Spring 1997 – Airplane noise: Residents losing sleep under loud planes

Has airplane noise that you hear in your home increased? Are you being awakened in the middle of the night by planes? Have to stop telephone conversations? Aren’t there regulations about airplane noise, especially at night?

A return visit to the BHA by Dade County Aviation staffer Jeff Bunting gave residents several explanations and somewhat distant hope about airplane noise in the Brickell Area. Indeed, noise has increased as Miami International Airport continues to grow in passenger and cargo volume.

The details about the situation and what can be done get a little confusing, but what is important to know is this: Residential Brickell is under a flight path taken by planes using the southern one of two east-west runways at M.I.A. The Winter 1992 BHA News reported that the Aviation Department said once a delayed refurbishing project closing the northern runway was finished, the less noise sensitive northern one would be used again at night and the southern one over Brickell would be closed from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. In 1995 we reported that Jeff Bunting said a lot of noise abatement boils down to pilot technique and consideration. He explained how M.I.A. was working with pilots to get them to fly high over residential neighborhoods and would be adding shoreline and islands to the radar screen so pilots could see where they are in relation to neighborhoods. The BHA also reported in both issues that the elimination of Stage 2 aircraft for the quieter Stage 3 aircraft would be complete by the year 2000, greatly alleviating the problem.

All Night Long

Closed runway? Nothing doing, Bunting said. “Miami International is open 24 hours a day.” He explained the northern runway is the preferred runway and air controllers try to direct pilots over that one. The one over Brickell, however, is longer and easier to use, especially if the plane is an overloaded cargo carrier, which Bunting said, is frequently the case. If a pilot tells the controller, “I want to use the other runway,” the controller must comply.

What about the campaign to make the pilots fly higher, make their turns farther out, over water? It seems that it just hasn’t worked so well. There are no fines or penalties at M.I.A., unlike at other airports, thus no incentive to pilots. “In Miami we have informal noise abatement procedures,” Bunting said. “We’re looking to formalize them.” He has a plan for consolidating the flight path, which now looks like a hodgepodge of arcs of every degree from the airport out to the Atlantic. The proposed plan calls for turns 10 miles out and at a higher altitude.

But whatever he proposes can’t shift the impact on residents from one neighborhood to another. Not 1.5 decibels higher. The Aviation Department is purchasing a ground-level microphone-recording system to measure noise to prove that they’re not increasing in one area too much.

“I can’t rob Peter to pay Paul,” Bunting quipped. That’s why he can’t move the flight path over downtown, even though it’s virtually shut down at night and void of people. He has to have the ground readings to prove no one is adversely impacted.

If the Federal Aviation Administration approves his plan, it still must be approved by the Metro-Dade Aviation Committee and the full County Commission body. The Commissioners, elected by district, will each protect their neighborhoods if they perceive they’ll be adversely impacted, Bunting explained.

“What about the promised newer, less noisy aircraft?” residents asked. Many said that when they look out their windows to see what’s making the obnoxious noise, they often see what look to be older aircraft, surely not Stage 3. Bunting explained that the phase out is measured by fleet. So, an airline might have an adequate percentage of its overall fleet as Stage 3, but is not obligated to spread them around airports. All their old planes may be used for cargo going to and from M.I.A. All the old Stage 2 will be gone, but not until December 31, 1999.

From BHA News, Spring 1997, Vol. VII, No. 2