By Tom Hoffmann, FAA Safety Briefing Managing Editor
For many folks in the aviation industry, myself included, there’s something extremely alluring about the sounds of a general aviation airport. Whether it’s the chug-chug-chug of a starter motor bringing life to a small internal combustion engine, the distant whirring and purring of airplanes taxiing to and fro, or the piercing chirp of rubber meeting the runway on landing, the collective sounds are almost symphonic, even intoxicating. But, as they say, beauty is in the eye (or maybe ear) of the beholder. What some hear as pleasing can be just noise to others.
This subjectivity is just one of many factors the FAA looks at when considering the effects of noise exposure on airport communities. As explained in “Cutting Through All the Noise,” the FAA is focused on ways to address this problem, which recent survey results indicate have become an increasing annoyance. While general aviation operations don’t typically raise to the same level of noise caused by air carriers, there are a number of ways we, as pilots, can reduce the aircraft noise footprint over sensitive areas.
Cutting Through All the Noise
How the FAA is Working to Reduce the Impact of Aircraft Noise
Be a Better Neighbor
A good first step is to follow any noise abatement procedures already in place at your airport or any other airport you visit. If a slight course deviation during departure or arrival can reduce your impact on the community, it is well worth the adjustment. If your airport doesn’t have noise abatement procedures, ask airport management to consider whether it might be helpful to establish such protocols. Even slight lateral flight path adjustments can have notably positive impacts on noise sensitive neighbors. Before you head out to the airport, check the remarks section of the applicable U.S. Chart Supplement for noise abatement procedures, and make it a point to comply unless safety requires otherwise.
In addition to making lateral adjustments to reduce noise, consider vertical adjustments (altitude) as well. Since the airport and its immediate surroundings can be considered insensitive to noise, why not use Vx (best angle of climb speed) on departure? By thinking in terms of angle rather than rate of climb, we can increase the altitude gained before exiting airport property. That, in turn, means a lower noise signature on the ground because of the greater vertical separation from noise-sensitive neighbors.
The caveat is that safety should always come first. A Vx climb may compromise forward visibility and make it more difficult to track an aircraft you’re following. Also be mindful that Vx reduces your margin above the 1-g stalling speed. If you haven’t done much flying at best-angle-of-climb, consider hiring an instructor to practice.
Another noise-friendly tactic is to reduce power and/or prop speed when it is possible and safe to do so. This technique applies particularly to those with constant speed props. Even a modest reduction in RPM can make a significant difference to your neighbors. As with the previous technique, though, never compromise safety of flight.
There are good, noise-friendly flying techniques for helicopter pilots as well. The Fly Neighborly Noise Abatement Training program, created by the FAA and endorsed by Helicopter Association International, teaches pilots and operators noise abatement procedures and situational awareness tools that can minimize the effects of helicopter noise on communities. Some takeaways: climbing turns are quieter than level and/or descending turns, and steeper takeoffs and approach glide paths can greatly reduce your noise footprint. To view the course (ALC-500), go to bit.ly/ALC500.
With Hearts and Minds
Another strategy for being a good neighbor involves reaching out to your community to improve your airport’s public image. Since many people fear what they don’t know or understand, an event like an airport open house or barbeque could go a long way in helping demystify the GA environment and tout the joy of personal aviation. These events could also provide pilots a chance to better understand and appreciate airport neighbors’ concerns about noise, safety, and perhaps other issues. Now that “sounds” like a plan!
FAA Safety Briefing’s associate editor James Williams contributed to this article.
Tom Hoffmann is the managing editor of FAA Safety Briefing. He is a commercial pilot and holds an A&P certificate.