Aviation noise

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.

Suspicion confirmed: drones are “a noisy nuisance”

Photo credit: Pok Rie

We wrote back in January about a drone trial by Wing, a subsidiary of Alphabet, Google’s parent company, in rural Australia wasn’t going quite the way Wing might have hoped. Long and short, the drones’ noise was so irritating that dog owners tried to avoid areas where they passed, people stopped using their yards, and the noise was triggering PTSD for some military veterans. Ouch!

Well, in response to the drone trial and the complaints it generated, an inquiry was formed.  And Wing can’t be happy with the submissions, which conclude that:

Household delivery drones are an invasive, under-regulated technology whose potential benefits to the ACT would not outweigh the disturbance to the local community and environment.

According to one of the 39 submissions, “the service had created angst in the community, exposed a lack of regulation of the evolving technology and caused disturbances to residents and local wildlife.” Additional submissions noted the loss of wildlife and birds in the area during the trial, while others raised concerns about “an invasion of privacy,” the “commercialisation of airspace” and “limited public information on the approval and regulation of the Google-backed company’s trial.”

A couple of positive submissions were made, including one which suggested drone delivery was an “environmentally friendly option,” and another from Wing’s consultant, AlphaBeta, which asserted that “delivery drones could have wide-reaching benefits for local businesses, consumers and the environment.”

But in the end, the majority of people responding to the inquiry expressed a negative view of the trial and “strong opposition to the service’s expansion.”

One thing we rarely see addressed in these drone delivery stories is this: what compelling need does drone delivery serve? All we see are fatter coffers for the Googles and Amazons of the world at the expense of consumers addicted to impulse buying.

 

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.