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Photo credit: FaceMePLS licensed under CC BY 2.0

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The Quiet Coalition (TQC) heard recently from a local government official asking for advice about noisy helicopters and what could be done to address constituent complaints. It’s a great question with a straightforward answer: quiet helicopters already exist. Airbus makes them and here’s a case study of an American hospital–the University of California San Francisco—that is using one. Nothing new needs to be invented here—what’s needed is public pressure on helicopter users to substitute quiet craft for the loud ones that annoy you and your neighbors.

It’s no surprise that the quiet helicopter is made by Airbus, because Airbus has worked long and hard, under pressure from the EU Parliament, to develop quiet aircraft of all kinds. Here is a demonstration and review of the Airbus Colibri EC120B (4-passenger) quiet helicopter, which has a larger “cousin,” the EC130B (6 passenger) model.

You might say “this is NOT a truly quiet helicopter.” True, but it’s a heck of a lot quieter than what we’re exposed to now, which is an improvement—and one that could be substituted immediately. For those who want even quieter helicopters, take a look at this next-generation, all-electric helicopter from Germany (Germany has very strict noise-control regulations, which led to the development of this electric craft).

If you’re also concerned about airport noise from jet aircraft, please know that TQC is interested in this subject and has written about it several times over the past year. And, as with helicopters, quiet jet aircraft are already available–again from Airbus. Why do the Europeans have a leg up on the design and production of electric aircraft? Because the EU Parliament has worked long and hard to limit community noise and has strongly encouraged Airbus to address this problem. American companies should take note and get in the game before the EU wins it.

We at TQC believe that “technology substitution” (i.e., accelerating the adoption of quiet alternatives) is the only foreseeable, politically practical way to solve noise problems in America. TQC co-founder Jamie Banks, founder of Quiet Communities, has already demonstrated the practicality of technology substitution in another area where community noise has been growing problem–noisy and inefficient but cheap 2-cycle gas-powered leafblowers and lawn mowers. Her group has found that communities can change their local soundscapes by insisting that landscape maintenance crews use quieter, battery-powered electric devices.

True, it may take some organizing locally to get your local government to stand up and fight the plague of noise, but it can be done!

With regard to noisy helicopters, citizen groups need to apply direct pressure on the local owners and operators of these craft, petitioning them to substitute commercially available, quieter equipment. That is a much faster route to solving your neighborhood noise problem than trying to get a FAA representative or regional airport authority to develop and implement noise-control regulations. The regulatory approach seems only to lead to frustration and inaction. Aim for the operator’s pocketbook!