say when confronted about a problem is that “nobody ever complained.” But people are complaining about airplane noise, so the FAA’s response, as noted in the Los Angeles Times article, has been to attribute a large number of complaints to a handful of people. And the FAA might have a point, but the agency fails to acknowledge that their cumbersome procedures make it difficult for people to complain. After all, most people have more important things to do in their busy lives than to hunt down the right online form and file a complaint every time a plane flies over their house.

But the FAA may have to come up with a different excuse soon, as Airnoise makes it simple and easy to file airplane noise complaints–just one simple click of the Airnoise proprietary button, or a click on the Airnoise smartphone app, and your complaint is on its way.

I hope all affected by aircraft noise will use Airnoise to file complaints, so that the FAA and congressional committees that govern and fund them can no longer pretend that only a handful of people are concerned about aviation noise.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

Sure, 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.”

 

Fast food delivery by drones is going to be so awesome

Photo credit: www.routexl.com licensed under CC BY 2.0

Except when it isn’t. No surprise, food delivery drones in Australia driving people mad. The problem, of course, is the high-pitched buzzing sound the drones make as they scurry around. Feilidh Dwye, WeTalkUAV.com, writes that one woman said “she would take her kids away from the house several hours a week, just to escape the noise. ‘With the windows closed, even with double glazing, you can hear the drones,'” she added.

So imagine fleets of drones large enough to deliver a couple of pizzas and a six-pack of beer and think about how horrific the constant high-pitched buzzing will be. Just because some Silicon Valley sociopath has figured out another way to make a billion providing a “service” no one needs, doesn’t mean we have to accept it. The days of moving fast and breaking things is over.

London’s Heathrow boosts quiet electric aircraft

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Insiders say the next big wave of disruptive innovation in commercial aircraft will be quiet, electric engines. In fact, Airbus says they can deliver by the early 2020s. And London’s Heathrow airport has added it’s own $1 million prize to accelerate the race, offering free landing charges for a year to UK’s first electric plane.

Can we get some of those quiet jets in the U.S. too, please? But hurry up, because global air traffic is expected to double in the next 15 years. So if you think it’s noisy out there now, imagine the din with twice as many flights overhead. Clearly something needs to happen quick.

In fact, electrically-powered aircraft are already here (we’ve written about this here). So the experts are serious and aircraft manufacturers, airlines, and regulatory authorities acknowledge that this really will be a major disruption. There are currently between 15 and 100 projects (depending on what you’re counting) underway worldwide on the development of commercial scale electrically-powered airplanes.

So with America’s aerospace leaders (e.g., Boeing and GE) dragging their feet on this, it looks like we’re handing Airbus and others a big win.

Perhaps some of America’s biggest airports should look closely at Heathrow and think about getting into this prize game too. Something needs to be done to wake up America’s air transportation industry that BOTH noise and fuel efficiency matter to their customers and their neighbors. If they don’t change soon foreign suppliers like Airbus will walk away with the business.

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.

No one told you drone delivery would be so damn loud

Photo credit: Sam Churchill licensed under CC BY 2.0

But some Australians know firsthand that living next to a drone delivery test site is pure hell. According to Lachlan Roberts, The Riot Act!, residents living near a delivery drone testing site claimed they “were disturbed by the noise and said it was ruining their quality of life.” Said one put upon neighbor, “[t]he drones are unbelievably noisy and they have a really, really loud, high-pitched whining sound.” The situation was particularly galling, the residents point out, because they believe there is no compelling reason for this “service.”

It’s not surprising that the drone operation is attracting complaints. Just last year a NASA study found that “people find the buzzing sound that drones make to be notably more annoying than that of cars or trucks, even when they’re at the same volume.”

The aggrieved residents would likely agree. One of them noted that he had 35 drones fly over his house in one day, adding his concern that there would be many more flights after the trial period ended.

Silicon Valley (or the start-up culture, more generally) rush to impose delivery drones and flying cars and the other shiny objects du jour on the world with the promise of awesome new technology and absolutely no concern about the costs that will be borne by the society at large.

Before imposing the endless whine of delivery drones on the masses, the promoters should be required to answer one question: what compelling need does this technology serve? Because the need should be compelling when a new service or product is launched that will expose the public to unwanted and harmful noise.

Update: FAA reauthorization includes noise provisions

Photo credit: Manfred Irmer from Pexels

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

In an earlier version of this post, I wrote that the recent FAA reauthorization did not mention aviation noise. That was incorrect. The NPR report that I had read and linked did not mention noise, but, as one of the commenters below has noted, Subtitle D of the reauthorization, entitled “Airport Noise and Environmental Streamlining,” contains many community noise provisions.

I agree with the commenters who say that the reauthorization was not a complete failure, and I applaud the efforts of the local Quiet Skies Coalition groups for remaining steadfast in keeping the pressure on the FAA and politicians to address aviation noise.  But it’s also clear that the FAA’s regulation of airplane noise is frustrating to those who live under the NextGen flight paths, and the FAA reauthorization’s noise provisions, while a step in the right direction, has citizen activists wanting much more. Indeed, as the comments below suggest, reaction to the reauthorization’s noise provisions range from “the language was sloppy, divisive, and minimally addressed our needs” to “this bill was a disgraceful sham, indignity and injustice to the American public!”

But for the millions of Americans subjected to airport noise, H.R. 302 is a really big deal because this is the first time in nearly 40 years that Congress has required the FAA to address the airport noise problem.

As this summary shows, Subtitle D (page 3) includes most of what the 36-member Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus and it’s national constituent assembly, consisting of 36 regional advocacy groups known as the National Quiet Skies Coalition, called for in their 2015 demand letter (pdf), and their 2017 national petition.

But they didn’t get everything they asked for, so is the glass half full or half empty?

Frankly, we’re amazed that after nearly 40 years of being ignored this subject got out of the transportation committee, was voted through, sent to the president’s desk, and was signed into law—with no fanfare at all.

We’ll learn soon enough whether anti-noise activists have something to cheer about or not. But in the meantime, what H.R. 302 demonstrates is that it takes a LOT of time, organization and attention to (political) detail to make things happen in Washington DC. But when enough citizens and their representatives put their heads together and commit to changing the status quo, they can, even in times like the tumultuous ones we’re living through, make things happen. Maybe the lesson is: keep your head down, and your voice low, and maybe you’ll get somewhere.

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.

Airplane noise is an increasing problem in San Francisco

Photo credit: Jim Trodel licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article discusses the problem of airplane noise from San Francisco International Airport (airport code SFO). One of the people affected was Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA), who lives near the airport. She was at home, rather than in Washington, because she was recovering from surgery.

As others have found, when they are at home all day rather than in the office, environmental noise pollution really is a problem. Often it’s gas-powered leaf blowers, but this time it’s airplane noise.

Airplane noise isn’t just an annoyance. Aircraft noise causes heart disease, strokes, and death.

Maybe the fact that an elected official is herself affected by airplane noise will lead to some federal action to help solve this problem.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

Aircraft noise kills

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This report about a Columbia University study estimates how many New York City residents under the flight paths near La Guardia Airport will suffer adverse health outcomes, including shorter lives.

Noise isn’t just a nuisance. Transportation noise has been extensively studied in Europe. There can be no rational doubt about its adverse health effects, as recently summarized by Munzel et al.

This problem is recognized by European authorities, who have mandated that airports and airlines take steps to minimize noise exposure for those living near airports and under flight paths.

The FAA and CDC haven’t recognized the problem on this side of the Atlantic Ocean, but if enough people speak up and demand that their elected representatives act, things can change.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

London’s Heathrow ranks airlines by noise ratings

Photo credit: Paul Hudson licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Many of us frequent flyers use Heathrow (airport code LHR) as an entry point to Europe, especially those of us from the west coast.

In 2017, LHR ranked was the seventh busiest airport in the world, with 78 million passengers passing through it.

LHR just released noise rankings for the airlines using its space. There are a number of rankings–noise per passenger seat and noise ratings by airplanes flown are two–but what is probably the most important noise rating, number of noisy flights per airline or average noise rating per flight for each airline, is missing.

Maybe an American airport or the Federal Aviation Administration can lead the way on these measurements in the U.S.?

Just a thought!

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’s Health Advisory Council, and is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America.

NY representatives win funding to combat aircraft noise

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

In my recent paper, “Impact of Noise on Health: The Divide Between Policy and Science,” I stressed that research on the adverse impacts of noise on health is plentiful but not enough was being done, especially in the U.S., to lessen noise. Many years earlier, the Environmental Protection Agency agreed the data linking noise to health were strong. In a booklet it published in August 1978, “Noise: A Health Problem,” it said “[i]t is finally clear that noise is a significant hazard to health.”

With respect to lessening noise, Russell Train, the then EPA Administrator, stated at a 1976 Inter-Noise Conference that with respect to lessening aircraft noise, which adversely affects millions of residents, “We really know what needs to be done. We have simply lacked the will to do it. Let’s get on with the job.”

Now fast forward to 2018 and you can readily understand the frustration and pain of the many U.S. groups fighting aircraft noise knowing the data supporting the harmful effects of aircraft noise are strong but the “will” to remedy the situation is still lacking. One of the reasons that the Federal Aviation Administration has lagged behind in remedying the noise problem is that the agency insists on using outdated methods to measure noise. The agency claims that the Day-Night Average Sound level of 65 dBA is the level at which sound becomes intrusive, but this metric has long been viewed as too high. Additionally, averages do not speak to the singular disturbing overhead jet sounds that come in at 6 a.m. or late at night, and the agency relies on modeling and simulations to determine impacts rather than actual measurements.

Community groups have informed themselves about the dangers of aircraft noise and have learned about the changes the FAA must make to more accurately measure noise levels, which in turn can lead to better methods to abate noise. These groups have shared this information to legislators with whom they have formed partnerships to design legislation that can better address aircraft noise pollution. A number of New York legislators, including representatives Joe Crowley, Grace Meng, Greg Meeks, Hakeem Jeffries, and Kathleen Rice, formed a coalition known as the New York Quiet Skies Caucus. One of the members, Congressman Joe Crowley, wanting data to strengthen his request for improved methods to measure noise levels, secured a federal grant to conduct a study yielding such data. I was one of the authors of that study, which is discussed in “Airport-Related Air Pollution and Noise.”

Thus, it is with some satisfaction that I can now share the following press release from Rep. Grace Meng announcing that the New York Quiet Skies Caucus has “secured a provision in the newly enacted omnibus appropriations bill which directs the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to examine new methods of measuring aircraft noise in order to reduce the impact of excessive airplane noise over their districts.”

I wish to thank our members of congress for their hard work in getting this legislation passed and join them in their hope that this first step will lead to quieter skies.

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.