Tag Archive: aircraft noise

Quiet helicopters already exist! Now get charter groups to use them

Photo credit: FaceMePLS licensed under CC BY 2.0

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

The Quiet Coalition (TQC) heard recently from a local government official asking for advice about noisy helicopters and what could be done to address constituent complaints. It’s a great question with a straightforward answer: quiet helicopters already exist. Airbus makes them and here’s a case study of an American hospital–the University of California San Francisco—that is using one. Nothing new needs to be invented here—what’s needed is public pressure on helicopter users to substitute quiet craft for the loud ones that annoy you and your neighbors.

It’s no surprise that the quiet helicopter is made by Airbus, because Airbus has worked long and hard, under pressure from the EU Parliament, to develop quiet aircraft of all kinds. Here is a demonstration and review of the Airbus Colibri EC120B (4-passenger) quiet helicopter, which has a larger “cousin,” the EC130B (6 passenger) model.

You might say “this is NOT a truly quiet helicopter.” True, but it’s a heck of a lot quieter than what we’re exposed to now, which is an improvement—and one that could be substituted immediately. For those who want even quieter helicopters, take a look at this next-generation, all-electric helicopter from Germany (Germany has very strict noise-control regulations, which led to the development of this electric craft).

If you’re also concerned about airport noise from jet aircraft, please know that TQC is interested in this subject and has written about it several times over the past year. And, as with helicopters, quiet jet aircraft are already available–again from Airbus. Why do the Europeans have a leg up on the design and production of electric aircraft? Because the EU Parliament has worked long and hard to limit community noise and has strongly encouraged Airbus to address this problem. American companies should take note and get in the game before the EU wins it.

We at TQC believe that “technology substitution” (i.e., accelerating the adoption of quiet alternatives) is the only foreseeable, politically practical way to solve noise problems in America. TQC co-founder Jamie Banks, founder of Quiet Communities, has already demonstrated the practicality of technology substitution in another area where community noise has been growing problem–noisy and inefficient but cheap 2-cycle gas-powered leafblowers and lawn mowers. Her group has found that communities can change their local soundscapes by insisting that landscape maintenance crews use quieter, battery-powered electric devices.

True, it may take some organizing locally to get your local government to stand up and fight the plague of noise, but it can be done!

With regard to noisy helicopters, citizen groups need to apply direct pressure on the local owners and operators of these craft, petitioning them to substitute commercially available, quieter equipment. That is a much faster route to solving your neighborhood noise problem than trying to get a FAA representative or regional airport authority to develop and implement noise-control regulations. The regulatory approach seems only to lead to frustration and inaction. Aim for the operator’s pocketbook!

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.

NASA demonstrates another way to reduce aircraft noise

Photo credit: NASA

David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

I hope you’ve read the new post by our chairman, Dr. Daniel Fink, about the “denialist playbook.” It has been actively used for decades to sideline and undermine all efforts to address aircraft/airport noise. In fact aircraft/airport noise is a textbook case of well-organized and well-funded “denialism” in action.

What’s particularly astonishing is that answers already exist—they’re just not being implemented by aircraft manufacturers or by airlines. Nor are the FAA and the UN agency ICAO (the International Commercial Aviation Organization, based in Montreal) encouraging their adoption. For instance, the EU manufacturer Airbus already produces aircraft that are substantially quieter. The A380 and the A320neo, with it’s American-produced engines from Pratt & Whitney, are reportedly 75% quieter. How many of those planes are in the fleets of U.S. airlines? Why not a higher percentage?

We’ve also reported on work by NASA to quiet helicopters and launch electrically-powered aircraft. Now here’s another example of significant progress, in this case progress on reducing noise from the airframe itself. Wouldn’t a 30% reduction in airframe noise be a good idea?

In fact, there’s no lack of “good ideas”—the problem is that the air travel industry, including manufacturers, airlines, and local airport agencies, refuse to acknowledge that noise is actually a health hazard for people living near airports. In fact, the “denialist” argument is that aircraft noise is merely local “annoyance,” but there’s plenty of credible medical and public health evidence that health effects are real, serious, and wide-spread.

The Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus recently submitted a request to the Chair and Ranking Member of the House Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development requesting funds to evaluate the health effects of airport and helicopter noise—though many would argue that the existing evidence is already sufficient to prove the case.

We support the work of the Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus, but respectfully submit that there’s little need for more evidence to prove this point, so if this request fails, there’s no need to wait and write another one.

What’s needed is for more members of Congress (in addition the the 36 who are already members of the Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus) to wake up and realize that the Department of Transportation, of which the FAA is a part, has been playing the “denialism” game for far too long, that the agency is a victim of what economists call “regulatory capture.”

Let’s stop arguing with the denialists because the science is clear. Let’s instead start demanding that aircraft manufacturers and airlines simply adopt the technologies and solutions that are already available. Doesn’t that sound like progress we can all live with?

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.

Tired of jets flying over your neighborhood? Here’s what FAA is (not) doing to help you

By David Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

You may already know about the movement in Congress to address the problem of aircraft noise. A specific congressional caucus, The Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus, was formed to encourage the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to address the problem of aircraft noise around airports, specifically the problems caused by FAA’s “NextGen” program. “NextGen” is a bungled FAA program that has made the noise problem much worse for many communities across the USA–35 communities are already aligned with The Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus.

The noise problem applies to all airports, not just big-city transportation hubs. A recent Sun Sentinel article about NextGen problems in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida is a good piece to read about NextGen because it spells out what the FAA is—and isn’t—doing to “help” affected communities. Bottom line: If you squawk loud enough and long enough, they may agree to replace your windows and doors with “sound-insulating” ones—but how much money you might get depends on the assessed value of your house. But replacing doors and windows doesn’t stop the earth-shaking vibration from big jets, and it certainly doesn’t stop the noise outdoors in your backyard. As long as the FAA and its parent, the Department of Transportation, perpetuate the decades-old myth that noise is “merely annoyance” (i.e., has no appreciable effects on you other than to make you irritable), all you can do it take their money and suffer quietly. Only by changing the discourse and carefully spelling out that noise is a public health hazard will communities have the chance to turn this situation around.

The Quiet Coalition Chair, Daniel Fink, MD, asked me to add this note:

“Rest assured that if you are bothered by aircraft noise, you are not alone! ‘Noise as a Public Health Problem’ was the theme of the 12th Congress of the International Commission on the Biological Effects of Noise (ICBEN) which recently took place in Zurich. I presented two papers there and am now preparing a summary of what I learned. The European Union is well-aware of the adverse health effects of transportation noise (aircraft, rail, and road traffic noise) and is taking steps to minimize its effects. I also presented a paper on the adverse health effects of transportation noise at the Institute for Noise Control Engineering meeting on June 12 in Grand Rapids, Michigan.”

There’s another very hopeful perspective on this problem, although admittedly down the road a few years: the development of quiet (electric) aircraft. Lithium-ion battery-powered airplanes and helicopters have already been developed and flown in Germany and in the U.S. So take heart, quiet electric aircraft could very well be flying by 2027, the 100th anniversary of Charles Lindbergh’s historic transatlantic flight.

David Sykes chairs/co-chairs four national professional groups in acoustical science: The Acoustics Research Council, ANSI S12 WG44, The Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Working Group. He is also a board member of the American Tinnitus Association, co-founder of the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics (LARA) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0 (2012, Springer-Verlag), and a contributor to “Technology for a Quieter America” (2011, National Academy of Engineering). 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.

Always read the fine print when a study comes out trivializing noise complaints

Daniel Fink, MD, and Jamie L. Banks, PhD, MSc, have written an intriguing article about NextGen, The Mercatus Center (funded by the arch conservative Koch brothers), and aircraft noise. In “Airplane Noise is a Health Hazard,” Fink and Banks write that the Mercatus Center study “labels those who complain about airport noise as NIMBYs…conveniently ignor[ing] a large body of medical research showing that airplane noise increases the risk of morbidity and mortality, [and] trivializ[ing] the seriousness of a problem affecting the health and well-being of millions of Americans.”  It’s a very thoughtful and well-cited piece that is worth a careful read.

Shortly after Fink and Banks’ article was published, an article appeared in the Chicago Sun Times about the soaring costs in test program to insulate historic homes near O’Hare ($101,000 per home, not an insignificant amount). Interestingly, the Mercatus Center study somehow ignored the damage to property value borne by homeowners living under NextGen flight paths while it was categorizing people suffering from continuous aircraft noise as a “handful” of NIMBYists .

Live under a flight path? Concerned about the effect of aircraft noise on your health?

So are a handful of members of congress serving Massachusetts, who “are calling on the National Academy of Sciences to conduct a study about the health effects of air traffic noise and pollution on humans.”

The request for more research follows on the heels of a five-fold increase in aircraft noise complaints with the Massachusetts Port Authority.  Citing a joint public health 2013 study by Harvard University and Boston University showing a link between exposure to aircraft noise and cardiovascular disease, the request asks for research on the health impacts from noise and jet emissions, such as carbon dioxide.