Too much airplane noise? Towns should wait and listen

To save fuel and limit pollution, the Federal Aviation Administration is streamlining its air traffic patterns around the country. At close-in Logan Airport, the rerouting of thousands of flights per week is already raising concerns in some neighborhoods. This is a perennial problem: Airport noise has been a source of passionate protests dating back more than 40 years. But today’s angry neighbors should wait and listen before raising sweeping objections: The current generation of airliners is far less noisy than its predecessors, and the FAA is confident that the towns most heavily impacted by the change in flight patterns won’t notice much of a difference.

One of the new flight paths for planes taking off to the north will include a quick left turn that would send more air traffic over a relatively narrow swath of Dedham and Milton, where neighbors are aggressively petitioning against the change. But by the time the flights reach that corridor, they will already be at 10,000 feet, a height at which relatively little noise can be heard on the ground, according to the FAA.

Predicting aircraft noise is an imprecise science, and the ultimate test will come when the new flight path is activated; if the noise is, indeed, significant, the FAA will then have to respond to neighbors’ complaints. But to make changes now, on mere suppositions, seems unnecessary.


Ultimately, the rerouting will make for shorter, smoother flights, with far less fuel being consumed. The takeoff patterns are being changed to allow for more direct landings. Under the current “stair-step” landings, planes descend to certain levels and then hold there, while following a zigzag pattern dictated by air-traffic controllers. The turning, slowing down, speeding up, dropping, and leveling off consumes thousands of gallons of fuel — rather like a car that’s constantly stopping and starting. Under the new system, planes will follow GPS satellite waypoints in a much more gradual landing, with less braking and throttling.

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The FAA says that, across the nation, the improvements will reduce delays 38 percent by 2020, save $24 billion, and cut carbon dioxide emissions by an amount equal to those of nearly 3 million cars.

No community relishes the prospect of more planes overhead, but the burdens of the new air traffic system will be shared by many, with those nearest the airport continuing to bear the most. Until there’s an actual noise problem, residents should wait and see, understanding that the new system carries benefits for all.