The GA industry has been treating noise like the automobile industry has been reacting to calls for better fuel economy. Even though it is reported that every automobile sold in China must get at least 35 miles per gallon in fuel economy, major American manufacturers launch all of their lobbyists on Congress every time the hill wants to raise the average CAFÉ standards to something like 28 miles per gallon . . . by 2025! They say they can’t do it and it would cost jobs, etc., etc. Can you believe that if American and Japanese and German engineers suddenly were required to build more fuel efficient engines they couldn’t equal the efforts of Chinese engineers? (Well, the fact probably is that some of those cars manufactured in China are engineered by GM engineers and other folks a little closer to home, so maybe it’s not just an engineering issue after all.)
The same certainly is the case with engine and propeller noise in aircraft. If we wanted to do it, we could certainly find solutions. We just don’t think that it is important. I once suggested to an aviation association VP that aircraft noise had the potential to be a major issue threatening the future of GA and got not much more than a shrug in response. Regardless of the reality, the public already thinks that we’re a bunch of rich guys who either own or operate airplanes. Why do you think they’ll cut us some slack downstream when they finally get really mad about all of this when most every other polluting industry is working on eliminating their effluent and we’re not.
Once it seemed that it might just be possible to convince my wife that flying an ultralight out of one of the fields of our farm in West Virginia would be a reasonable idea. So, I went to Oshkosh and checked it out — but I didn’t want to hassle the neighbors with the noise from the Rotaxes that they all use. Remember, people like the country in part because it is quiet. The manufacturer’s rep said that there was nothing they could do to make the engines quieter (something about them being 2-cycle, or something), but I knew friends who were doing exotic aircraft design for spooky government agencies who were producing little lawn chair construction aircraft (and helicopters, for that matter) for sneaking into dangerous places around the world that made almost no noise . . . so I knew it is possible. The incentives are just not in place. Commercial aircraft have certainly gotten much quieter. Why can’t we?
Airplanes are not just noisy, they’re more expensive to operate because they’re noisy. We have to burn gas to make that noise. It costs more and doesn’t do anything for us. It’s like waste heat, or sulphur dioxide coming out of the stack of a coal-fired power plant. If engine and prop manufacturers put their heads to it , they could produce more fuel efficiency and less noise at the same time. That’s a particularly good idea in the face of an almost certain global decrease in the production of petroleum in the coming years (which is another piece of this puzzle).
So every time you look up with interest to the sky (as I always do) when I hear an aircraft two or three miles away, think about the future of aviation, the pollution of the environment, citizens who want to live in peace, the cost to operate an aircraft, and the decreasing availability (and therefore increasing cost) of fuel. Just think about quality of life. That might convince you that it’s high time that we in the aviation business began to seriously work on silently pursuing our wonderful profession.
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