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August 19, 2004

Bringing down the noise on landing

The thunderous noise from jet airliners on approach to landing may be lowered substantially if the airlines and authorities adopt a new landing technique developed by American scientists.

The new technique could bring a measure of noise relief for millions of people living underneath the flight paths at major airports while saving fuel in the process. In the new so-called continuous descent approach an approaching plane stays high for longer than is the practice now, and then glides toward the runway with its engines idling, reducing the noise from the engines. In a recent test of the system the noise was reduced by 6 dB on the ground.

Airport noise is one of the daily hazards that contribute to hearing loss, as well as other physical and mental health problems. A lowering of approach noise from aircraft may help solve a problem that has plagued communities and held up the construction of runways, contributing to congestion and delays in air travel. Presently, airplanes are guided by air traffic controllers and with the use of engine power to a point near the airport where the plane intercepts a radio beam, which the plane follows down for the final approach to the runway. But, using the existing flight computer, a pilot can direct the plane to the exact higher point in the air where the radio beam can be picked up, so that the plane can follow the beam in, on a slow glide, to the airport.

At the same time, savings in fuel and reductions in pollution would result, all without any technological innovation.

Said John-Paul Clarke, leader of the research and an associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to the Boston Globe, about the new landing technique:

"You get a lot of bang for the buck."

The lower noise level from the higher approach and idling engines would benefit the millions living between 7.5 and 15 miles (12-24 km) out. Unfortunately, no relief is in sight for people living within five miles (eight kilometers) of the airports from the new approach technique.

Source: The Boston Globe, December 21, 2003.

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