The Decibel Dilemma

Capacity and Airport Noise

By Brenda Enos, CHMM, REM

Like automobiles moving along a highway, aircraft crisscross the sky, connecting airports in an elaborate, well-timed dance. But all that traffic in the sky is reflective of traffic on the ground, and as capacities at airports grow and skyways become more crowded, the environmental concerns associated with airport noise continue to increase.

Delayed Impacts

Capacity, in terms of arriving and departing flights, depends on several variables. The number of runways in use, the types of aircraft accommodated, and the distance between departing and arriving aircraft all play a role. Delays occur when aircraft traffic exceeds an airport’s capabilities. To counter these delays, airports often use runway expansions or traffic pattern adjustments.

However, both strategies impact the surrounding areas. One of the biggest impacts is that of noise pollution, which commonly affects the areas beyond the ends of the runways, where arriving and departing aircraft fly at low altitudes. Because many of these high-noise areas surrounding airports are occupied by residential neighborhoods, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) enforces noise compatibility requirements for airports. Noise studies can identify potential noise concerns.