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
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
Although airlines are now using quieter aircraft, the
issue of noise is as prevalent as ever. To address noise
compatibility issues, many airports are performing FAA
Airport Noise Compatibility Planning (Part 150) studies,
which provide airport operators with guidelines for
voluntary noise abatement standards.
Noise abatement procedures that result from a Part
150 study often have a negative effect on capacity.
Airports experiencing both capacity and noise issues
usually find that a solution to one often aggravates the
other. For instance, an ideal runway configuration could
direct traffic over a residential neighborhood, which
typically increases noise complaints. Conversely, trying
to enforce noise abatement procedures might result in
unacceptable delays at peak hours.
It’s clear that there is no easy trade-off between capacity
and addressing noise compliance issues. In many cases,
an airport must weigh the economic value of extending
or adding a runway against the environmental issues
it could cause. While the answer isn’t always apparent,
continued capacity growth will make such evaluations
a necessity in the coming years.
Brenda Enos: linkedin.com/in/brendaenos
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.
THE DECIBEL DILEMMA
Capacity and Airport Noise
By Brenda Enos, CHMM, REM