Noisier jets to be phased out in Aspen, across U.S.

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado
Janet Urquhart/The Aspen TimesThe Aspen-Pitkin County Airport is crowded with private jets on New Year's Day. Use of older, noiser jets has been on the decline at the airport, but a new law will force them out of operation by 2016.

ASPEN – Legislation signed into law last week not only authorized funding for operation of the Federal Aviation Administration but also enacted a provision to phase out older, noisy private jets – something airport officials in Aspen and elsewhere have long advocated.

The Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 prohibits, starting in 2016, the use of jets that were exempted from a law Congress passed more than 20 years ago. They are jets that weigh 75,000 pounds or less and do not comply with quieter Stage 3 noise levels.

A coalition of airport managers around the country, including Aspen’s, have championed an effort to eliminate the exemption since 2004. The airports include some of the nation’s busiest for corporate jet traffic.

Noisy, Stage 2 commercial jets have been banned nationwide since 1990, but older-model jets that weigh 75,000 pounds or less fly in and out of the local airport as part of its general aviation traffic, according to Jim Elwood, aviation director at the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport.

“Stage 2 are really the aircraft that, if you’re outdoors, they’re the ones that make you pause your conversation,” he said.

They are typically the offenders in the local airport’s Fly Quiet program, which tracks aircraft noise and recognizes quiet operators while calling out the noisy ones.

“They are the airplanes that are perennially on the noisy list,” Elwood said of the Stage 2 planes.

Those jets, however, are seen – and heard – less and less frequently. They are more costly to maintain and less efficient than newer jets and are increasingly being phased out of use by their owners, according to Elwood.

“The number of those aircraft operations at the airport have been in decline for the past five or six years anyway,” he said.

The push to prohibit them was spearheaded by Bob Bogan, deputy executive director at Morristown Municipal Airport, a founding member of Sound Initiative: A Coalition for Quieter Skies. Morristown is among the New York metropolitan region’s busiest corporate airports. Aspen is also a member of the coalition.

Though use of Stage 2 private aircraft is declining, the jets still account for a high percentage of noise complaints at some airports, Bogan said in a prepared statement.

The new law gives operators of what FAA registration records indicate are more than 850 Stage 2 aircraft until the end of 2015 to modify their aircraft to meet new standards or discontinue their use in U.S. airspace over the contiguous 48 states.

The new law will not, however, address a propeller-driven airplane that is seeing increased use in and out of Aspen, and that has generated noise complaints.

A handful of neighbors in the airport’s flight path met with airport officials last fall to discuss the Piaggio P180 Avanti, an aircraft that has gained favor for its fuel efficiency but has generated noise complaints. The plane is actually quieter, in terms of decibels, than some jets, but some area residents say the pitch of its engine noise is irritating.

Elwood said Monday that calls to his office about the Piaggio have dropped off since the meeting in September.

At that time, neighbors were told pilots of the aircraft would reduce the engine’s power on approach during clear weather in an effort to address the issue. In addition, a new propeller design that reduces the aircraft’s noise was in the testing stage, residents were told.