Aviation noise

Why the FAA Reauthorization Act has not fixed airport noise

Burbank, California is a case in point that the FAA Reauthorization Act, signed by Trump in October 2018, hasn’t solved the airport noise problem.

Photo credit: Elizabeth K. Joseph licensed under CC BY 2.0

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

Five years ago, 36 members of Congress, together with 36 community groups across the U.S., organized the Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus and the National Quiet Skies Coalition to focus Congress on the Federal Aviation Administration’s flawed launch of NextGen, a program that has plagued communities with excessive noise and pollution—including Burbank, California.

This was a consequence of the Senate’s impatience about the stalled launch of NextGen. The transportation committee demanded to know why this program was stalled. The FAA complained that they were “slowed down by the requirement that we do neighborhood environmental impact studies.” To accelerate this program, Congress said STOP doing the studies; don’t collect complaints.

Burbank is one example of dozens of communities across the U.S. whose residents endure the aftermath. Other American cities affected include Washington DC, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Phoenix, San Francisco and many others. Most are represented on the Caucus.

NextGen was a good idea. Simply put, it aims to direct flights via satellite navigation, so air traffic will be more efficient and more airplanes will be able to use the same airspace, increasing safety, capacity and fuel efficiency. But Congress gave the FAA permission to ignore neighborhoods beneath the new, more tightly-controlled flight paths. Their lives have been seriously affected. For example, in Burbank, the flight paths changed from being over a freeway to being over neighborhoods—disrupting the lives of the people who live beneath the new flight paths. A new task force is being formed in Burbank to address the issue.

What should they do? Contact Congressman Adam Schiff and the Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus. Why? In October 2018, Schiff and the other members of that group trumpeted their “success” in getting the FAA to address community noise complaints by inserting specific changes in the “FAA Reauthorization Act” signed into law by president Trump. But those changes haven’t fixed the problem. So Burbank’s citizens need to take this problem back to Congress.

Warning: the “FAA Re-Authorization Act” also authorized dramatic expansions of the use of drones—so if you see a pizza being noisily delivered by drone to your neighbor’s door, blame the members of Congress who let this happen.

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.

Refuge from noise for autistic kids and adults

Photo credit: John Marino has dedicated this photo to the public domain

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

America is awakening to the special needs of kids and adults on the autism spectrum. Many are hyper-reactive to environmental noise.

A few shopping centers have introduced “quiet hours” specifically aimed at families with autistic children. Now a few airports are getting the message too.

For example, Lonely Planet reports that Pittsburgh International Airport has opened a 500 square foot “sensory room” called Presley’s Place where traveling families with autistic members can calm down and get ready to fly or de-compress after landing.

For some of us, finding a quiet place is a quest, something we simply enjoy. But for others, it’s an essential need! Let’s hope other airports get the message soon.

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.

Wall Street Journal looks at Google’s drone delivery project

Photo credit: Mollyrose89 licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

Mike Cherney, The Wall Street Journal, writes about a trial project in Australia by Wing, a Google affiliate, involving delivery drones. While Cherney does not put his thumb heavily on one side of the scale, the gee-whiz aspects of drone delivery are presented before he addresses the community backlash to the trial. The article was prompted by an Australian parliamentary report issued last Thursday that address the concerns raised by community members about privacy and noise and the effect of drones on wildlife. Writes Cherney:

The report determined that noise is the biggest obstacle to community acceptance of drone-delivery services. Wing developed a quieter drone, which the report said was significantly less intrusive and annoying but still likely wouldn’t be accepted by everyone.

Interestingly, the video that accompanies the story notes that Wing said it was developing a quieter drone but “declined to let [WSJ] film the less noisy propellers.” Hmmmm.

More importantly, there is something particularly disturbing about developing drone delivery to deliver nonessentials like hot coffee and meals. One couple included in the video gushes about how helpful it was to order hot coffee by drone because it’s such a chore getting all three of their kids into the car to go pick it up. We would suggest that they leave the kids at home as one of the couple fetches the coffee, or they could save a few bucks and make their coffees at home.

In the end, though, one hopes the selfishness of a handful of users who crave the convenience of having their impulse needs met mmediately will not trump their neighbors’ right to quiet and privacy.

Do click the link and watch the video to listen to the sound associated with just one drone. Then think about what it would be like having a fleet of drones flying above you.

NYC council considers helicopter ban

Photo credit: Matthis Volquardsen from Pexels

In a move that is sure to delight those of us who want sensible limits on unnecessary noise, three New York City council members have proposed a ban on helicopter flights over the city. Specifically, Council members Mark Levine, Helen Rosenthal, and Margaret S. Chin have introduced legislation that would ban all nonessential helicopter travel over the city. The proposal followed a frightening helicopter crash that occurred in June 2019, in which the pilot, who was not authorized to fly in limited visibility, was killed while attempting to land his helicopter during foul weather.

While the linked story suggests the council members’ focus is on safety concerns, group such as Stop the Chop have advocated for the end of unnecessary helicopter flights for security and health concerns, asserting that the flights are bad for the environment, bad for public health, and bad for New Jersey and New York residents who live in and around the flight paths. Making matters worse is that the vast majority of the flights are absolutely nonessential–Stop the Chop states that 97% of the 58,000 flights per year originating out of the city-owned Downtown Manhattan Heliport are tourist flights.

We hope that the full council votes in favor of banning nonessential helicopter flights, saving the lives of unsuspecting tourists and the health and sanity of every person who is exposed to the fumes and noise this unnecessary activity creates.

NYC helicopter crash shows risks of Uber’s “urban air-taxi” fantasy

Photo credit: Beyond My Ken licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

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

Today, The New York Times reported on a helicopter crash atop a midtown Manhattan skyscraper that left one person dead. The copter exploded, presumably throwing debris onto the streets below, though there are no reports of injuries on the streets below. One hundred emergency workers were called out.

We’ve written about the enthusiastic visions promulgated by Uber, NASA and others, for vast fleets of small “inter-urban air taxis” that use vertical take-off and landing. My concern, of course, is the increase in noise implied—even if these “air taxis” are electrically propelled. But the accident reported today shows the significant risk of crashes and potentially lethal debris falling on people in the streets below.

Last October, the 36-member Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus celebrated a significant achievement: passage of the FAA Re-Authorization Act which included several important clauses concerning the national problem of aircraft/airport noise. The reason we wrote about the Uber/NASA’s “air taxi” fantasy was because we hoped this group of members of Congress would realize that the battle to reduce aircraft noise and other dangers has now expanded to include roof-top heliports in densely populated urban centers like Manhattan, from which this next generation of small, electric VTOL aircraft could be deployed sometime in the near future.

The Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus needs to get back to work on this problem before Uber’s fantasy becomes our reality!

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.

NYC’s “helicopter season” starts with a fail

This photo of the aftermath of a deadly helicopter accident in 2018 is in the public domain

Patrick McGeehan, The New York Times, writes about a sorry rite of late spring–the onslaught of helicopters ferrying the uber rich and wannabes to the Hamptons or separating tourists from their money in quick and expensive spins around Manhattan. This season started with a helicopter falling from the sky.  Somehow, everyone survived–not a typical outcome–but, as McGeehan reports, “the videos were spectacular enough to set off a debate about helicopter traffic.”

Adrian Benepe, a former city parks commissioner, asked whether the economic benefits or ease of travel were worth it. In fact, the city had reached a compromise with the helicopter companies a few years ago that cut the number of flights in half and banned them on Sundays, but McGeehan writes that some companies avoid the restrictions by flying out of New Jersey and not the city heliports.

Even with the compromise there are more than 30,000 flights a year, and residents and visitors under the flight paths have complained about the noise. Said Benepe, a member of Stop the Chop, “[f]or a city that claims to want to be the most environmentally progressive in the nation to be supporting this industry makes no sense.” That is an understatement.

Let’s hope that with this latest crash the city makes serious efforts to limit or prohibit these unnecessary helicopter flights. There is rarely a compelling need for their use and city residents and visitors shouldn’t be held captive by the wants and desires of tourists seeking an epic selfie or the super rich engaging in acts of self-importance.  It’s time to stop them.

Aircraft noise is a problem inside the plane, too

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This piece in the Wall Street Journal discusses the problem of noise inside the airplane cabin, not just under Federal Aviation Administration’s NextGen flight paths.

Airplane cabins can be made quieter. The Airbus A380, soon to stop production, is the largest passenger airplane and also one of the quietest inside. Maybe other aircraft manufacturers can do more to design quieter planes, too.

Until they do, I will continue to wear my noise-cancelling headphones when I fly.

I recommend that you do the same.

Thanks to Bryan Pollard at Hyperacusis Research, Ltd. for letting us know about this article.

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.

Watch out: FAA Ok’s Google to start drone deliveries

Photo credit: Richard Unten licensed under CC BY 2.0

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

The 36 members of the Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus, along with it’s 36 regional affiliates groups, the National Quiet Skies Coalition, deserve congratulations for the many years of work they put into getting language into the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act. That language forces the long recalcitrant FAA to take community noise much seriously.

We were both amazed and relieved that President Trump signed the Act, which included the new noise-control measures. Nothing’s perfect, but this is a step forward.

But watch out, here comes another noise problem embedded in the same Act: corporate fleets of drone aircraft invading neighborhoods to make home deliveries for Amazon, Google, UPS, etc.

If you’ve been exposed to recreational drones—which typically have four rotors–you know they’re battery powered but not noise free. In fact, a recreational drone sounds disturbingly like a swarm of mosquitos. Listen here:

But these corporate drones are much bigger and capable of carrying 5-pound packages to your neighbor’s door.

How bad can that be? Carrying a 5-pound package may require drones with as many as 13 rotors—3 times as many as a tiny recreational drone.

We sincerely hope the Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus is ready to roll up their sleeves and get back to work. “Invasion of the drones” is about to begin….

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.

Watch out: Here come Uber’s flying taxis

Photo credit: This photo is in the public domain.

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

I started paying attention to electric aircraft several years ago because electrically powered aircraft could be much quieter than jet aircraft. And wouldn’t that be nice?

Well, here’s a surprise: the first generation of quiet, electrically powered aircraft are not going to be huge passenger aircraft flying quietly between major airports around the world. Rather, they’re most likely going to be urban air-taxis that take off vertically from skyscraper roof tops and buzz around major cities like swarms of dragonflies. In other words, a whole new class of small, short-range, vertical-takeoff aircraft suitable for a few (rich) passengers being ferried about by Uber—with pilots or (allegedly) autonomously.

Hmmm…does that mean less urban noise or more urban noise? Less chaos or more? We’ve noted before that NASA is partnering with Uber (and others) on this new class of vertical take-off and landing aircraft. Airbus and Boeing, along with many others aircraft companies large and small, have already demonstrated test VTOLs.

Remember that famous scene of King Kong climbing up a New York City skyscraper while being harassed by tiny aircraft? That dystopian retro-future is a scenario that might well make you pause to wonder.

So watch out! Aviation noise may mean something entirely different from what many communities organized around the National Quiet Skies Coalition think they’re battling now. Technology is already a step ahead, noise advocates must follow.

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.

It’s no secret–we don’t like delivery drones

Photo credit: Sam Churchill licensed under CC BY 2.0

Or, at the least, the idea of fleets of drones delivering drek no one really needs while polluting our environment with a constant high-pitched whirr.  Here’s a post about this avoidable dystopian future from January:

We have written about why we think wide scale use of delivery drones will not happen here, here, here, and here.  And now we have to repeat ourselves, as we share a recent report by Mariella Moon, Engadget, about how Wing, a subsidiary of Alphabet, Google’s parent company, can’t unleash its delivery drones onto the world until it remedies “one of the biggest complaints about it first.” The complaint, of course, is that the drones are noisy.  Moon writes that people who live “directly under the drones’ path in rural Australia where they’re current being tested described the sound they make as ‘chainsaw gone ballistic.’”

Really? Surely a small drone can’t be that horrible? Except it’s not just one drone, it’s a fleet of drones, and yes, it is horrible. Moon writes:

Apparently, the machines create so much noise that people don’t even use their yards anymore. In addition, dog owners are avoiding areas where they pass, because the drones make their dogs nervous. Not to mention, the noise could trigger PTSD symptoms in military veterans.

So Wing is going to try to make a quieter drone. In the meantime, it is slowing down the drones and trying to vary the flight paths so that they don’t continue to enrage the poor souls who live near their testing facility. Fortunately for the rest of us, Moon notes that “it’s going to take a while” before Wing can design that mythical quiet drone.

Meanwhile we wonder what compelling need is being served by drone delivery. Sure, being able to deliver life saving medicine to a remote location would be fabulous, but let’s be realistic, most drones are going to deliver consumer goods or fast food and the drones are meant to reduce human labor costs and encourage impulse buying. That is, there is no compelling need. It’s all just a lot of noise.