For the first time, the federal government has released a nationwide transportation noise map – an attempt to show how much noise people are exposed to from airports and highways.
The map for Charlotte shows much of west Charlotte and Mecklenburg County experiencing noise reaching 60 decibels, which the federal government said is equivalent to “conversational speech.”
Areas closer to Charlotte Douglas Airport are much louder, with some residents experiencing noise equivalent to a vacuum cleaner (70 to 79 decibels). In the immediate vicinity of the airport, some residents are exposed to decibel levels similar to a garbage disposal (80 or more).
You can see the full, interactive map online here.
Charlotte Douglas is the nation’s fifth busiest airport based on takeoffs and landings, with some 700 daily flights. As the airport has grown, Charlotte Douglas has bought huge tracts of land north and south of the airport’s runways, purchasing and demolishing whole neighborhoods for noise mitigation.
Brent Cagle, aviation director at Charlotte Douglas, said the airport completed updates to its noise map last year, a procedure that determines which properties are eligible for federal noise mitigation funding. The new map doesn’t change any of that, Cagle said.
“The FAA hasn’t changed their requirements and rules about how we determine noise impacts,” said Cagle. “Noise impact is really subjective. That’s the problem we have with it.”
Cagle said that while some people who live within a mile or two of the end of runways have declined to sell their houses, other people from much further away feel strongly, and call Charlotte Douglas to complain.
“We have people who live 20 miles away who say it’s a significant impact when a plane flies over their house,” said Cagle.
It’s not clear if the new map accurately reflects the experience of many Charlotteans under the various flight paths of departing aircraft. The federal government used extensive modeling to plot the average noise levels from every airport and highway in the U.S.
For instance, in south Charlotte, the map shows the neighborhoods of Park Crossing and Cameron Wood as having essentially no noise. But when the airport operates southbound departures, flights to Europe and the northeast often turn to the east, flying directly over homes.
The Federal Aviation Administration, using a new satellite-based navigation system, has the ability to keep jet routes closer together, on narrow “rails.” Keeping planes on narrow rails can be more efficient and save fuel, but it also focuses noise on just a few homes.
The city of Charlotte told the FAA that, if all things were equal, the city would prefer that arrivals and departures be dispersed so the inconvenience of noise wouldn’t be felt by a few people. For the last couple of years, planes have taken different paths after taking from Charlotte Douglas.
“That clearly created a spike in noise complaints because it changed flight paths,” said Cagle. The sharpest rise came from south and west of Charlotte Douglas.
Residents of the Chapel Cove neighborhood in southwest Charlotte have been particularly upset over what they say is increased aircraft noise. The Charlotte changes were part of the FAA’s Metroplex plan, which is trying to make the airspace over the nation’s busiest airports less congested.
Cagle said the airport is getting ready to roll out a new community engagement initiative, with a call for interested citizens in areas that are effected by the airport’s operations expected to go out in April.