December 1997 – Rumble over Miami: Aircraft “noise” intrusion

By Francisco J. Garcia

Few of us who live and/or work in the City of Miami have not at some time experienced noise intrusion caused by an aircraft thundering by overhead. Worse yet, many who work and live in the city are systematically subjected to these highly disruptive, not-to-mention irritating, incidents. It doesn’t help that aircraft fly-bys are regularly scheduled, for no closing of windows, no raising the stereo’s volume and no pillow over the head can baffle the annoying vibrations that shake us about from the inside, out.

Once, while speaking about this very issue with Captain Edward Ferrer, a seasoned aviator with more than 50 years of military and civilian flight to his credit, I expressed my astonishment at just how loud departing aircraft noise can be. He stated matter-of-factly: it’s no more than the noise of a blowtorch as heard through a fan… a million-fold!

No question about it, aircraft fly-bys are disturbing; their recurrence, trying, and everyone’s seeming inability to do anything about them, downright infuriating. Miami’s residents know this. Miami’s businessmen know this. Miami’s Planning and Development Division knows this. More importantly, Miami’s Commissioners know this, they too are residents. Most important of all, perhaps, is that something can and is being done about noise intrusion. As always, however, the swiftness of the results is inversely proportional to the complexity of the issue.

Unfortunately for us all, this is indeed a very complex issue. An overview of the main factors conspiring to complicate it may elucidate our path toward a solution. First, it is important to realize that aircraft noise intrusion is foremost a Miami issue. Not to imply that other municipalities don’t suffer adverse effects as a result of Miami International Airport’s operations, but none more intensely and none more innocently than Miami.

None more intensely

Miami happens to abut the Airport in the upwind direction. Aircraft must takeoff against the prevailing wind and in South Florida prevailing winds travel in a westerly direction.

Aircraft must therefore takeoff in an easterly heading. Upon leaving the tarmac, engines roaring in an effort to gain altitude, departing aircraft rumble over Miami the first five to six miles of their voyage. It is in these first crucial moments, while the aircraft must break the gravitational pull, that the engines are strained to the fullest and are therefore at their loudest. This fact coupled with the still close proximity of the craft to the ground in the incipient stages of levitation accounts for the disproportionate impact borne by Miamians.

None more innocently

This may be a somewhat academic consideration, but in my mind none too trifle. Miami, as a municipality, clearly predates Miami International Airport. In fact, it happens to be the only municipality in South Florida that predates heavier-than-air flight. Much of

Miami’s framework and infrastructure was certainly present prior to construction of the airport. In contrast, a significant part of the development in other municipalities has occurred in spite or perhaps because of the airport’s location. Their complaints seem therefore to have a hollower ring. I won’t dwell much, I would only suggest that some deference is owed to Miami.

Secondly, there is the issue of jurisdiction or better stated who can, if they should will it, do something about aircraft noise intrusion in Miami. The answer to this question is at the crux of why a solution to this problem is so difficult to achieve. The ultimate authority to effect substantial change is essentially three-times removed whence the problem occurs and three-times disjointed. Federal, regional and county authorities share operational responsibilities, although the way in which this unfolds frankly eludes me. Lest it seem I have been remiss in my research, let me clarify that this shared administration is no exact science, rather an elusive alchemy.

In the interest of fairness, I will assert my firm subscription to the principle of checks and balances. It must be recognized that matters of international, or even national, commerce and travel should by no means be subject to the caprices or idiosyncrasies of any one region or municipality. This justifies federal involvement. I hasten to add, however, that the interests, especially as pertains to quality of life of individual citizens, should not be compromised by a bureaucracy too large to micro-manage any issue. The bottom-line, as I have come to understand it, lies with the ability of the municipal (county) authority to powerfully advocate and protect the interests of its constituency.

Let us further consider that our municipal airport authority, Dade County Aviation Department (DCAD), must also look after the gainful and efficient operation of the Airport. Nor would Miamians settle for less, given the pivotal role the airport plays in our regional economy. This being the case, the only sensible and practical solution seems to be to find a means to abate aircraft noise intrusion to a satisfactory level without unduly infringing on the safety and efficiency of airport operations. Sensible and practical, yes…but feasible? Also yes!

The City of Miami Committee for Aircraft Noise Abatement and the Planning and Development Division have produced a Noise Mitigation Program which sets forth the means to accomplish just this objective. Its strategy is simple to follow and simpler to understand. In a nutshell, three simple measures would take us the greater part of the way there. They are:

1) Whenever prevailing winds allow (usually at nighttime), direct aircraft to takeoff in a westward heading. This would take aircraft away from Miami instead of toward it as they takeoff which is, again, when they make the most noise. Directly west of the airport there is an industrial area and beyond, the Everglades. Any adverse effect would be minuscule when contrasted to that suffered daily by countless Miamians.

2) Direct aircraft to maintain takeoff heading until an altitude of 3,000 ft. is reached. This would eliminate aircraft maneuvering over populated areas. Reducing the amount of time spent by the craft over these areas would result in increased safety and reduced noise intrusion.

3) Direct airlines to adopt the Air Line Pilot’s Association (ALPA) noise abatement takeoff profile. This takeoff procedure requires the pilot to achieve a safe climbing speed quickly and maintain constant acceleration until the aircraft travels beyond audible range. This procedure minimizes the increased noise generation stage and essentially requires the aircraft to glide noiselessly upward until it is too distant to be heard. Only at that time may cruising speed be attained.

Finally, it may please you to know that Miami-Dade County is in the process of assembling a committee to study Miami’s and other proposals in the interest of understanding the diverse countywide issues and concerns pertaining to the Airport’s operations and in an effort to enact a master plan that will allow the Airport to be the good neighbor it can and should be.

Noise appears in quotation marks because noise by definition is a disagreeable series of vibrations detectable by the ear. The infra-sound vibrations produced by aircraft, are not detectable by the ear and therefore technically not noise and yet they are possibly the most annoying part of so-called noise intrusion. The part that causes your windows to rattle.

Francisco J. Garcia, architect and urban planner, is the Urban Design and Special Projects Coordinator for the City of Miami Planning and Development Division and a member of the Miami Committee for Aircraft Noise Abatement.

The opinions contained herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect viewpoints held by the BHA.

Readers are invited to send in their comments related to the neighborhood or condominium living that may be of interest to Brickell residents. Please respond to the editor at nbrown@miamisci.org.

From BHA News, December 1997 Holiday Issue, Vol. VII, No. 4