If you live near an airport or have driven by one, you may have noticed something: Planes are pretty loud.
There are 87,000 flights in the sky on any given day in the United States. That's a lot of air travel. What does that mean for the people on the ground looking up?
For the millions of people who live in communities surrounding airports, plane noise from takeoff and landing is part of their everyday life.
It's a constant noise that can be frustrating and take a toll on the mind and body.
According to a study in the NIH's Environmental Health Perspectives journal, the impact of noise exposure goes beyond hearing impairment and can also negatively affect blood pressure, stress levels, and sleep.
Noise isn't the only concern with all the air traffic. The environment feels it, too.
Similar to other transportation vehicles, airplanes release many pollutants into the air. With the industry's growth in size comes more noise and pollution.
This may seem like it only affects people living near airports, but with air travel demand expected to double in the next 20 years, the demand for flights and airports to host them is only going to increase.
For many people, traveling less isn't an option. So innovators have come up with some more realistic solutions for the environmental and noise pollution problems.
What about a plane that's 100% powered by solar energy?
There's one out there now! It's called the Solar Impulse 2, and instead of using jet fuel, it generates electricity from the solar panels on its 236-foot wingspan. Incredible.
It's going to be a while before any of us step foot on a plane operated in this capacity, but the fact that clean energy is part of the conversation — and is working — is huge.
Or, for instance, a plane engine that's 75% quieter.
The company, Pratt & Whitney, has spent the last two decades developing a new engine for airplanes called the PurePower Geared Turbofan engine, which entered into commercial service January 2016. Their goal was to make an engine that is quieter and more sustainable for the Earth, and so far they’re delivering.
Their new engine reduces the plane's noise footprint by 75%, which means a whopping 500,000 fewer people can hear the aircraft taking off compared to a typical plane without it.
That's a lot of lives no longer interrupted by the sound of a plane overhead. And because of that, airports could potentially extend runway hours to allow for more service.
Technologies for better air traffic control make airplanes way more efficient.
The Federal Aviation Administration has been working on modernizing the nation's air traffic control system through what it calls NextGen. Instead of relying on old-school radar-based tracking for air traffic control, the NextGen technology uses more satellite procedures.
According to The Dallas Morning News:
"This technology promises GPS-based tracking as well as new data sharing and communication tools that will allow for more efficient flight paths, better navigation through inclement weather and quicker taxiing times on takeoff and landing.
That increased efficiency translates to fuel and cost savings for airlines, fewer delays for passengers and less air and noise pollution."
The coalition ASCENT is all about reducing the environmental impact of aviation.
The group, made up of 16 leading U.S. research universities and over 60 private-sector stakeholders, is figuring out how to reduce noise, improve air quality, and reduce the climate impact of aviation today.
Through research, ASCENT (the Aviation Sustainability Center) is rethinking the technology, operations, planning, and sustainability within the industry. It's quite a big job.
There is no one single solution to overcome the noise and environmental impact of the planes in our sky.
But it is encouraging to see how much more we know now, and how companies are realizing that more sustainable and greener operations aren't just good for the world, but good for their bottom line.
Flights are cheaper and more accessible than ever before. We should be able to fly to our destinations without harming the Earth — and the people in our path.