Noise monitoring and reduction has been top priority for Krys Bart ever since she took the helm of the Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority (RTAA) a decade ago. As RTAA president and CEO, Bart wants Reno-Tahoe International Airport to be a ‘good neighbour’, as it serves more than 4.4 million domestic and international passengers each year. The airport’s location right in the centre of Reno, Nevada, doesn’t make it easy.
A $2 million Airport Noise and Operations Monitoring System (ANOMS) project initiated in 2008 represents a significant stride toward Bart’s goal. By volunteering to participate in the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) ‘Part 150’ programme with several other airports, RTAA tapped into federal funds designated for noise-related issues, to defray its overall cost.
Now in operation, the Brüel & Kjær Environmental Monitoring System (EMS) provides flight data that helps the airport monitor noise events and potentially adjust operations to keep noise levels in check.
Ted Baldwin, Vice President of installation-design firm Harris Miller Miller & Hanson Inc., considers the flight operation information provided by ANOMS to be “very, very accurate” and of “great interest”. 'The data,' Baldwin explains, 'can help determine whether using a different runway, changing a flight track or having planes climb higher more quickly could improve noise-related issues.'
About 30 other US commercial airports also use ANOMS technology.
Brüel & Kjær installed 12 noise monitors to the north and south of Reno-Tahoe International and two to the east and west, in an effort to cover as much of the valley as possible. The monitors automatically and continually collect data on operations and noise-related events.
'The system not only allows the airport authority to gather a lot more information regarding airport operations and the noise generated by aircraft movements, it also provides a means to share noise information with the community,' notes Dean Schultz, RTAA’s Vice President of planning, engineering and environmental management. Data collected by their monitors is recorded in a central database and made available online.
'The system obtains data from two overlapping and complementary sources,' explains Baldwin. 'The first is a ‘passive flight track monitoring system’ that does not actively interrogate or connect to FAA or aircraft equipment, but passively monitors publicly-accessible interrogation signals and aircraft responses to track aircraft paths through the air, including ground tracks and altitudes.'
The Brüel & Kjær passive system uses radar flight tracking information from an FAA-provided data feed that’s available to authorised parties, such as RTAA’s monitoring system vendor, Brüel & Kjær EMS. The data feed provides information from instrument flight plans filed with the FAA. ANOMS also tracks aircraft flying under visual flight rules - generally smaller and quieter aircraft operating locally. Tracking both operation types enables the system to correlate flight paths with noise events that the monitors capture, to distinguish between noise related to aircraft and noise related to other sources. ANOMS collects wind speed, wind direction, temperature and humidity data in addition to flight and noise information. It also records the audio of each noise event, which allows analysts to know just how loud a sound really was.
The second source of data required a formal agreement with the FAA to connect the airport’s ANOMS directly to its FAA Automated Radar Terminal System (ARTS). Brüel & Kjær’s proprietary Secure Radar Gateway (SRG) delivers the ARTS data into the new monitoring system, providing a redundant data feed that enhances the passive system data. 'This,' notes Baldwin, 'provides two distinct advantages: it acts as a backup data source if data from the passive system becomes unavailable, and it provides the same data the FAA ‘sees’ in case there are ever any questions about the accuracy or completeness of the passive system’s output.'
For security reasons, RTAA delays posting flight data in the WebTrak software by 15 minutes and omits information on military aircraft in specific flight modes. Brüel & Kjær’s technology also filters the data it collects to ensure it meets FAA requirements before uploading data to the public system. In addition, the airport’s agreement required it to install high levels of security and send information through “elaborate firewalls” to secure server farms before flowing onto the public website.
But none of these requirements presented significant obstacles to the project. “We were fortunate that the FAA had already worked out these agreements with other airports,” Schultz says.
It also helped that Brüel & Kjær was no stranger to ANOMS installations. The Denmark-based company operates 44 US and Canadian noise and operations monitoring systems, with more than 230 flight tracking systems installed internationally. Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, Miami International Airport and Los Angeles World Airports are among its other clients.
Share and share alike
Bart places a premium on the public interface ANOMS provides. “This system allows the community to view aircraft altitude and flight paths as planes make their way in and out of the Reno-Tahoe region,” she says. “That allows for transparency and accountability, which are benefits to all.”
The airport’s website, enables citizens to access ANOMS data via an ‘Airport Noise’ link on the homepage. There, they can view time-delayed flight track and noise monitoring data, 60 days or more of historical flight track data, quarterly and annual noise reports generated by RTAA staff, general information about noise abatement programs, Airport Noise Advisory Panel information and Part 150 noise study details.
The online system uses Brüel & Kjær’s WebTrak software, which provides information about each aircraft’s owner, altitude and noise level, in addition to the origin and destination airports for the flight. An integrated noise complaint feature allows residents to view a specific flight and submit an online complaint or comment to RTAA staff.
“Experience at other airports shows that the public enthusiastically uses and appreciates these types of websites, which permit them to self-investigate operations of interest and look into ‘who, what, where, when and why’ at any time, without relying on airport staff to investigate and report back to them,” says Baldwin.
“When the public can see what is happening and why, they tend not to register their complaints, and they build a better relationship with their local airport,” says Robert Brodecky, Vice President of the Americas for Brüel & Kjær EMS.
'ANOMS even allows residents to find flight data when they lack complete information about the noise event,' adds Schultz. 'Historically, if a citizen heard something in the middle of the night but did not want to get up and investigate, figuring out the offending flight was often difficult and time-consuming. Now, they can investigate issues on the website up to 60 days later.'
If the website data doesn’t fully answer their questions, citizens can file a complaint. The RTAA staff can, in turn, use additional ANOMS capabilities to dig deeper and find more information.
'For many years, there has been a hotline available for citizens to register noise complaints,' points out RTAA’s public affairs manager Heidi Jared. But resolving issues, often with incomplete information, proved challenging and time-consuming. “A citizen would say, ‘I think it was around 1 a.m.’ and then we’d have to do a lot of investigating - to figure out if the noise event was an aircraft, what type of aircraft it was, who owned the aircraft, where the aircraft was flying, and what the noise impact was on that residence,” she says.
The new system reduces these challenges by automatically identifying the day, time, aircraft, elevation, aircraft owner, weather conditions and other details when a citizen logs a complaint. “This makes the response from our staff a lot more complete,” Jared notes. “We can provide more information and respond appropriately to their concerns. And it adds a level of accountability on the part of the aircraft owner.”
“Airports with noise and operations monitoring systems tend to see a drop in noise complaints,” notes Brodecky. “Airports are not hiding anything from the community, they are increasing public awareness by sharing their operations data. When the public is informed and can understand what is happening and why, it decreases the number of complaints. It eliminates an ‘us vs. them’ mentality and has all parties working together to achieve a common goal.”
'The system also enables the airport to address noise-related situations with the airlines,' stresses Schultz. “We’re not going to levy fines, but we can now go in and talk to the aircraft owner and say, ‘it would help us if you could do this a little differently,’ and we’ll work together in a collaborative manner.”
Icing on the cake
The Brüel & Kjær ANOMS, which began collecting data in early 2009, and releasing it to the public in March 2010, has quickly become a valued asset. According to Schultz, it has made RTAA’s already good relationship with the community even better. He says the system shows citizens that if they have a noise complaint, the airport takes their complaints seriously and has the necessary data to make needed changes when possible.
'The community has already responded very positively to the ANOMS installation,' reports Jared. “A couple of residents in a neighbourhood where a monitor was being installed were surprised we were installing a noise monitor at all, because they never thought noise was that much of an issue in their neighbourhood,” she says. “All along we’ve been very cooperative with the community, and open and communicative about noise. This is just the icing on the cake.”
Like a good neighbour
The ANOMS installation complements other Part 150 noise-related projects at Reno-Tahoe International. 'RTAA had previously received FAA funding to insulate 3,500 nearby homes to reduce the impact of airport-generated noise,' Jared reports.
Crews replaced windows and doors, while openings such as dryer vents, range hoods and fireplace chimneys were treated with acoustical materials. “We have succeeded in achieving at least a five-decibel reduction in every home we’ve improved,” reports Schultz. Such results, he adds, can translate into a perceived noise reduction of up to 50%.
The sound insulation program, he stresses, is just one aspect of the airport’s overall noise-issue efforts. By combining it with ongoing work by noise analyst Rick Miller, the ANOMS installation, and with continual education and outreach programs, Bart’s ’good neighbour’ goal stays at the forefront.
Facts and figures
Project: Noise and Operations Monitoring
Location: Reno-Tahoe (NV) International Airport
Technology: Airport Noise and Operations Monitoring System
Cost: $2 million
System provider: Brüel & Kjær EMS, Inc.
Noise compatibility study: Coffman and Associates
Installation design: Harris Miller Miller & Hanson