Jangled By Airport Noise

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I think I’m about to be voted off the island. Or maybe I’ll just slip out on my own at the next high tide. The reason is that I’m going to go a little rogue here.

I’m really starting to detest airport noise, if not necessarily airplane noise. I reached this conclusion awhile ago, but it rose to a crescendo yesterday, if I may borrow the appropriate acoustic adjective.

When I go to the airport, it’s frequently to shoot video. Video has audio. So things like voices need to be recorded with sufficient clarity to at least be intelligible, if not broadcast quality. I was trying to set up a shot and kept hearing an annoying screech in my earphones. It was a bizjet either idling or running the APU. It was -mile away. It went on, and on, and on, all of which time I spent sitting on my butt waiting it for it to move.

When it finally did and I reset the camera, a Bonanza taxied up right in front of the hangar on what used to be the old city ramp. The pilot, a distinguished, silver-haired man, entertained us all with a high-power runup that went on, and on, and on. There are several things wrong with this. First of all, the airport has a policy that requests that runups be done on a closed runway (now a taxiway) in the center of the airport. This so reduces ambient noise that you hardly notice any noise at all. It’s a good policy.

Second, that old ramp borders on the airport fence which itself is fronted by several apartment complexes. So anyone running an APU or doing a high power runup will just blast the hell of out them. Not that long ago, I had no patience with airport neighbors who complain about noise. I suspect most of us in aviation don’t. Hey, they moved there and knew full well that the airport was there.

That said, I think we sometimes do a lousy job of understanding the concerns of people who live around airports. If you want to sense life on the other side of the airport fence, read this Air&Space Magazine piece about besieged Santa Monica Airport.

While we’re all rightfully outraged at the city’s heavy-handed pressure on tenants to get out of Santa Monica, there’s another story to be told, too.

In Europe, local governments are so hard over on noise that some airports actually close on the weekends. I’ve always felt that a little extreme, but I’m beginning to understand it. In the U.S., we tend to sniff at electric airplanes, but in Europe, they’re looking more and more attractive because of their low noise signature. Interestingly, the only electric airplane I’ve flown, the Pipistrel Alpha Electro, is just as loud as a piston from inside the cockpit. From outside, it’s the definition of stealth.

Recall a few weeks ago in this blog, a couple of commenters complained about the noisy airshow at AirVenture, where you more or less pay to have your ears assaulted. It’s not so much the noise itself as it is the incessant, hammering nature of just getting no relief from it. I think that’s why I don’t mind landings and takeoffs much; they’re transients. Maybe one exception; the idiots who flatten the prop on downwind at high power. Ya know, you can save that for short final.

That guy’s Bonanza runup was just unnecessary and inconsiderate, since he had the option of taxiing to the designated pad. Many jet operators just let the APU screech away because they want the cabin nice and cool so the boss won’t break a sweat. I get it. But is it too much for us to think of minimizing such on-the-ground noise in consideration of people who live nearby? I wonder if it’s not a good idea to explain this to a charter buyer or aircraft owner. I wonder if they would be sympathetic.

I used to chafe at airport noise-monitoring instruments as just another example of government overreach. But at our airport, there are no consequences for someone who ignores the friendly request to runup where it will make less noise. The AWOS says “fly friendly” and I take that to mean be as quiet as practical and safe. I wouldn’t mind if the airport took it upon itself to make a polite phone call to pilots to remind them to be courteous.

As badly as my day started, it didn’t get much better. A hangar neighbor pulled his airplane out, started it and stayed there. And stayed there. And stayed there. I shouldn’t bitch, I suppose. On airports, airplanes have the right of way over videographers; says so right in the FARs.

All the same, the next YouTuber that asks me to fix my audio problems stops one.

Comments (25)

Well, you must have reached a certain age...

Posted by: Mark Fraser | December 1, 2016 4:06 PM    Report this comment

I'm with you, Paul, that a little courtesy can go a long way. There's a Bonanza at our local airport here in Livermore who flies his 5 mile final full fine on his prop. All 25,000 people whose houses he flies over whenever he approaches from the east feel their teeth rattle. I love the sound of small planes flying overhead. This guy makes me completely angry, because it's people like that that galvanize the public against GA.

Posted by: Joshua Levinson | December 1, 2016 7:30 PM    Report this comment

Mark, you are extraordinarily perceptive. Paul bingoed the age thing. Keep warm.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | December 1, 2016 9:57 PM    Report this comment

Paul maybe you didn't drink your prune juice this am. Just kidding. Airport noise is truly a serious concern. Basically, there are more of those being offended and annoyed than those of us doing the offending. Eventually, they will get their way. APU are my pet peeve. At one local resort area, there is a short time limit and most operators comply sort of. However, some of the politically elite have their rides with the APU running 24/7 in case they need to make a quick hop anywhere. Causing every other user of the airport to get a bad rap.
As I get older, I am becoming more sensitive to noise. Not that I can hear it as well as in my youth but because it just bothers me. In my neighborhood, it is the idiots on the Hawgs running up and down the hill at 4000 rpm in first gear at oh dark thirty, the dudes in the 4x4 diesels without any muffler and the "airplane drivers" who can't remember to pull the prop back even at 10 nm from the airport.
We need to all give a thought to the ground bound masses and not aggravate them into action to shut us down. Now where is my prune juice.

Posted by: Leo LeBoeuf | December 1, 2016 10:21 PM    Report this comment

I live under the flight path of a moderately busy airport. I bought the house knowing it. The airport has been there since very early in the 1900's. IMHO I have no right to complain nor do the folks that bought next to the nearby railroad track with the crossings that mandate the _ _ . _ horn warning at all hours of the night. That said, I feel it's my responsibility to consider noise attenuation with every home improvement. Do I appreciate airport noise reduction efforts by the airport, yes, but I don't feel I have a right to them. Airports are inherently noisy. I think local zoning allowing construction up to the fence is the real problem with a huge contribution by buyers expecting the airport to accommodate them after the fact. Now I think I'll invest in that prune juice stock...

Posted by: Robert Mahoney | December 2, 2016 6:18 AM    Report this comment

It's not about age, and I've thought for some time that the letter associations were behind the curve on this one. I grit my teeth too, when I hear a Bonanza (it always seems to be a Bonanza) go to full fine at the start of the takeoff roll, sending the prop tips supersonic and converting avgas into noise - but not additional thrust. Yes, it's appropriate for the letter associations to protect us from excessive regulations, but it would have been nice if they'd pushed for low-cost STCs for mufflers, and gotten the word out there about the maximum RPM you should ever - EVER - run on your airplane (it's going to be an RPM somewhere around 195,000/D where D is your propeller diameter in inches).

It's pretty shocking to listen to an LSA fly over at 1,500 ft, climbing out. You can barely hear it. But a Bonanza or a Callair or even a C172 - you can hear plenty. Airports would be a lot less unwelcome if our airplanes sounded a lot more like LSAs.

Posted by: Thomas Boyle | December 2, 2016 6:37 AM    Report this comment

Informed Courtesy is a chapter that's missing in most flight school curricula. If you don't become aware when you're learning, it's likely that your ignorance will become a lifetime handicap.

Quick poll for the other CFIs among us: How many of you teach reduced-power takeoff technique, appropriate for use with two-mile-long concrete slabs? Among those who do not teach it, how many of you have ever even tried it yourself?

Assignment for the weekend: Find a long runway without scary obstacles at the departure end, and try some takeoffs at cruise - including economy cruise - power settings. While you're at it, review the use of "over-square" power settings. Note the effects on noise and fuel consumption.

Being quiet doesn't have to kill you.

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | December 2, 2016 8:07 AM    Report this comment

Maybe you shoulda titled this blog, 'Let's all be considerate of others when we aviate.' Even among pilots, there are those that are inept, inconsiderate and sometimes downright unconscious that their aviation activities might be negatively impacting -- if not offending -- others, as you say. Once in a while, a gentle or not so gentle reminder to think of others might help. Then again, maybe not. There's a very wealthy Russian who shows up at SGJ in his 737BBJ and orders the APU to run for days and sometimes weeks. Really!

I live in a really nice area near Echo RomeoLand but am seriously looking to move precisely because I'm adjacent to a (now) busy access street where people with Hawgs, very noisy vehicles and -- my pet peeve -- cars with HD stereos that rattle my CBS home starting two blocks away are making my life miserable . Just because the street was there first doesn't give those inconsiderate drivers the right to make excessive noise. We pilots can do better; we should be considerate of others lest they take excessive action like that at SMO. In fact, MAYBE this should be an educational item on the Flight Review checklist. CFI's ... take note.

At the airport, one of the things that frosts MY cookies is people who point their prop blast at other airplanes or hangars. I have a pet name for these pilots but you'd ban me to Devil's Island if I typed it. Nuff said.

In MY cranky old age, I'm not above correcting others when their errant behavior negatively impacts me or others who might be more apt to endure it than complain. Leo is right ... we should be thinking 'outside the box' and considering "the masses." Not necessarily because there are more of them than there are of us but because it's the right thing to do. I don't think you're going "rogue" at all. You've 'nudged' us. Now then ... could you please speak with the AeroShell Team about this at Airventure 2017! 0700 is a bit much.

Posted by: Larry Stencel | December 2, 2016 8:19 AM    Report this comment

I absolutely agree with being sound-considerate of others (on and off the airport) but sometimes this concept seems to fall on deaf ears (pun not really intended but take it for what it's worth!). Nice to know there are a few others out there that actually think about this issue.

Regarding noise, one thing not mentioned above is pitch (i.e. frequency) sensitivity; it does make a big difference to the annoyance factor. The screaming APU and fine-pitch Bonanza prop make most folks cringe in agony, but on the other hand the sound of a 65 Continental powered Aeronca or Cub puttering overhead is wonderful in my opinion. Radials aren't that bad either, although they can carry a much higher decibel level. Maybe it's just my nostalgia, I dunno. On another front, we live about a mile from a Norfolk Southern mainline and we actually enjoy the sound of passing trains at night; however there is a new generation of higher-pitch train horns slowly coming online that is more irritating than soothing in my opinion. Pitch matters!

Posted by: A Richie | December 2, 2016 8:57 AM    Report this comment

Noise is a real problem, not just an old fart thing. You would think, given the emphasis placed on noise reduction everywhere, coupled with watching the ongoing loss of GA airports, that the vast majority of us pilots would automatically be on board with the fly-quietly thing, but no, no, no.

At our owner-operated patch, which as is typical has gradually gained a ring of non-aviation housing areas that we must fly over coming & going, any meeting at which minimizing unnecessary noisemaking is brought up invariably launches some very vocal opposition to the notion. Leading off with the accurate but totally irrelevant "we were here first" backed up by the equally irrelevant "I'm not violating any regs", it moves into a litany of reasons why making lots of noise is the only way to fly. Screaming flat pitch on downwind? Have to be ready for a go-around. Taking off over the dense housing rather than using our posted preferred departure direction over the still sparsely developed area? Would have meant a one-knot tailwind takeoff, terribly unsafe (and/or) so what, it was the convenient direction. Use some normal pattern entry at low power rather than the fighter jock full throttle overhead with a tight pitchout over the houses into the downwind? It's the best way to see who is in the pattern (and/or) my super rocket homebuilt is so slick I can't slow down to land any other way.

If we don't want to be "Europeanized", a little awareness of how our neighbors perceive our activities is not just nice, it's essential.

Posted by: John Wilson | December 2, 2016 9:31 AM    Report this comment

I used to live on the edge of a valley in rural Somerset, England, at a time when the RAF went nuts about low-level attacks.
The idea was to get below the radar, and there were also those runway denial bombs new on the market which had to be launched from around 100ft. (Even then I could see it was stupid. It took the first Gulf war when pilots reported that every shepherd with a shotgun was having a pop at them and RAF losses were far to high for the RAF to change.)
The result for us was that we often looked down on to fighters streaking towards a bombing range in Wales. Yes it was noisy. Now here is the funny part. A distant relation was a RAF fighter pilot and he just about wet himself when one of these jets went past.
He had absolutely no idea of how noisy they were on the ground...

Posted by: John Patson | December 2, 2016 9:36 AM    Report this comment

In one of my previous positions, I attended a city council meeting in a fine Florida city where there was very vocal and loud opposition to the airport. Despite an excellent presentation by the pro-airport support folks, the locals were very concerned with airport noise. Many made stirring, emotional comments related to how airport noise was affecting their quality of life, I get it. Many also seemed to enjoy having an airport in their community, I get that too. The comment that just about floored me was the one by an older woman who stated quite clearly that she didn't mind the little small airplanes flying around, she just hated the damn training airplanes that kept buzzing around the airport making her feel like she was under attach all day long. Once I stopped chuckling at her ability to sort out the trainers from the pleasure flyers, I understood her angst. It really is frequency, both audio and timing. And that's part of the problem with airport/aircraft noise, unless you mute or muffle it, you can only redistribute it if you don't stop it all together and I know we don't want that. But if you redistribute it now somebody else is mad.

As a young CFI, I was guilty of overusing certain practice areas and began to figure out that I shouldn't tick off my neighbors. I tried to pass that along to my students as I "got it." I think Tom Yarsley makes a good point for adding Informed Courtesy to the flight training syllabus and to the flight review process. And since we like to say we do a good job of self-policing our industry (GA), let's take Larry's suggestion to not be timid if there's somebody screwing it up for the rest of us.

Good column Paul!

Posted by: J Collins | December 2, 2016 12:37 PM    Report this comment

Living a pleasant 20 mile drive from my home airport at least affords me to reside in a quiet, wooded area of east Phoenix near the mountain, away from any noisy airports. Most days (because of the climate) I can spend some time in backyard privacy, listening to birds and distant sounds, drinking Geritol...

... but occasionally there comes the most nerve-shattering, thundering sound that sends the cat flying back inside, birds flying and oh-my-god-what-the-%&*!^-is-that!?!? Did anything shatter or break? Everybody ok? Why are there children crying? After I gather my wits again, I realize it was just a Native Air medical helicopter flying over the rooftops at mach 1, smashing anything below it into another dimension on the way to the hospital 2 miles away.

Not sure how many more of these events I can take. Don't ever buy a house 2 miles away from a damn hospital, just sayin.

Posted by: Dave Miller | December 2, 2016 12:45 PM    Report this comment

Larry Stencel--"At the airport, one of the things that frosts MY cookies is people who point their prop blast at other airplanes or hangars." Agreed! For the 54 years I've been flying at our airport, we've had the "beer fine"--someone that makes a big mistake is expected to buy beer--a 6-pack for a minor infraction (leaving a master switch on) to a full case for something serious (leaving the mags on). For those failing to close a flight plan--it's a case--and TWO cases if we have to lie to the FSS about it ("the pilot is just on the way up to close the flight plan after taking care of the airplane.")

For those who run up and blast a hangar--or simply turn the tail of the airplane toward the hangar when shutting down--they get a choice. They either get handed a broom to clean out the hangar, or have the option of buying a case of beer for atonement.

The nice thing about the "beer system" is that while it IS judgmental--it is also good-natured. It sends a friendly message--"I saw you do something stupid, and I'm bringing it to your attention in a friendly manner. It means I care about you." The offender almost always comes up with the beer-- enjoys the conviviality of drinking it with his airport friends--becomes an "accepted member" of the community--and is on the lookout for someone ELSE making a mistake.

Peer pressure is more effective than all the FAA preaching. Consider smoking--all of the government warnings barely moved the needle on the number of smokers--only when peer pressure identified it as no longer "cool" did the numbers drop.

How effective is the "beer system"? There were so few screw-ups that there was a beer shortage--one of the thirsty crowd said "I guess one of us will have to go out and do something stupid to get any beer around here!

Posted by: jim hanson | December 2, 2016 4:17 PM    Report this comment

Paul, get a 'shotgun' microphone.

Posted by: Matthew Lee | December 3, 2016 12:19 AM    Report this comment

.... I used to live next to an active railroad line.

Jake: "How often does that train go by?"

Elwood: "So often, you won't even notice it."

Posted by: Phil DeRosier | December 3, 2016 2:15 AM    Report this comment

Have a shotgun mic, Matthew. A good one; a Rode. Two problems. One is setup time, the other is distance from the camera. Lots of our shots of are out its range, so we use FM cardioid lav mics and suffer the frustration of ambient noise. I have tried everything to address this.

Professional videographers have suggested I shoot in a studio. Duh!

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | December 3, 2016 3:54 AM    Report this comment

Jim, you're as old as I so you should remember the NIH's role in smoking reduction. The push came from studies from American Cancer Society and Heart Association who, for years, railed against smoking with no results. They finally got NIH interested and health warnings became official policy with the landmark 1964 report.

From an NIH summary, "The 1964 report on smoking and health had an impact on public attitudes and policy. A Gallup Survey conducted in 1958 found that only 44 percent of Americans believed smoking caused cancer, while 78 percent believed so by 1968.

So yeah, peer pressure works. But where do you think it came from? In this case, government policy played a major role. I suspect if it had not happened, the tobacco companies would still be denying the health effects of tobacco, as they did formally well into the 2000s. So government action didn't just move the needle, it pegged it.

The parallel with airport noise is that local policies provide the framework for whatever peer pressure might come to bear. Unless pilots live near the airport, they won't be sensitive to noise issues and will tend to blow off the neighbors, as I have done for most of my flying career. Active airport management could do the same, if the airport management will do it. Your beer rule is a nice example.

That kind of proactive civic engagement is rare. Sometimes it needs a nudge.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | December 3, 2016 4:18 AM    Report this comment

Ah yes, the wisdom and passion of the recently converted. When I go onto an airport, I EXPECT to hear airplane noise. Make your cutaway shots, close up's etc at the airport. Then go to a quiet place and add your voice overs, interviews etc. Using your previously shot silent video.. That's how the pro's do it. You don't need a quiet airport. Just get a good Foley person.

Don't forget it is an airport, not a movie lot.

Posted by: April Talmadge | December 3, 2016 8:47 AM    Report this comment

Uh OH ... food fight !

Beer! Did that man say beer? Jim H ... what's the ICAO for your airport. I wanna fly over there and do sumthin' wrong !! :-) Sounds like my kiinda place. Sorta like the cussing jar at work. GREAT idea.

Posted by: Larry Stencel | December 3, 2016 9:03 AM    Report this comment

Was that noisy APU on a Gulfstream G200?

Posted by: Jetwzrd Exclent | December 3, 2016 9:58 AM    Report this comment

Touche. However, I did point out that airplanes have right of way over videographers. I'll let you know when we stand up the Foley department.

The noisy airplane this week was a Citation, I think. Probably idling engines, not APU. I couldn't actually see it.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | December 3, 2016 11:56 AM    Report this comment

I'm all for courtesy but then again, I live under the downwind near Patrick Air Force Base and can't ay I've ever been bothered by the noise. Yes C-130s, P-3s, C17s and the occasional fighter are loud but it's the sound of freedom. When a rare night time departure wakes me up, I just think of the PJs on board getting ready for a long dark swim.

Posted by: Isaac Silver | December 3, 2016 9:36 PM    Report this comment

Isaac: Many opponents of airport noise also appreciate that military jet noise is "the sound of freedom." Unfortunately, at least as many think that GA noise is "the sound of insensitive, entitled fat-cat one-percenters." It should be to our collective shame that too often, that assessment is accurate (as has been documented above).

Leave nothing but footprints...

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | December 4, 2016 5:33 AM    Report this comment

We do leave footprints. They're elongated ovals 1/4 mile wide and two miles long centered on 95-decibel screeches. They're all over the place.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | December 4, 2016 6:14 AM    Report this comment

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