A response to April 2016 article “The Future of Noise Pollution” by Alana Semuel

April 28th, 2016

To the editor of the Atlantic,

I am writing in response to your April 2016 article The Future of Noise Pollution by Alana Semuel. Noise pollution and its health effects are a growing concern in the United States and Europe. I am grateful that the Atlantic has shed daylight the issue and outlined some potential mitigation options of the future.

I must take issue, however, with the noise abatement potential of “stealthy aircraft”. The other noise sources cited in the article, such as leaf blowers and sirens, are solitary sources which emit sound in short term events. With respect to aviation noise, one must consider the ground track of flight routes, spacing of planes on that route, number of engines per day, as well as altitude and thrust when assessing the cumulative impact of aviation noise.

It’s great that leaf blowers and sirens will be quieter someday, but leaf blower noise events end rather quickly. A “quiet” Airbus 380 can be accompanied by several thousand other aircraft, one after another, for days on end. This is one likely reason that the FAA uses an outdated metric for noise measurement. This metric, called “65 DNL”, has been largely abandoned in Europe because it measures noise only within very close boundaries of airports, near the very foot of runways. The metric also averages in quiet times such as late nights, snowstorms and runway closures. Placed in the FAA’s noise measuring system, police sirens and leaf blowers would be considered Beethoven symphonies.

The standard in Europe is 55 DNL, and is a bit more appropriate. There are few European agencies which echo the FAA’s claim of a 95% aviation noise reduction, even though Europe’s number of enplanements and passenger traffic demand is very similar to that seen by the FAA. Additionally, Europe is not sold on the satellite based GPS technology cited in the article. Often called “NextGen”, it has been touted by FAA as a fuel and noise reducing godsend, but it faces a rising tide of criticism here and abroad. Communities in London successfully blocked a third runway addition at Heathrow last year, based partly on fears of NextGen related noise increases.

Quieter engines are great, but there is no such thing as a truly quiet jet engine. More appropriately, there is no such thing as a quiet NextGen flight route. As passenger demand is expected to double by 2050, this may be become apparent to communities both near and far from airports.


Brian F. Will

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