It is an almost universal picture: a young child pointing at the sky as an airplane flies by. But, as we grow older, that sound that once delighted us is now unwanted and even annoying. This nuisance can be especially bothersome if you live near an airport.
In 2017, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics found that “more than 97 percent of the U.S. population has the potential to be exposed to noise from aviation and Interstate highways at levels below 50 decibels or roughly comparable to the noise level of a humming refrigerator. Less than one-tenth of a percent of the population could potentially experience noise levels of 80 decibels or more, equivalent to the noise level of a garbage disposal.”
The Federal Aviation Administration’s aircraft noise standards require that aircrafts meet or fall below designated noise levels. For civil jet aircraft, there are four stages identified, with Stage 1 being the loudest and Stage 4 being the quietest.
To comply with the FAA’s noise regulations, airports must have a Noise Monitoring System in place that allows them to monitor, manage and control the noise levels generated by aircraft movements in and around the airport.
Philadelphia International Airport’s Noise Office continuously tracks aircraft operations, measured noise levels, compliance with noise abatement procedures, and noise complaints. In 2019, we began tracking our response time to ensure that we are properly serving our community.
PHL has nine permanent noise monitors located in the region that measure noise levels 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. We also offer appropriate portable noise monitoring to surrounding residents at their request.
“With the large amount of flight activity in the Philadelphia region, some exposure to aircraft noise is unavoidable, but PHL is working to minimize this. The main method for this is the voluntary Fly Quiet Program, which consists of, from 10:00 PM to 6:00 AM, planes flying down the middle of the Delaware River until they reach sufficient altitude to perform a turn to minimize noise exposure to the surrounding community,” said Raymond Scheinfeld, PHL’s Environmental Manager. “This effort keeps departing aircraft further from residential areas while they are at their lowest and loudest. Last year, voluntary compliance was more than 99% each month.”
If you have been impacted by aircraft noise, you can contact the Airport Noise Office by sending an email to email@example.com or calling the Airport Noise Hotline at 215-937-6750. Be sure to provide sufficient details about your concern, including:
- Name and address
- Date and time of the flight (please specify AM or PM)
- Description of the aircraft (if visually observed) and/or its sound (propeller, jet, etc.)
- Contact information, such as phone number or email address
- Also, please let us know if you would like to be contacted or if you only want the flight investigated and complaint counted
“PHL doesn’t receive that many noise complaints, compared to other airports, but it is still very important that we address them. This could be attributed to the effectiveness of the voluntary Fly Quiet Program, the way PHL’s aircraft fly paths are set up, and the FAA requirements and initiatives,” said Scheinfeld.
Between March and June 1, 2019, the Office logged 109 complaints and 588 for the year. During this same period of time in 2020, they have recorded 37 complaints and 127 for the year. Likewise, before COVID-19, the average response time for noise complaints was four days; since March, it’s about two and a half days.
COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic in mid-March and, as a consequence, air travel at PHL was reduced by 80-90 percent.
“Something interesting that has recently come to light with a few people I have talked to is that they are saying that the aircrafts are louder or that they are flying at lower altitudes, but we have looked at the data and we have noticed that their situation hasn’t changed. We have narrowed it down to the fact that because there is less activity, the nuisance is more pronounced, they are noticing more,” said Carrol Fowler, DOA Senior Noise Management Consultant.