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Airport has reduced noise levels in majority of areas

Michael McLaughlin
The Aspen Times

From the time Jim Elwood arrived to run the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport 13 years ago, noise reduction has been a top priority.

Tuesday was Elwood’s last day as director of aviation at the airport before moving on to a similar position in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. It was his last day to present information to the Pitkin County commissioners, so it seemed appropriate the last topic he dealt with was noise reduction, as Elwood brought forward the 2013 Fly Quiet Report.

Joining Elwood in front of the commissioners on Tuesday were Paul Dunholter, of BridgeNet International airport consultants and Ryk Dunkelberg, of Mead & Hunt, a national design and architecture firm.



The airport has been conducting off-airport noise measurements for several years to determine actual aircraft noise levels and aircraft generated noise levels within the airport environment. The 2013 report gives the results of these measurements and identifies the users that achieved the greatest noise reduction or operated the quietest aircraft. Overall, the airport noise-reduction grades have been improving since the Fly Quiet program began in 2008.

Elwood said the airport also sent letters to all the carriers that rated well on the noise-reduction metrics the airport uses.




“This has been an extraordinarily successful program,” Elwood said. “We’ve found ways to improve noise conditions without compromising safety.”

Another factor that has led to improved noise ratings at the airport is the gradual reduction of older, louder aircraft, like the Gulf Stream 2/3 and the Lear Jet 24/25 models, that were built in the early 1980s.

Not everyone is happy with the current noise levels coming from the airport. Gordon Gerson lives about a mile from the airport in West Buttermilk. He said that since the airport runway expansion in 2011, the aircraft noise has been louder than the county predicted.

“I certainly haven’t noticed the noise getting any better,” Gerson said. “At my house, on a flight-by-flight basis, the noise has remained consistent the past couple years since the runway expansion.”

Gerson said that before the runway expansion, there was some noise dampening from the contour of the land. In the time since the expansion, he’s seen data that show there has been no improvement

“It’s been a bit of a frustration,” he said. “I receive airport data that shows the noise levels. In general, those numbers have stayed the same.”

Elwood acknowledged that the one area that hasn’t really seen any noise improvements is the West Buttermilk area. Dunholter said one problem is that when a jet waits to take off, it makes a loud whining noise that most people assume is the jet warming up its engine. Actually, the noise occurs when the pilot sets up the jet’s auxiliary power unit, and sometimes the noise can last more than an hour.

“We can’t do much about jet noise once they take off,” Dunholter said. “But we can do something while the craft is still on the ground. Maybe we should eventually build a barrier to block the sound from the nearby residences.”

When Commissioner Rob Ittner asked if there were any other variables that lead to airport noise, Dunholter listed several.

“Other flight traffic can cause a landing jet to accelerate and make noise, as compared to simply gliding in,” he said. “Weather, like strong wind, can cause a jet to accelerate. The weight of a plane, from fuel to passenger load, can cause extra takeoff noise. In the summer, the air here is thinner, and a jet engine doesn’t have to work as hard in thin air.”

Elwood said what the airport can do to help is to remind flight crews about the impacts of noise on the community and to ask them to please do what they can to reduce noise.

Before Elwood said his goodbyes to the county commissioners and staff, he said he hopes the Fly Quiet program continues.

“When I first started here, noise was the paramount issue,” Elwood said. “That’s not the case anymore. We’re making improvements, and the community realizes it. Overall, we’re not done yet, but the improvements are there and will only get better.”

mmclaughlin@aspentimes.com

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