Aviation noise

Buttigieg replaces Chao at DOT–time to make a move

Photo credit: AgnosticPreachersKid licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

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

The U.S. Department of Transportation—the major nexus of the noise problem in the U.S.—has been led by Mitch McConnell’s wife, Elaine Lan Chao, during the Trump administration. Unsurprisingly, she has not addressed the hubris, intransigence, and industry influence that have prevented that agency from addressing noise as a well established and harmful environmental pollutant.

Now comes President-elect Biden’s nominee for Secretary of Transportation, former McKinsey consultant and mayor of South Bend Indiana, Pete Buttigieg. As he steps into Chao’s shoes in Biden’s cabinet, he’ll be the person on whom attention will need to focus. Does he understand noise as a public health and planetary problem? Is he willing to support policies for a quieter America? David Welprin, a New York assemblyman, sure thinks so. What will he need to act? And how can Quiet Communities and other like-minded organizations help him?

Pete Buttigieg is clear-headed about environmental issues and what needs to be done. One thing we can hope is that he’ll listen to the 50+ members of the Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus and the 50+ regional groups that comprise the Quiet Skies Coalition. While those groups focus strictly on airport and aircraft noise, Secretary Buttigieg will have the Federal Aviation Administration, the Federal Railway Administration, the Federal Highway Administration, and others, reporting directly to him.

Organized efforts are needed to get the message to the new Secretary that noise is a public health problem and an environmental health problem. It’s a “canary in the coal mine” when it comes to air and water pollution, and another powerful reason to address those problems. When COVID-19 hit, a window opened on the possibility of a cleaner, quieter world. Look at how the skies gleamed bright blue when travel shut down. Look at how marine mammals’ health improved when ocean drilling and shipping halted–all that air and water pollution came from the industries that the DOT oversees. Secretary Buttigieg must be convinced to make those improvements permanent!

How can we help to influence him? We can start by identifying noise as a bellwether–a canary in the coal mine. Listening for noise in the environment works, because we can’t see most air and water pollution. As a result we often ignore it. But most of us hear the noise. So we all have a role to play.

Just by listening and reporting, we can all contribute to reducing the pollution that’s choking us and harming our children.

Now is our chance—the first time in four decades to reverse president Ronald Reagan’s 1981 actions that de-prioritized noise as a public health issue. After 40 years, we’ve reached a tipping point–it’s time to act!

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Military jets are damaging the quietest region in the U.S.

Photo credit: AvgeekJoe licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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

The Olympic National Park in Washington State is a UNESCO World Heritage site and it welcomes more than three million visitors a year to enjoy what Gordon Hempton has identified as “One Square Inch of Silence.” Today this “quietest place in US” is being overwhelmed with military aircraft noise according to a study published by Lauren Kuehne and Julian Olden. Diane Urbani de la Paz, Peninsula Daily News, reports that Kuehne and Olden monitored military flights over three sites in the park which included the “most quiet rainforest and region in the U.S.” and found that at times the sound levels “registered at 80 decibels or more.” Olden believes that this deafening noise will adversely affect the wildlife of the park and deter people from visiting this park.

Concerned that the quiet soundscape of the Olympic Peninsula is being overwhelmed by noise, Kuehne informed me that she shared the data of her study with the Navy, hoping that the Navy would consider moving its aircraft training away from the Olympic Peninsula and to a region that would not adversely affect people or quiet parks with overhead aircraft noise. I responded that studies such as hers will put greater pressure on the military and the airline industry in general to explore ways to lessen the impacts of aircraft noise.

Kuehne also told me that she is working with Gordon Hempton, co-founder of Quiet Parks International, an organization dedicated to preserving quiet which, of course, includes protecting our national parks. I, too, am part of Hempton’s organization, serving as an advisor, and urge readers to advocate for the protection of our beautiful, quiet national parks.

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.

NYC contemplating property assessment via drone

Photo credit: Pok Rie from Pexels

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

With New Yorkers constantly complaining about aircraft and helicopter noise intrusions on their lives, one would like to know whether New York City’s proposal to use drones to assist with property assessment will rachet up the noise level. A quick internet search reveals articles on drones whose buzzing is disturbing as well as to articles on the design of quieter drones. Coupled with the concern about the noise drones make are questions about the safety of flying drones in the city of New York.

Peter Senzamici, The City, writes that Councilmember Paul Vallone has been in the forefront of a recently passed City Council bill on drones “calling for a study of their use in façade inspections.” In addition, Councilmember Vallone is asking for a task force to study the regulation of drones. The task force will also be looking at other ways in which the city can use drones. Thus, you can understand why city assessors fear that drones may be used to assess the value of properties and argue that “you need an actual human eye to look at each property.”

As a researcher on the impacts of noise on health and well-being, I would like to know whether the task force will have a member who can ask questions about the potential impacts of drone sounds on the city’s inhabitants, including pets and wildlife. With other cities using drones for inspections and safety for years, as the article indicates, we could ask these cities if they have collected data on noise impacts. If my knowledge on noise can be of help to the task force, I gladly offer my assistance. For now, I am concerned about potentially adding more noise to our city.

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.

Orlando announces first vertiport for air taxis

Photo credit: Lilium

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

Here they come, ready or not: Get used to the words “vertiport” and “air taxi,” because it’s happening faster than many thought. The FAA Re-Authorization Act, signed into law in October 2018 included five provisos we welcomed that address the airport and aircraft noise issue. But the same Act also approved what aircraft futurists wanted: accelerated development of both drone deliveries–backed by Amazon and Google–and what we used to call “AirUber,” i.e., mostly electrically-powered, small, vertical-takeoff air taxis known technically as  electric vertical take off and landing vehicles, or eVOTLs. In the end, aircraft may get quieter, but there are going to be lot more of them buzzing around.

Andrew J. Hawkins, writing in The Verge, describes a deal between the Orlando city council and the richly funded German start-up company Lilium, which has launched and begun testing its 5-passenger eVOTL. Clearly, there’s a long way to go, and as Hawkins points out there are at least 100 companies actively competing in this exciting new eVOTL space. But the vast majority of these companies are in Europe and China, not the U.S. Why? Because the FAA has been busy protecting Boeing’s back and preventing development of these next-gen aircraft here.

No Matter. Let the Europeans and Chinese get a head start building quiet, electric or hydrogen aircraft. The greatest driver of innovation in the U.S. has always been outside competition—other people beating us at the innovation game. The first computers were built and used in the UK. The first airplanes and rockets were used in warfare by Germany. The first satellite was launched by Russia. So if the world is going to get quiet, non-petro-fueled next-gen aircraft, others will get there first. It’s an old story. But this time, we need Congress and a well-organized, national constituency to stand up and demand that drone makers and eVOTL companies like Lilium explicitly address the noise problem. Otherwise, we may hear them flying over our houses and backyards. We need a say in the process before they land on these shores. That’s what the National Quiet Skies Coalition and the 50 members of the Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus are supposed to be doing.

We need to push them. Now. Get ready.

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Good news about helicopter overflights? Stayed tuned.

Photo credit: Prayitno  licensed under CC BY 2.0

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

On August 31, the Federal Aviation Administration finally complied with Congress’s now-20-year-old “National Parks Air Tour Management Act of 2000” that requires the FAA to actively reduce and manage helicopter traffic over national parks and monuments. That’s right–it’s taken 20 years. Will anything change now? That remains to be seen, but the decades-long battle with the FAA to constrain noisy and dangerous helicopter sight-seeing flights seems to stumble from one tragic accident to the next. So it may continue until either (1) somebody invents a truly quiet and safe helicopter, or (2) communities–and smaller federal agencies like the National Park Service–finally gain local control over their airspace, or (3) the head of the FAA, who happens to be Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s wife, Elaine Chao, leaves after the upcoming election, and the incoming president appoints somebody who will listen to the public’s concerns about noise and safety.

Please note that there’s already a proposed new Congressional Act on the table in DC called “The Safe and Quiet Skies Act of 2019.” It was offered by Hawaii Congressman Ed Case, who says that “[t]here’s a groundswell of opposition to these [helicopter overflight] tours….[but] the FAA has shown no interest in regulating this industry.”

Case himself keeps his eye on Flight Radar24 to stay on top of the problems encountered by his constituents back home in Hawaii. He also sits on DC’s growing, 48-member Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus. Since the 2016 election of Donald Trump, this caucus has grown significantly—enough to twist arms and win noise-control concessions during the struggle over the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018.

The point is that there’s now an organized and growing group of members of Congress who are paying attention to the aircraft noise issue, and they’ve shown they can get something done. Now let’s hope they’ll grow again in the election this November and flex some muscle over the next Congress beginning in 2021.

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

San Francisco Airport adopts “Quiet Airport” plan

Photo credit: Thomas Hawk licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

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

For many years I have written about the harmful effects of noise, including aircraft noise, on health and well-being. The data linking overhead aircraft noise on residents to an increased risk for cardiovascular disorders, loss of needed sleep, and a diminished quality of life are indeed strong. Yet, individuals still have to cope with those planes flying over their heads, although the pandemic has brought many residents some relief. Thus, it was with great pleasure that I read this article by Lilit Marcus about the San Francisco International Airport turrning off its loudspeaker.

San Francisco International Airport has decided to lessen noise within its airport in a plan it calls “quiet airport.” The airport plans to lessen the decibel level by eliminating unnecessary announcements and by changes to its escalators and moving walkways. The plan to reduce noise is in line with the airport’s efforts to ban single-use plastic water bottles. Thus, it appears that the airport is acknowledging the need for a less polluting, healthier environment.

I would like to know if this airport will go beyond its quiet airport plans to also promote quieter aircraft and less noise-intrusive flight paths. Will San Francisco International Airport urge other U.S. airports to promote its quiet airport plans as well as discuss how airports can work together toward reducing the impact of aircraft noise on neighborhoods? Will the San Francisco International Airport join the Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus in urging the Federal Aviation Administration to introduce policies to lessen aircraft noise?

The quieter airport concept should be applauded but it should be seen as only the first step toward a less noisy aviation system.

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.

Noisy and dangerous helicopters assault NYC skies

This photo is in the public domain

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

Transportation noise has been recognized as a hazard to health and well-being. This includes noise from aircraft, including helicopters, as well as from nearby roads and rail. We, indeed, have the research that underscores the adverse impact of helicopter noise, as discussed in Julia Vitullo-Martin’s article in the Gotham Gazette, on residents who have to deal with “[t]he incessant low-flying air traffic tormenting parks and neighborhoods.”

While tourists view helicopter flights over New York City as fun and providing the opportunity to take some wonderful photographs, the people who live in areas over which the helicopters fly judge one of the frequent sightseeing companies, FlyNYON, as not only loud but dangerous. Vitullo-Martine writes that the company is known for “evading federal safety regulations by classifying its doors-off tours as photographic in purpose rather than for tourists.” With modern technology now allowing individuals to track helicopter flights, whether commuter or sightseeing, Vitullo-Martin reports that citizens have the data to establish that rules of flying are not always observed.

New Jersey residents, Vitullo-Martin notes, also complain about the intrusive helicopters, but the two states have not yet worked toward coming up with a solution to the noise problem.

One answer to resolve the issue of dangerous, noisy helicopters is through appropriate legislation at the city, state, and federal levels. Several New York City congresspeople have co-sponsored the Improving Helicopter Safety Act of 2019, which would “prohibit non-essential helicopters from flying in covered airspace of any city” with a very large population and a huge population density. This would definitely include New York City. But nothing is happening in Congress regarding this bill.

In New York City, legislation was introduced in July “to amend New York City’s administrative code to reduce noise by chartered helicopters.” I checked with one of the sponsors of the proposed bill and was told it was put on hold, largely due to all the attention being paid to the COVID-19 pandemic at this time.

Until any level of government is willing to act, New Yorkers will have to continue to live with the noisy and dangerous helicopters flying above their heads.

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.

Quieter, cleaner future is Airbus’ newly-announced goal

Image courtesy of Airbus

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

One hundred and twenty years ago, two Ohio bicycle makers, the Wright Brothers, founded the aircraft industry by developing the world’s first motorized airplane. Now the technology leadership of that industry is lifting off for the EU, where the multi-national EADS (Airbus) is headquartered. On September 21st, Airbus announced a major, strategic initiative called “InNOVAtion” that lassos all of the technology advances in physics, materials science, and electrically powered flight and ties them to the global demand for aircraft that can be significantly cleaner, environmentally sustainable, and quieter.

This is a very big deal as anyone in the aircraft industry will attest–2020 marks an early stage of what is already understood to be a significant and necessary transformation of this huge, and very rich, industry which has been America’s leading, federally-supported export since WWII.

But this is not the first time the Wright brothers’ invention has been taken over by outsiders. When America’s power brokers turned up their noses at the two under-educated Ohio bicycle-builders fledgling innovation, Germany enthusiastically encouraged the Wrights, and by WWII Germany was far ahead in both internal combustion-fueled and rocket-fueled flight. Germany’s dominance in the early stages of WWII provoked the U.S.’s competitive drive to re-capture the industry, something that was only accomplished with the help of thousands of German scientists who emigrated here after WWII.

Why aren’t Boeing and it’s engine partner GE—those once unbeatable, rich and globally domineering hegemons—taking the lead in the current re-invention of this extraordinarily successful, American industry? That’s a long story but it includes their cozy, undemanding relationship with the FAA and their short-term, Wall Street-driven focus on shareholder return instead of innovation.

Here at Quiet Communities, Inc. and The Quiet Coalition, we’ve focused for nearly a decade on a method we call “Push-Pull.” Push-Pull achieves change by focusing on both pushing government and communities to envision quieter, cleaner futures, and pulling companies and communities to accelerate development of technologies and methods that deliver the products and solutions we all need for healthier lives and an environmentally sustainable world.

So we’re thrilled to see Airbus embracing it’s leadership role and leading the way. Maybe their initiative will wake up and push the FAA, Boeing, GE, the Department of Defense, and Congress so that they understand that cozy, undemanding relationships backed by gigantic government subsidies are a recipe for losing a vital industry, not for growing it.

Our colleague Arline Bronzaft sent me this wonderful quote: “It’s time for all to come together and to come to grips with the problem of aviation noise, and to build, at long last, an air transportation system that is safe, healthy and quieter.” Arline was being ironic–the statement was delivered at a conference 44 years ago, on April 5, 1976, by EPA leader Russell Train.

Maybe the new competition from Airbus will change some entrenched minds in Washington and Seattle so that Russell Train’s statement will take on a second life.

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Innovative design key to quieter aircraft

Photo credit: Courtesy of Otto Aviation

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

This article from CNN covers one of the odder looking innovations in aircraft design, the Celera by the California-based company Otto Aviation. It looks more like a gas-filled dirigible than a fixed-wing aircraft. But what it really demonstrates is how much room there is for improvements in aircraft design. Otto Aviation has focused on reducing power requirements–which also reduces noise levels–by optimizing “laminar flow.”

Their Celera 500L bullet plane results in a much lighter aircraft with much higher fuel efficiency and a much smaller engine. Marvelous! Doubtless, they’ve also taken great care to reduce the plane’s weight by using innovative materials.

The author of the CNN piece calls 2020 “the strangest year in aviation history” because of all the turmoil. Namely, Boeing’s grounded and deadly 737MAX, the COVID-19 pandemic, the emergence of commercially-available, electrically-powered aircraft, and the growing concern about the astonishing impact of air travel on the environment. And certainly some of the emerging aircraft we’re seeing are strange looking indeed. But as economist Paul Romer said, “a crisis is a terrible thing to waste.” So maybe we’ll look back on this period as one of remarkable innovation that is hopefully leading to a quieter and more environmentally-sustainable future.

But please note that these innovative designs are coming not from Boeing and it’s engine-partner GE. Both of those behemoths are looking a lot like dying dinosaurs right now. The innovations are coming from well-funded startups, Celera being one of a few in the U.S. Most of the innovators appear to be in the EU, where both environmental and noise issues are taken seriously and where industry leaders like Airbus and Siemens are solidly behind the next wave of innovation.

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Grant given to airport to lessen aircraft noise on nearby homes

Photo credit: Cliff licensed under CC BY 2.0

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

I was especially pleased to learn that the Piedmont Triad Airport Authority received a $1.9 million grant from the Department of Transportation to continue its program to lessen the impact of aircraft noise on the homes near the airport. The program to reduce noise impacts at residences was initiated eleven years ago when the FedEx cargo hub joined the airport.

In 2001, I was asked by the law firm representing residents concerned about the negative impacts from the development of the FedEx cargo hub to comment on the Federal Aviation Administration’s Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed runway associated with this hub. My comments explained that the EIS was seriously deficient in that it had minimal analyses of noise impacts on adults and children. Essentially, noise was defined as “an annoyance and a nuisance,” but there already was a growing body of literature that concluded that noise was a hazardous pollutant. The report also merely stated that noise “can disrupt classroom activities in schools,” even though studies had been published showing that noise can impede children’s learning. Finally, sleep was noted as being disrupted by noise when it was already known that loss of sleep may have serious consequences on the individual’s health and well-being.

I had concluded in my analysis of the environmental impact statement that the growing body of literature on the adverse effects of noise on mental and physical health was largely ignored and the authors of the statement relied on outdated studies and research in preparing the report.

I submitted my report and the hub opened years later in 2009. I now learned that noise mitigation accompanied the opening of the hub and the airport continued to work towards limiting impacts of aircraft noise on individuals living near the airport. I hope my statement in 2001 played a role in the Airport Authority’s recognition that airport-related noise does indeed have deleterious effects on mental and physical health.

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.