Tag Archive: electric aircraft

London’s Heathrow boosts quiet electric aircraft

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

Insiders say the next big wave of disruptive innovation in commercial aircraft will be quiet, electric engines. In fact, Airbus says they can deliver by the early 2020s. And London’s Heathrow airport has added it’s own $1 million prize to accelerate the race, offering free landing charges for a year to UK’s first electric plane.

Can we get some of those quiet jets in the U.S. too, please? But hurry up, because global air traffic is expected to double in the next 15 years. So if you think it’s noisy out there now, imagine the din with twice as many flights overhead. Clearly something needs to happen quick.

In fact, electrically-powered aircraft are already here (we’ve written about this here). So the experts are serious and aircraft manufacturers, airlines, and regulatory authorities acknowledge that this really will be a major disruption. There are currently between 15 and 100 projects (depending on what you’re counting) underway worldwide on the development of commercial scale electrically-powered airplanes.

So with America’s aerospace leaders (e.g., Boeing and GE) dragging their feet on this, it looks like we’re handing Airbus and others a big win.

Perhaps some of America’s biggest airports should look closely at Heathrow and think about getting into this prize game too. Something needs to be done to wake up America’s air transportation industry that BOTH noise and fuel efficiency matter to their customers and their neighbors. If they don’t change soon foreign suppliers like Airbus will walk away with the business.

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.

Quiet aircraft? NASA’s on the job, but when?

By David Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Hope is nice now and then—don’t expect results tomorrow, but maybe next year?

If you like an occasional look ahead—toward a world with quieter aircraft—read the August 14-September 3 issue of Aviation Week.* In an article entitled “Sound Barrier: Noise is emerging as the biggest challenge to high-density urban air-taxi operations,” the magazine’s managing editor for technology, Graham Warwick writes about what NASA (and yes, Uber) are doing to build a future of inter-urban transport. Are you ready to imagine “Air-Uber”?

The key is convincing municipal governments that these air-taxis will be quiet(er) than conventional aircraft. So note the term “eVTOL” (Electric Vertical Take Off and Landing craft, or distributed electric-propulsion vehicles). That’s right, they’re electric. This is the likely future of quieter, low-emission air transport—and as the video above proves, it’s no joke.

Do we really need eVTOL air-taxis? That depends on what “we” means. At any rate, it turns out the kink in this scenario is the noise problem: so switching to quiet eVTOLs is a prerequisite to getting this air-taxi fleet off the ground in urban areas. Hence, NASA has taken on the noise issue—at last! (NOT the FAA—which is a good thing overall since FAA has steadfastly resisted doing anything at all about noise for decades).

Meanwhile back in the real world, why can’t American airports and airlines simply encourage adoption of the new Pratt & Whitney quiet jet engine that is already in use in the UK and EU (the PW1100G geared turbofan). It’s supposed to be 75% quieter and 15% to 20% more fuel-efficient than conventional jet engines. Furthermore, Airbus has already installed the Pratt & Whitney engine on it’s new A320neo aircraft and 90 of them have already been delivered to 11 airlines (only two of which are American: Spirit and Frontier). Another issue of Aviation Week* reported favorably on the launch of this new, quieter aircraft and cited one source as saying “[t]he A320neo is now the quietest aircraft.”

There are plenty of Airbus planes in the fleets of US-based airlines, so let’s urge airlines to order a few more and retire their noisy fleets of aging aircraft! Airbus is set to deliver 200 more of them this year.

Sadly, the FAA is not going to get out in front of the noise issue anytime soon. They continue to insist that while noise may be “annoying” to some people, they won’t let that get in the way of the roll-out of their NextGen program—despite the fact that NextGen is precisely the program that has so enraged the three dozen members of Congress who formed the Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus and the 36 communities across the USA that have formed the National Quiet Skies Coalition.

Take a look at this recent presentation given by the FAA to the Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus: FAA Powerpoint PDF.

Doesn’t sound like they’re in any rush to quiet down America’s airports, does it? So I’m betting on NASA’s approach, i.e., electrically powered aircraft and “alternative solutions”—such as convincing airlines to stock their fleets with Airbus planes. Maybe the competition will finally wake up Boeing and GE and they’ll realize that some of us understand that noise is much more than “annoyance,” it’s a public health issue.

*Sorry, you’ll either have to subscribe to Aviation Week online or read it in the library.

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.