By David Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition
People who live near airports have struggled with noise for over 50 years. The first attempts to address this problem began in 1967, literally 50 years ago! But frankly, there’s been more progress on this issue outside the U.S., where, for example, the World Health Organization has addressed the burden of disease from environmental noise and the European Union has established night noise guidelines for Europe.
Meanwhile, here on American soil, the struggle continues with groups like the Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus and regional Quiet Skies groups experimenting with different approaches. A variety of strategies have been tested with varying success: petitions, fines, law suits, noise curfews, legislation, even complete airport shutdowns. Every American community that has confronted this issue realizes it’s a tough, long, uphill battle against powerful regulatory agencies and corporations that are more committed to commerce than to public health and welfare.
So, why can’t Boeing or somebody just make a quiet aircraft?
Actually they can—that is, the EU conglomerate Airbus can—and already does. And the world’s largest passenger airplane, also made by Airbus–the A380–is the quietest both inside and out. So this isn’t a technological problem. Rather, aircraft engineers, manufacturers (other than Airbus), and the airlines that buy their planes, don’t seem to care about the impact of their products on those on the ground.
Hooray! So why don’t U.S. airlines buy the A320neo equipped with its quiet jet engines? Wouldn’t this help to address the aircraft noise problem?
For U.S. residents there’s also this good news: a new NASA program to develop quiet electric aircraft was recently announced, but the quiet electric aircraft are small propeller craft, so this is the kind of innovation you’ll see at smaller local airports in a few years.
What about helicopters? Can they make quiet helicopters too? The answer is yes again. Quiet, electric helicopters are also in development.
Conclusion? Maybe “technology substitution”–which works in other sectors–is the uniquely American way out of this dilemma.
At any rate, government-funded research and development (R&D) efforts by NASA and Pratt & Whitney demonstrate that somebody is listening! And in typical American fashion, it appears we will invent our way out of the airport noise mess by convincing the government to accelerate funding of both public and private sector R&D—from which entrepreneurs and business titans will reap rewards later.
At The Quiet Coalition and our host, Quiet Communities, we believe that local and regional anti-noise groups might have greater success if, in addition to the other strategies they’re already trying, they also emphasize “technology substitution.” This approach has worked well in cities and towns on issues like:
– leaf blowers and lawn mowers (convince your parks and recreation department to buy electric!);
– motorcycles (get them off Harleys and onto quieter electric motorcycles);
– appliances (the best-selling dishwasher these days is made in Germany and has become very popular worldwide because it’s quiet);
– air conditioning equipment (the best-selling household air-conditioning equipment is the quiet kind from Korea called “mini-splits” that were engineered to be quiet); and
– outdoor concerts (where wireless headsets are replacing noisy outdoor concert venues).
So our tech-driven American approach to “progress” may eventually get us to a quieter end-state—but the emphasis is on eventually.
In the meantime, until quieter times arrive, those of us who live near airports will have to either continue wearing earplugs or maybe experiment with the new “smart earbuds” that are now available.
And don’t forget the final option: move to a quieter neighborhood where your house isn’t underneath a flight path! Because you might have to wait a while before the above solutions arrive.
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 former board member of the American Tinnitus Association, co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics (LARA) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, served as lead-author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0 (2012, Springer-Verlag), and was 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.
If it seems like airplane noise has been in the news lately, it’s because it has. Whether it’s East Hampton residents petitioning the Supreme Court to overturn an appeals court decision on the town’s proposed airport noise regulations, or an opinion piece debunking a study by a conservative think tank that tries to dismiss legitimate complaints about aviation noise due to the Federal Aviation Administration’s program known as NextGen, airplane noise is an issue that simply isn’t going away. And with the money and power squarely on the side of the FAA and the airlines, it’s exciting to see residents win a round, as neighbors of LaGuardia Airport did this past week.
Donald Wood, Travel Pulse, writes that “officials from Delta Air Lines announced the carrier will no longer be flying one of its loudest aircraft at New York City’s LaGuardia Airport due to complaints from residents around the facility.” Specifically, Delta is replacing the noisier MD-88 aircraft “with quieter, more fuel-efficient Airbus A320s, Boeing 737s and several MD-90 mainline aircraft.” Naturally LaGuardia Airport’s neighbors are thrilled. Wood writes that the old planes “caused some residents in the Queens borough of New York City to deal with noise so loud that it shook their homes on a near constant basis since the Federal Aviation Administration changed flight paths four years ago.”
The Times Ledger reports that U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing), former co-chair and founder of the Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus, weighed in, saying:
Delta’s move will have a positive impact on airplane noise over our borough, and it will make a difference to those who reside near the airport. I look forward to building on this switch to quieter aircraft and working with airline officials to further mitigate airplane noise.
U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) added that:
[Delta’s] move that is not just about improving the quality of the traveling experience but also about improving the quality of life for New Yorkers on the ground. While airplanes can never be truly silent, we can work to make them less disruptive to the families who live nearby and I applaud Delta for taking steps toward that goal.
Here’s hoping Delta and other airlines employ this fix at other airports around the U.S.
This Telegraph article is less about quiet at Christmas and more about quiet as a cultural phenomenon. Reporter Louisa Pritchard writes that we are “in the throes of a quiet revolution that could impact every area of our lives: a move towards (whisper it) cultivating the sound of silence.” We believe she’s right and that 2016 marks the beginning of a movement in which quiet is seen as something that is valuable. Here’s to a quieter world.
Thanks to @QuietMark for the link.
For one very thoughtful answer read Olivia Parker’s article, “‘In Pursuit of Silence’: the film that says we need more quiet in our lives.”
Parker’s article starts with her review of “In the Pursuit of Silence,” a new film about the impact of noise on our lives and the movement to bring silence back into our everyday world. She finds the film “both calming and jarring to watch.” It “opens with near-silence,” she states, “four minutes and 33 seconds of it, to be precise, in honour of John Cage’s experimental composition 4’33, in which performers sit in silence for that length of time.” The film then combines “30-second-long static camera shots of scenes and their sounds – a tree in a field, a petrol station at night, a motorway – with interviews with people involved in the consideration of sound and silence all over the world.” Parker notes that it is “the first major film to be made about noise pollution – and for those who have been calling for a quiet revolution for years, it’s a much-needed step towards a more sound-balanced world.”
Parker’s review acts as a conversation opener to a deeper exploration of the pervasiveness and dangerousness of noise and the healing power of silence. The query “how noisy are we now” is followed by a litany of aural abuses, focusing mainly on unavoidable transportation sounds–noise from airplanes, street traffic, and the Tube–but addng that respite cannot be had by ducking into a nearby restaurant for a nosh and some peace. Parker looks at the consequences of living in a noisy world and they are not good. She catalogs noise’s negative affect on one’s spirit, mood, ability to learn, and wellbeing.
The focus on our noisy world is followed with a look at the benefits of quiet, examining how it calms, increases productivity, and may even help our brains grow. Parker concludes by examining how we can get more silence in our lives, highlighting the work of Quiet Mark, a UK company that “awards a badge of “quality” to brands that meet particular sound requirements,” and reviewing eight everyday appliances that have been awarded Quiet Marks.
The world could be a quieter place, we learn, if only all designers considered noise avoidance as important as durability, efficiency, or style.
There’s so much more in this article, so click the link to read it all.
LInk via Antonella Radicchi @firenzesoundmap.
Schumer urges Port Authority to expedite noise studies addressing “airplane noise being emanated over the communities closest to John F. Kennedy International Airport on the South Shore of Queens such as the Five Towns and several others, and LaGuardia Airport on the North Shore of the borough.”