Airport Noise And The Tyranny Of The Minority – Forbes
Recently, the Mercatus Center at George Mason University released a short study on airport noise complaints. In the study, Eli Dourado and Raymond Russell examined data released by several U.S. airports with dedicated hotlines for these public complaints. They found that in almost all of the airports examined, a vast majority of the complaints were voiced by one or two people. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) cannot allow this vocal minority to dictate the regulation they impose on the aviation industry.
In 2015, Reagan National Airport received more than 8,700 complaints. Of those complaints, almost 7,000 were traced back to only two individuals who lived in the same house in Northwest D.C., more than 5 miles away from the airport. Thatâs almost 80% of the noise complaints recorded that year. On average, this means that those two people called the airport 19 times per day for the entire year. Assuming these individuals sleep for eight hours per night, they would have had to call Reagan National once every 50 minutes of their waking lives last year!
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This is not unique. Many large airports around the country have to deal with the same person calling over and over. In Seattle, hotline operators got so tired of hearing from the same caller that they stopped creating transcripts of her complaints as they did for other calls. They simply tallied up her calls at the end of each month and added a note saying, âSame complaint over and over. Records a/c flying over.â
The problem with these over-concerned citizens is that they have a disproportionate impact on aircraft regulations by making it appear that more people are outraged over airport noise than is actually the case. As a result, the FAA has passed multiple regulations that force airlines to use quieter planes. These regulations include flight speed prohibitions and a ban on supersonic flight. While these few individuals may be annoyed by noisy airplanes and have the right to voice that frustration, we cannot allow them to prevent the potential economic benefits of emerging technologies like supersonic flight from coming to fruition.
Allowing planes to operate without regulations to quiet them would create cheaper flights for travelers. Pilots often must circle their aircraft high above the airport as they wait for air traffic control to help them land safely. These holding patterns unnecessarily burn lots of fuel. The FAA is rolling out a program called NextGen that will eliminate the need for circling. The NextGen technology allows aircraft to descend gradually, coasting toward the runway. But these longer descents would mean more noise on the ground along the descent path. And more noise means more complaints from these already upset citizens, which could disproportionately influence the implementation of this program. Still, we canât let these few influence restrictions on more affordable and more available air travel that would benefit many.
Another step forward in air travel that comes with increased noise is supersonic flight. Imagine being able to take your girlfriend out for a nice Thai dinner, in Thailand, all in one night. Or being able to make an afternoon trip to visit your friend who is studying abroad in France. All this would be possible with supersonic flights. The Concorde aircraft could have you chatting face-to-face with your Parisian friend in under three hours. Travel at this speed would encourage greater interaction of cultures and give ordinary people the ability to visit faraway places they never thought possible. And think of what it would mean for business. Reducing time spent sitting on a plane means that people can spend more time innovating and producing goods and services that benefit all of us. That is worth a little more noise.
Understanding the true distribution of noise complaints will allow the FAA to make better decisions on how to regulate the aviation industry. Not caving to the loud outbursts of a few citizens means increased and cheaper travel possibilities for everyone. And that is something to make a fuss about.