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Aspen airport tries to turn down the noise

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Aspen Times fileThe noise produced by private jets is the focus of a Fly Quiet initiative at the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport. The jet operations will become part of a broader focus as the initiative morphs into a Fly Green, Fly Clean program.
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ASPEN – The Aspen-Pitkin County Airport plans to begin measuring and keeping track of the noise generated by individual, private aircraft and acknowledging the ones that don’t, as one resident in the airport’s flight path put it, “rattle the windows.”

The airport has long had a Fly Quiet initiative – a mostly educational effort to encourage pilots and jet owners to minimize the impact of airport noise, according to Jim Elwood, airport director.

“We don’t see any downside to recognizing those who do well,” Elwood said.

For jet owners with more than one aircraft in their fleet, the airport may encourage use of the quietest one for trips in and out of Aspen. Sometimes, it’s a matter of operation.

“There are times when they may not have to use every ounce of power an aircraft is capable of producing,” Elwood said.

The airport already measures noise at various locations, but its new effort is aimed at better quantifying the information.

Existing data indicates airport operations have been getting quieter over time, according to Elwood, though he doesn’t give the airport’s efforts all the credit for the improvement. Newer aircraft are simply quieter.

The planes used by commercial airlines don’t generate complaints, but some older-model private jets produce the kind of roar that makes some residents grumble and dial the airport’s noise hotline. Nonetheless, the hotline wasn’t ringing off the hook last year.

Flight operations in and out of the airport in 2009 totaled 36,290 by the end of November (December numbers weren’t yet available), but the airport received only seven noise complaints.

Airport officials followed up on every one of them, Elwood said, notifying the airplane’s owner that there was an issue.

“We do take those calls very seriously,” he said.

Phil Holstein, a Woody Creek area resident since 1990, said he has called the hotline on occasion.

“There are still some stage 2 (older model) airplanes and when they go out of here, it just rattles the windows,” he said. “They are loud.”

Woody Creek is located downvalley from the airport, on the flight path for the jets that come and go in the narrow Roaring Fork Valley. On a busy day, there’s an airplane flying over or nearly over Holstein’s home every four or five minutes, he said.

While many of the newer planes are quieter, traffic at the airport has increased over the years, he noted, and affluent Aspen has attracted more private jets, which tend to be noisier than commercial airliners. The overall impact, Holstein contends, is more noise, not less.

Woody Creek resident Jackie Lothian concedes airplanes have, in general, become quieter over the course of the 25 years she’s lived in the community, but noise disruptions haven’t disappeared.

“There are still sometimes you cannot carry on a conversation,” she said.

Julee Roth resides in housing at the Airport Business Center, right across the highway from the airport, but said she rarely notices airplane noise even when jets fire up for takeoff. They are off to the side, rather than directly overhead.

“I’ve been to visit people who live in Woody Creek,” Roth added. “It’s like, ‘how can you stand this?'”

“It really is about the airplanes that tend to stop people’s conversations,” Elwood agreed. “Those are the ones that usually make our hotline ring.”

With the latest generation of private jets, though, the industry is approaching the point when an airplane’s fuselage slicing through the air will actually make more noise than its engine, at least on the approach into the airport, he said.

And, the quieter breed of jets also happen to be more fuel efficient, which dovetails into another airport goal – reducing its emissions.

The Fly Quiet program is morphing into something broader – the Fly Green, Fly Clean program, which puts the focus on environmental impacts that encompass not just noise pollution, but greenhouse gas emissions.

The airport has control over only a small percentage of the emissions attributed to its operation, but just as it does with noise, it hopes to facilitate meaningful, if small, steps toward improvement, according to Elwood.

Those efforts could include working with rental car companies to get more efficient vehicles in their fleet, improving the efficiency of the terminal building, working with airlines and the Federal Aviation Administration to establish the most efficient flight paths possible and working toward a strategy now being employed at a few airports – continuous descent approaches. That means, in essence, an aircraft climbs to a certain level and, at some point, descends to its destination without refiring its engines to regain or maintain altitude. Such an approach reduces noise, fuel consumption and emissions, Elwood said.

“It’s out there for us at some point in the future,” he said.

janet@aspentimes.com


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