The existing noise contour map for Bradley International Airport.
The  existing noise contour map for Bradley International Airport.

Washington – Bradley International Airport has gotten quieter.

At least that’s what the airport has told the Federal Aviation Administration, which approved a new noise map this week that shows the area affected by the noise of Bradley’s flights has shrunk significantly over the past five years.

The reason: The number of flights landing and taking off from Bradley has dropped precipitously.

According to Kevin Dillon, executive director for the Connecticut Airport Authority, the airport served 7.2 million passengers in 2006 and only about 5.2 million in 2012. Dillon said he expected there was no growth last year.

Dillon said the recession and airport mergers are to blame. When Delta merged with Northwest Airlines and United Airlines merged with Continental, duplicate flights were eliminated.

An FAA official said the agency “advised the Connecticut Airport Authority to update its noise exposure maps for Bradley International Airport” because the old maps “did not accurately reflect aircraft operations at the airport.”

“Operations at the airport have not grown as forecast,” the FAA said.

Noise contours do indeed appear to be shrinking around many airports nationwide, the FAA said, particularly around medium-hubs and smaller airports. This is due to a combination of factors: airline industry consolidation, schedule reductions, airlines buying newer, larger, quieter and more efficient airplanes, and airlines finding ways accommodate more passengers with fewer flights.

Even if there are no major changes, airports are required to file a noise map with the FAA about every five years.

Bradley also submitted to the FAA another map that shows what it thinks its noise exposure would be in the future. That map expands the area around the airport that would be subject to aircraft noise.

“We are actually hopeful of growth going forward,” Dillon said.

As for the noise level, the “determination of ‘quieter’ is in the ear of the beholder,” Dillon said. “These (map) contours did shrink, but if you are in that general area and a plane flies overhead, it will be loud.”

The 2008 noise map, courtesy Bradley International Airport

The new noise map “is a good news story and a bad news story,” Dillon said.

In partnership with the FAA, Bradley offers homeowners who are subjected to overflights that are on average 65 decibels or louder a program that outfits their homes with sound-resistant windows and doors and other sound insulation equipment.

Since 2009, the sound-insulation program has tried to muffle aircraft noise for  245 residential units at an average cost of $61,000 per home.

But with the new noise map, no additional homes will be eligible to benefit from the noise abatement program, Dillon said.

“A lot of people who were expecting sound insulation won’t get sound insulation,” he said.

For years, people who live in or near Bradley’s flight path have complained about noise.

That’s not expected to stop.

But the new sound map means new subdivisions in the area may not have to disclose they are subject to airport traffic noise in their deeds, as all homes in the old noise map are required.  And homeowners who are now outside the noise map may be able take that encumbrance off their deeds.

As far as noise pollution in the neighborhoods around Bradley International  Airport goes, Bill Hawkins, Suffield’s town planner, said he’s not overly optimistic there will be less.

“I always take these maps with a grain of salt,” he said.

Map courtesy of Bradley International Airport.

Ana has written about politics and policy in Washington, D.C.. for Gannett, Thompson Reuters and UPI. She was a special correspondent for the Miami Herald, and a regular contributor to The New York TImes, Advertising Age and several other publications. She has also worked in broadcast journalism, for CNN and several local NPR stations. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Journalism.

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