Are Most Airport Noise Complaints Bogus?

When people buy homes, they generally know they are doing so near an airport and planes are noisy. Although the FAA does change approach paths — indeed, they’ve been working towards more direct and fuel efficient landing routes which are better for airline economics and ticket prices, and better for the environment, but potentially generating more complaints from residents surrounding airports.

Planes are far quieter than they were decades ago, but there are more noise complaints also.

Copyright: carlosyudica / 123RF Stock Photo

It turns out that in many cases what seem like tremendous volume of complaints are actually just complaints by a small number of people. (.pdf)

  • San Francisco’s airport receives a large number of noice complaints, but it helps to have some context: “three residents of Daly City placed 1,034 calls in December 2015, and six Woodside callers complained 2,432 times in November.”

  • One resident in Northwest DC accounted for 6852 of 8760 (78%) of noise complaints about Washington National airport in 2015.

  • One person 30 miles away accounted for 3555 of 4870 (73%) of noise complaints about Denver airport. 4 people accounted for 96% of complaints in 2015.

  • One person 11 miles away accounted for 1024 of 1223 (84%) of noise complaints about Washington Dulles airport in 2015.

  • Looking only at June 2015 data, 1 person accounted for 50% and 3 people accounted for 88% of noise complaints about LAX.

Noise complaints are a tool for stopping development, or extracting things from airlines and municipalities in exchange for allowing development to proceed. Large numbers of noise complaints make it seem like the public is up in arms, and that voters will come out against politicians who permit runway expansion, growth in air travel, or fuel efficient landing patterns.

So this is an interesting dig into the available data on noise complaints, suggesting that there may not be as many outraged citizens as airport complaint logs would first appear to suggest.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. As an Air Force officer who handles these types of complaints about military bases, I can tell you this data does not surprise me at all. My experience has been 99% of noise complaints about military aircraft come from just a couple of residents.

    These complaints often come wrapped up in terms like “keep your war machines out of my backyard” and “the sonic booms in my neighborhood are outrageous” (note: the aircraft at the particular base are not capable of achieving Mach+ flight). These types of calls make me question whether the complaints are genuinely “noise” related or point to a personal grudge against the military.

  2. I live 3 blocks from Wrigley Field. There is a small and annoying group who oppose anything the Cubs/Wrigley Field does. Because, who doesn’t want Elton John and Billy Joel.. or World Series baseball within 500 ft.

    There will always be a group who decents. In my example….unless u are 100+ u don’t get to complain….the park was there. For airports….I get it might be noisy….but most people get that…if it bugs u, don’t buy there.

    The fact that 99% of complaints are from 0.99% of people makes me think the complaint system should be rethought. One complaint per address per month

  3. Property is cheap near airports. Complaining is even cheaper.

    I grew up under the approaches for DFW – heavys flying over every day. We knew that when my parents bought the house, and I just got used to the noise. Every 3 minutes my ears would just tune out the sound. After a while I did not notice anymore.

  4. I can’t believe that guy averaged almost 10 complaints a day. It would be fun to see a documentary into a day in the life…

  5. No, they are not all bogus. Yes, I am sure that article is correct – but living next to LAX is one thing, and a large GA airport is completely different. For the past 10 years I have lived in San Diego and Los Angeles (KCLD, KSMO respectively). There are pilots who absolutely violate the law – and the research shows complaints at those airports are (a) real and (b) not just some random cranks. KSMO had the benefit of automated noise measurements for some time as well – it didn’t lie.
    Of course the actual complaints? Filed in the circular file 100.0% of the time. A pilot has literally infinite latitude when it comes to operating the aircraft and not crashing – so unless they are violating an ATC rule noise? Who cares! Steve Wynn has enough money to buy everyone living at 23rd and Navy new patio furniture once a month and everything else is .
    Anyway, I understand the “you bought a house by an airport.” I did too – in LA those houses are all between 1 and 1.5 million. What a bargain!

  6. Noise complaints don’t stop development. The DOT has some noise regulations, but these are limited and can be hard to prove. The main enforcement lies with the EPA. And Congress passed a law many years ago saying that EPA can spend no money on noise control enforcement.

    These people in flight paths have nowhere to turn as they try to sleep in flight paths. They likely don’t spend a lot of time flying, or get a lot of money from reviewing first class in airlines and pushing related credit cards. So probably not such a fan of airplane noise.

  7. I live minutes from JFK, right under the flight path. I absolutely love it, it’s the best part of where I live. The noise doesn’t bother me at all, and it’s amazing to see A380s taking off and landing multiple times a day.

  8. There’s been a running feud regarding takeoff and landing noise between Palm Beach County and Donald Trump, whose Palm Beach property at Mar-e-Lago (about 5 miles up the A1A from me) is directly under the flight path of Runway 9-27 (the main commercial runway) at PBI.

    Looks like Trump wins here too, as the Secret Service has taken up the issue of security and noise at Mar-e-Lago, and will likely redraw the PBI takeoff and landing patterns, possibly in a manner similar to the airspace restrictions at DCA.

  9. We called the tower at the nearby GA airport once to complain about a small plane doing low altitude circles over our house. The plane left – turns out it was the state police working a speed trap on the expressway. Countless people could thank us if they only knew…

  10. You cannot equate the number of people who make noise complaints with the number of people whom the noise disturbs. Msny people, like myself, have learned that making noise complaints makes no difference. I live in Washington DC near the flight path up the Potomac River. Recently the hours of flight out of DCA were extended. Planes now take off before 6 a.m. and fly until after 11 p.m. This was never the case when I moved into my house 30 plus years ago. But the people who are subjected to the noise are given no real voice in when the planes fly and what the flight paths may be. This is mostly controlled by a local Airport Authority that answers to no one. Well, maybe Congress, who see DCA as their own private airport.

  11. If the planes flew directly west over the arsenal all of the neighborhoods just north wouldn’t hear planes at all. All they’d have to do is fly all planes west for an extra 5 miles or so since the arsenal is a massive uninhabited gov’t superfund site.

  12. It seems like there should be an initiative on the part of the airport to install a decibel meter on the property of the frequent offenders. Because of how sound travels there COULD be pockets where the sound is concentrated due to the terrain. (Think of the one seat in a movie theatre where you can’t hear anything… but in reverse)

    Those individuals may have a point. Or they could be cranks. Installing a meter to record the sound over a period of months would give you some hard data to tell the difference.

    Of course that’s a lot more customer-focused than installing a hotline…

  13. Early 60’s went to school less than a mile from the end of the biggest runway at Love Field , Air conditioning was an extravagance not wasted on schools so the windows were all open . Every five minutes a jet would climb right over head and rattle the windows .
    Yes , absolutely , planes are a lot quieter now .
    Sometimes I briefly wonder if I might have been more successful with algebra , latin , history …
    OTOH I got to watch a lot of airplanes and I still love the sight and sound .

  14. these people are past complainers they need to be served with ceased and desist orders. This is just abuse. The thing is that they can not move because they have made the value of their own home worthless. They all have to disclose the noise from the airport and that they have filed thousands of complaints about them.

  15. I can only imagine all the other complaints the guy who lives 30 miles away has about the noise his neighbors make.

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