Quieter Airplanes Creating Far More Noise Complaints


Even though airplanes are a lot quieter than they used to be, they annoy people on the ground far more these days. The FAA’s recently released Neighborhood Environmental Survey says almost two-thirds of the 10,000 people surveyed, who live near one of 20 U.S. airports, are “highly annoyed by aircraft noise over the entire range of aircraft noise levels considered, including at lower noise levels.” They also said they hated airplane noise worse than other sources like traffic and their neighbors even if the levels were lower. 

The last survey was done in 1992 and only 13 percent of respondents were similarly vexed then. Although airplanes are quieter these days, pandemic notwithstanding, there are far more of them. In fact, by FAA standards, only about 400,000 people live in areas where there is “significant” noise compared to the more than seven million people whose windows were rattled in the 1970s. 

But in recent years, changes to airspace management due to modernization have resulted in aircraft overflying areas that were relatively airplane free in the past and complaints have skyrocketed. That spawned a group of Washington lawmakers known as the Quiet Skies Caucus to form and keep pressing the agency on noise issues. “The FAA’s Neighborhood Environmental Survey tells us what we already knew loud and clear: Our communities are ravaged by aircraft noise,” Rep. Thomas Suozzi, D-N.Y., a vice chair of the Quiet Skies Caucus, told the Washington Post.

In a statement to the Post the FAA said the survey was “an important step in seeking public input as the FAA undertakes a review of its existing noise policy. The FAA will continue to engage directly with members of the Quiet Skies Caucus to address their inquiries.” The agency is also reviewing its data gathering methods in its assessment of airspace changes.

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  1. 400,000 is obviously less than 7 million, but the title and first two paragraphs had me wondering otherwise.

    This story buried the lead idea on paragraph three. Now, more planes over more neighborhoods are annoying more people. Got it.

    • Yes, that is the situation where I live: a helicopter tour industry exploding in the skies over my city, flagrantly flouting our local air-traffic regs. It’s quite simple. More aircraft = more noise, people complain.

      Agree, the author buried the lead.

  2. One can never lose money betting against the stupidity of the general population.

    Why is there airplane noise at the house I bought near an airport?

    I wonder if they are also angry when they safely travel by air or receive products or medication that reached them by air?

    I hate it when my neighbor’s idiot dog barks. But if I wanted to live without an idiot neighbor’s dog I’d have made arrangements to buy property with no neighbors. That’s life.

    May this be the worst catastrophe these people have to deal with today.

    • That’s not always the case. I’ve lived in NYC for 30 years. In the same apt. Several years ago, the helicopter tour industry started flying in defiance of local air-traffic regulations. Nothing we can do to stop them, the FAA won’t lift a finger. Keeps wondering why people on the ground are so “annoyed”.

      Over 100 helicopters bank sharply at 900 – 1800ft directly above my home on nice weekends. Sounds like warfare. It’s driving New Yorkers insane. We can’t enjoy our parks, our rooftops, our own homes – the noise penetrates closed windows and walls.

      I find it interesting, this machismo in the aviation world. Like, how DARE you complain about these magnificent machines?! People are just trying to raise their children, earn a living, carve out a couple moments of peace… We moved to an already loud city. We tolerate subway noise, street noise, our noisy neighbors… Now suddenly it’s coming from above and there’s no escape. I hope you never experience it.

      Guess I’m just asking you to consider another point of view, here.

      • Where you move to the nuisance, legally, you’ve got little support. But a new nuisance is a different story. Caroline, several things you said don’t jibe. There is definitely always something the FAA can do when regulations are broken. They are no joke as many people who frequent this site can attest. So I don’t buy that comment. And there are definitely always steps people and groups of people can take where something of concern is happening. Including getting regulations changed. If New Yorkers are being driven insane in large numbers, why haven’t you done something about that? Over-confidence and machismo will always be a part of some people’s attitudes sadly, but breaking regulations and unreasonably degrading the quality of life of others are not acceptable.

      • I’ve always considered NYC to be such a filthy noisy place at baseline I’d expect the noise of aviation to be lost in the din. I grew up and trained in NY/NJ/CT so I am familiar. Last time I was east of the Rockies I swore I’d never do that again.

        Places with noise abatement issues like the Grand Canyon and Yosemite I understand better.

    • You largely reflected what I was thinking, William. I’m honestly surprised that New Yorkers would even take notice of most aircraft noise over the city. I don’t intend this statement to be an insult to New York metro area residents, I’m just frankly surprised that they would take much notice to aircraft noise over all the other urban noise and congestion. Perhaps as quieter aircraft and noise abatement procedures have improved aircraft noise conditions over the years the public has become more sensitive to aircraft noise? Or maybe the other urban noise levels in the city have gotten so near people’s tolerance limits that any additional noise from an aircraft passing overhead just pushes people over their psychological limits?

  3. Here’s a quote from the Chicago Tribune not long after a dramatic shift to using O’Hare’s then-new east/west runways. “77,136 of the 102,310 complaints in Bensenville came from one address.” That’s in one month.

  4. I remember sitting on someone’s porch with some non-pilots discussing the controversy over the the biplane that flew over in the pattern 5-20 times a day during a few months of the year causing about 30 seconds of droning noise each time. During the conversation the neighbor’s yard service showed up and started up with the leaf blowers, mowers and weed whackers that went on for a good two hours. We had to move inside to continue the conversation, yet no one but me thought to make a comparison. They say it’s subjective — ain’t that the truth!

  5. Just like other political issues if you try to compromise it turns into a never ending battle. My understanding is that a lot of court jurisdictions are becoming less and less sympathetic to the noise complainers when those judges find out the complainer moved close to an existing airport. Some people are just never happy so why bother!

  6. I am not surprised. Noise emissions have been dropping progressively so aircraft that used to be relatively quiet or which have a partial exemption now can be perceived as much louder. And sadly every year we’re losing more and more of the people for whom a 727 on climb-out would have barely rated a glance. Plus there is a growing ease and in some cases willingness to complain about increasingly minor things. I can see where those graphs meet.

    This is going to be a problem with autonomous vehicles when they become prevalent. Crashes will be much rarer and the death and injury numbers will plummet. The crashes that do occur will seem much more shocking. Plus there will be failures of automation that result in crashes we’ve never seen before. Cue the fear and outrage.

  7. In a lot of cases around the country, the airports have been there long before the houses that now surround them. Urban sprawl has encroached on the airport fence lines, and the homeowners seem to discover the presence of the airport only after they move in. My home airport was built in the early 1950s. Back then it was so far out in the country that you would be hard pressed to find a house within a mile of the fence lines. Today, there are housing developments springing up literally across the street and off the end of the single runway. Yes, the airport has expanded, and half the aircraft now are corporate jets instead of Cubs and Champs. But, the airport has always been there. Another problem is that so many smaller airports have closed due to urban sprawl, that the remaining airports have to absorb the displaced planes, which only adds to the daily volume of air traffic. Unfortunatly none of this matters to people who will tolerate lawn mowers, leaf blowers, noisy neighbors and all manner of ground vehicles, but not those damned airplanes.

    • Back in the mid/late 1980s, I participated in an FAR 150 process for KBAF in western Massachusetts.

      During that process, ATC personnel documented a common local practice: real estate agents would call the control tower cab, to request that they “change the runway in use for a couple of hours because I have to show a house.”

      Later in the 150 process, among the proposed mitigations was a Deed Declaration on future sales of homes in the airport environs. Not a restriction; just a notification: “This property is near an airport. Arriving and departing aircraft make noise.”

      The proposal was rejected vigorously by Westfield’s elected officials.

      Hear no evil?

  8. I live directly under a SID at 8 DME from a large international airport, and at 2 DME just off the centreline of a busy regional airport with heavy (constant) trainer traffic and the occasional light twin / Lear.

    The fixed wing noise barely registers. It’s no worse than traffic noise.

    But the helicopters…the amount of yanking and banking that goes on in the rotor slap zone, not to mention their adventurous disregard for the FW pattern. Even in level flight, they are a noise menace, and on windy days I often see (or initially, hear) Robbies hammering along near Vne…brrraaap…..brraaap. If they chop their tailboom off with me watching, my witness report will not be favourable.

    This behaviour seems limited to the recip crowd rather than the turbine guys.

  9. Here’s a novel concept…if you don’t want to hear aviation noise don’t live near an airport. Why do should we care about people whining about a common sense thing. Airplanes burn fuel, fuel burning makes noise…move to the country if you don’t want to hear it. Nothing is stopping them, who cares what they think. They want to destroy something that adds value to the rest of us b/c they don’t like the 30 sec take off of an airplane…laughable

  10. Arthur Hailey addressed this issue in his book ‘Airport’
    published in 1968
    The biggest problem was families being talked into
    buying and living in nice homes
    before they realized what the noise would become.
    Check it out