Aviation noise

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.

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.

Noise and pollution increase as countries, states reopen

Photo credit: Ion Ceban @ionelceban from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This New York Times article reports that gaseous pollutant emissions are surging as countries and states reopen economic activity.

We have covered several reports about the coronavirus lockdowns causing noise and vibration levels to decrease, but I haven’t yet seen a report about the effect of reopening on noise levels.

I wrote about the eerie nighttime quiet of a curfew beginning at 1 p.m. in the afternoon. A little noise may be reassuring, or at least familiar, but too much noise is a problem.

My own observation is that in the west Los Angeles area, noise levels are definitely increasing. Automobile, truck, and motorcycle exhaust noise can be heard day and night. And there are more airplanes in the sky.

It will be interesting to see what happens with noise levels as the economy reopens more.

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.

Police airplane and helicopter noise disturbs the peace

Photo credit: John Wisniewski licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Police authorities at all levels use aircraft–airplanes and helicopters–to provide surveillance. Flights have been increased during the demonstrations following the killing of George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis. This letter in the Baltimore Sun complains about the noise of surveillance airplanes.

In Los Angeles, the police use helicopters. Helicopter noise is more disturbing for most listeners due to a low frequency component that travels through walls, and a rotatory component to the sound pattern based on the usual clockwise rotation of the rotor.

Whatever the form of aircraft, the sound can disrupt sleep, increase blood pressure, disturb concentration, and interfere with learning. In Figure 3 in a review article by Basner et al., aircraft noise caused an increase in heart attacks beginning at 40-45 A-weighted decibels.*

The letter writer called for the surveillance flights to end. While I don’t know if this is feasible right now, I hope the flights stop soon.

*A-weighting adjusts sound measurements to reflect the frequencies heard in human speech.

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.

Is there a link between noise and crime?

Photo credit: Cameron Casey from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Loud noise may be an indicator of crime–a domestic dispute, a physical altercation, or drug dealing, as discussed by The Quiet Coalition’s Arline Bronzaft, PhD–but a new paper provides startling evidence that noise, in this case aircraft noise, may cause violent crime.

Prof. Timo Hener at Aarhus University in Denmark studied crime under aircraft flight paths in Frankfurt, Germany. Frankfurt’s airport has a unique situation. Aircraft usually land and take off into the wind, to add additional lift. The wind in Frankfurt is usually from one direction, about 75% of the time, but when it shifts, aircraft land and take off in the opposite direction. Prof. Hener studied crime rates in areas under the flight paths. After adjusting for a number of factors, he found that a 1 decibel increase in aircraft noise caused aa 2.6% increase in assaults, usually on males by persons unknown to them.

It would be impossible to order the airport to shift flight paths and then study crime rates below the flight paths when this is done, but the changing wind directions allow an “experiment of nature” where the weather pattern provides the experimental intervention, and all the researcher has to do is collect the data.

The study needs editorial review by experts in the field and confirmation by other studies, but it is a fascinating study about possible additional adverse impacts of noise on human health and behavior.

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.

Noise pollution in Arizona

This photo of an F-16 Fighting Falcon taking off from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona is in the public domain

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This podcast from Arizona Public Media discusses noise pollution in Arizona. The particular issue in the Tucson area is fighter jet noise from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. A-10s are noisy but still quieter than F-16s. Residents are now concerned about the possible stationing of new F-35 jets, which are much louder.

The first half of the podcast is citizens explaining their noise problems in the Tucson area. The second have is an interview with The Quiet Coalition’s Richard Neitzel, PhD, on the faculty of the University of Michigan School of Public Health. Prof. Neitzel is heard at about minute 16 of the podcast, where he discusses the adverse effects of noise on health.

Aircraft noise pollution is well-studied as a health and public health hazard, and is known to cause hypertension and other cardiovascular disease and also interference with learning in schools located beneath flight paths. Do click to listen to the podcast, as it’s well worth your time.

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.

LA-based startup promises a 185-seat electric aircraft “soon”

Photo courtesy of Wright Electric

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

Los Angeles-based startup company, Wright Electric, backed with significant funding from YCombinator, EasyJet and others, has joined the race to build electrically propulsed commercial passenger aircraft. In fact, Wright Electric has been showing it’s concept of a 185-seatshort-range aircraft to investors and conference attendees around the world for several years now.

This demonstrates that there’s significant momentum behind the idea of next generation all-electric aircraft, even in the U.S. where industry leaders Boeing and GE have spurned electrics while their competitors, Airbus and Siemens, are investing in it. This race to develop all-electric aircraft won’t just benefit the environment, it should also result in much quieter aircraft.

So the way forward to quieter airports may depend on accelerated development of alternatives to big, noisy jet aircraft. I’ve already reported on available electric planes, ranging from one- and two-seat training aircraft up to the spectacularly beautiful 11-seat “Alice” from eViation, an Israeli company that has already taken an order from U.S.-based carrier Cape Air and will have aircraft in the skies very soon.

Why not just continue to push FAA–and Boeing and GE–to fix their “NextGen” mess that has made peoples’ lives miserable around major airports? Of course we should, but we should try to encourage technological change, too.

The FAA Re-Authorization Act, which requires more consideration of neighborhoods around airports, took six years to work its way through Congress before it was signed in October 2018. Unfortunately, nothing much has happened even though Donald Trump’s signature is clearly affixed to the bottom of it.

So I say we should also encourage the development of the next generation of quiet, energy-efficient electric aircraft. The sooner they’re in the skies, the happier we’ll all be not only because our skies will be quieter but because those planes won’t be spewing toxic fumes and pollution into the atmosphere.

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.