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Noise at the Peterborough Airport

Greetings and welcome back to the Noise Curmudgeon blog.

I want to start off this fall season with a posting with local reverberations – noise at the Peterborough Airport. (Though this is a local issue, airports everywhere have noise issues to deal with. The NC has written about some of these before:https://thenoisecurmudgeon.wordpress.com/2013/05/12/toronto-and-jets/   And here is a news report on noise pollution near Trudeau Airport.)

peterborough airporyt 1

peterborough airport 2

The municipality of Peterborough, Ontario took over the small airport on the outskirts of town in 1969. It was mostly a small operation. But recently, it has grown, and gotten busier. Specifically, Seneca College (based in Toronto) re-located its pilot training program to the Peterborough Airport in 2014. And now the airport is getting ready to expand even more, with $4.1. million in funding through the from Eastern Ontario Development Fund. As you will see from the article about this expansion, it is seen as an economic boost for Peterborough, a city which wants to generate jobs and economic diversity in order to survive and perhaps even to prosper.

But – there are a number of people who live in the area near the airport who are now bothered by the amount of air traffic at the airport – and this is before the planned expansion. The local TV station had this recent report on the issue. And this short piece tells us that air traffic at the airport has increased by 6 times since 2007 – from 10,000 flights to 60,000. Per year. That works out to 164 flights a day. (Pearson Airport in Toronto has 1,100 a day, and Heathrow in England has 1,400 a day! Imagine living under that. )

The airport is aware of the noise concerns. They have had at least one public consultation. (Which I missed!). Here is a report on the meeting. As you will see, the County of Peterborough, where the airport is located (though owned by the City of Peterborough) has no say in possibly addressing the issue by passing a noise by-law. Air traffic regulation is a federal government jurisdiction.

Yes, it is true that airports are required to use the Transport Canada Noise Exposure Forecast (NEF) process to gauge the noise impact of airports.

“Transport Canada uses a Noise Exposure Forecast (NEF) system to provide a measurement of the actual and forecasted aircraft noise in the vicinity of airports. This system factors in the subjective reactions of the human ear to specific aircraft noise stimulus: loudness, frequency, duration, time of occurrence, tone, etc.

This metric allows us to predict a community’s response to aircraft noise. If the NEF level is greater than 35, complaints are likely to be high. Anything above 25 is likely to produce some level of annoyance. Land planners can use this system to ensure that land use in the vicinity of an airport is compatible with that airport.”

I am not sure how these forecasts are used. It seems pretty clear to me that just having an airport near where people live will generate noise complaints. Nor is it clear how they arrive at their figures – their site says the NEF process is not for the general public’s use. (Statements like that always make me suspicious.)

The Peterborough airport has a master plan, developed in 2009. You can find it by searching for ‘Peterborough Municipal Airport Master Plan, 2009’. (It is a pdf file, hence no link.) Read pp. 3-13 – 3-14 for a reference to the NEF process. The airport also has a noise complaint reporting system in place.

And yet – what happens for those people living near the airport? The airport can currently handle small jets – e.g. Boeing 737s and Airbus 320s. In fact, the first 737 landed there last fall. (If you read this article, you will see that the goal for the airport is more and more activity.)

A Boeing 737 jet landed at the Peterborough Airport on Wednesday (Sept. 24) night.  Lance Anderson/This Week

A Boeing 737 jet landed at the Peterborough Airport on Wednesday (Sept. 24) night.
Lance Anderson/This Week

Another point to make – there is a very interesting line in the airport’s website description of its capacity, which is geared to potential clients:

“… the day to day flight activity includes recreational traffic, commercial jet and turbine engine operations, medivac operators, charter flights, cargo shipments and commercial/college/military flight training activities. The airport has no noise curfews allowing unrestricted operation of freight and passenger flights.” (emphasis added.)

Does this statement suggest that their concern about noise might just be comestic?

In this article it is clear that there is local, provincial and federal support for continued expansion of the airport. It will get bigger and busier – and therefore it will get noisier.

So what is to be done? This is always the question. The local residents can complain; they can even submit noise complaints directly to the airport. They can attend more meetings held by the airport, but it seems they will have to abide by the airport’s agenda for those meetings. The County has no power. The City wants it to grow. The province supports it. The airport sees it as a no-brainer, I would think. Transport Canada – well, who knows where they stand, but their NEF process seems to be pretty opaque. (So far I have been unable to find the NEF study for the Peterborough airport.)

Let’s hope that there are at least some small changes that can take place – for example,  no night flights, no early morning flights, altered flight patterns, etc. I am not sure what else can be done in the face of “progress”. Buy all the neighbours good earplugs?

(One other note of hope –  a group of citizens in Oshawa seems to have succeeded in stopping a runway extension at the Oshawa airport. Maybe the Peterborough people can link up with them?)

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