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Airport Neighbors Unhappier About Noise Than Ever Despite Far Quieter Planes

New FAA study reveals how aircraft noise annoys like nothing else and suggests the reason why.

A low flying plane.
Composite image by Plane & Pilot.

Compared to early screaming turbine engines (thanks to continuous improvement in design), airplane noise over the past 60 years or so has been reduced to a whisper of its former self. But a recently published FAA Neighborhood Environmental Survey, the first since 1992, reveals that a large majority of people who live near airports are “highly annoyed” by aircraft flying overhead. And while the survey focused on neighborhoods surrounding 20 large airports, the results show that public sentiment is largely against anything that flies.

The survey included 10,000 respondents and was filtered by noise level. The level of animosity people have toward airplane noise is really nothing new. But the strangest takeaway is that quieter airplanes have not made airport-adjacent residents more happy. It has had the opposite effect.

They were also far more annoyed by aircraft noise than other types of noise, such as loud traffic. The so-called Schultz Curve from previous surveys shows that no one seemed perturbed by noise levels of 50 decibels, around 10% of respondents were “highly annoyed” by 65 decibels and less than 40% got that angry at 75 dB.

In the new “National” Curve from this survey, however, almost 20% were “highly annoyed” by 50 dB, around 66% by 65 dB, and close to 90% by 75 dB.


So, less noise is now angering more people. And this is at a time when windows in houses are far better insulated from outside sound than in decades past, suggesting that the problem might be with people’s sentiments toward noise rather than with the actual noise.

And that perception certainly extends to GA aircraft. In fact, that animosity likely ramps up around smaller GA airports, where much of the population sees personal flying as a luxury for the elite.

One reason for the boost in negative regard could be that GPS-derived routing now has aircraft overflying new areas. Going from zero traffic to even a little is likely to generate a whole new source of noise complaints. And you can bet the people who have less traffic overhead are not calling the FAA to express their appreciation.

General aviation pilots are usually well attuned to noise abatement policies. “Flying neighborly” has been a practice for decades. But zoning policies that allow residential building closer and closer to runways has accelerated the old problem of people moving to a neighborhood near an airport, then complaining about the airplanes flying over their houses—in some cases, exerting political pressure to limit traffic or shut down the airport altogether.


So, while the FAA study was mostly about jet traffic, it adds weight to such efforts around GA airports, as well, even when the real motives for the anti-airport sentiment often seem to be more about real estate than quality of life.



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