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Pandemic Heightens Need to Fly Neighborly

Noise is a perennial challenge that business aviation has worked diligently to address. Efforts by airport and aircraft operators to abate noise, combined with technological advancements in engine design and satellite-based navigation aids over the past 40 years, have dramatically reduced both the noise footprint of aircraft and the number of people impacted by aircraft noise. However, the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic may undo this hard work unless aviation professionals reexamine what it means to be a “good neighbor” to communities now accustomed to an environment unencumbered by aircraft noise.

“People have been working from home, and many are enjoying their new work-life balance. Part of that enjoyment is the quiet that surrounds them,” explains Sjohnna Knack, program manager of planning and environmental affairs (airport noise) at San Diego County Regional Airport Authority. “As aircraft operations return, we have to think strategically about how we can work with our industry stakeholders to minimize the potentially significant impact that noise could have on the communities that surround our airports.”

Noise abatement is a delicate process that must satisfy the FAA’s primary goals of safety and operational efficiency, while meeting a local community’s needs, says Timothy Middleton, C.M., senior consultant at HMMH, an environmental and transportation consultancy. But now, with the disruption to operations caused by COVID-19, regulators, the aviation industry and local community leaders have an opportunity to revisit their approach to noise control.

“The FAA has been rolling out new modifications and procedures for several years, with some degree of success,” said Middleton. “But with COVID-19, there may be the potential for the FAA to work more closely with communities and flight crews to look at modifications a little bit differently to reconsider what are good flight procedures for noise abatement.”

“Whether you are flying a rotorcraft or a fixed-wing aircraft, it is paramount that you are aware of the sensitivities of the community you are going into.”

Alex Gertsen Director of Airports and Ground Infrastructure, NBAA

Stakeholders from both sides of the noise abatement debate should be wary of mandatory routes and procedures, warns Jeff Smith, chief helicopter pilot at a Part 91 flight department, board member of the Eastern Region Helicopter Council, chair of the NBAA Access Committee, and a key figure in addressing noise challenges around East Hampton Airport on Long Island, NY.

“People advocate for mandatory routes without appreciating that they require rulemaking,” Smith said. “Rulemaking is one of the most arduous tasks in government. Worse still, mandatory routes are even harder to revoke, so if they impact residents that never had a noise issue before, that is very difficult to resolve.”

Instead, Smith recommends voluntary procedures that are collaboratively evaluated by airports, industry, government officials and community leaders. In East Hampton, he notes, noise abatement routes are reviewed annually to be sensitive to the local community’s concerns, and this year the effort has resulted in overwater routes that start some 16 miles from the airport.

The business aviation community has long demonstrated its commitment to noise abatement, and most flights are completed in accordance with recommended procedures. But in a new environment in which the population potentially impacted by aircraft noise has grown exponentially, it is important for pilots and operators to remain conscientious.

Noise abatement offices, airport operations departments and airport websites are the best sources for current information on noise abatement procedures and should be consulted during pre-flight planning. Airport noise roundtables are informative forums to learn about current initiatives, and aircraft operators are encouraged to participate.

Pilots and operators must be cognizant of the potential impact should they ignore noise abatement procedures, says Alex Gertsen, C.M., ACE and NBAA’s director of airports and ground infrastructure.
“Whether you are flying a rotorcraft or a fixed-wing aircraft, it is paramount that you are aware of the sensitivities of the community you are going into,” Gertsen declared. “Pilots should know the voluntary procedures that are in place and understand that these procedures are the result of tremendous efforts by all stakeholders. All it takes is one or two non-compliant aircraft to negate years of progress made by those working on noise initiatives and advocating for the airport.”

Review NBAA’s noise abatement procedures at nbaa.org/noise.

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