Air Traffic and Noise Pollution on the Rise

The fact that reduced engine noise in new aircraft is viewed as a selling point, highlights the problem of noise pollution in highly populated areas. As air travel becomes more accessible to more people, and the number of airplanes landing at and taking off from airports continues to increase, noise pollution caused by this upsurge in air traffic is causing a very real problem in many areas.

London’s Heathrow Airport is a case in point, and as far back as 1996 authorities set up a ‘Day Noise Insulation Scheme’ to assist homeowners living within the boundaries of the airport’s flight paths. The scheme subsidizes the installation of secondary glazing, ventilation and loft insulation in an effort to subdue the noise level in people’s homes. The Heathrow Noise Action program even offers eligible homeowners assistance to relocate if they wish to do so.

A recent report noted that the plan to build a third runway at Heathrow is likely to increase passenger numbers at the airport to 130 million a year. This proposal has been put forward in one form or another in recent years, and has been rejected by residents and the mayor of London, Boris Johnson. He is in favor of building new airports away from highly populated areas, or extending Stansted airport, rather than opening up ways for even more aircraft to land at Heathrow. Management at Heathrow have noted that the expansion at the airport will reduce the number of people affected by the noise, partly because of the demolition of houses that would need to take place to build the runway and extra terminal. It has been reported that the three options being considered will call for the demolition of between 850 and 2,700 properties and that homeowners can expect compensation greater than market value.

Across the Atlantic, New Yorkers in the borough of Queens are also up in arms about airplane noise as the FAA has approved increased use of the so-called ‘Flushing Climb’ from La Guardia Airport in an effort to ease congested airspace. Residents are complaining that they were never consulted and that the noise has become unbearable. The FAA notes that as more airlines comply with precision GPS navigation, technology that will reduce emissions and fuel consumption, the problem of noise pollution will decrease as aircraft ‘glide’ in to land, rather than approaching with engines in full power. But people living with the noise every day are unhappy about waiting for airlines to catch up with technology and a number of citizen groups have arisen to object. It remains to be seen what solutions will be offered by airlines, airport authorities and national authorities in the issue of airplane noise pollution.