Featured San Antonio airport studies noise amid growth and new technology

Published on September 21st, 2022 📆 | 4306 Views ⚑

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San Antonio airport studies noise amid growth and new technology


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Officials have spent millions of dollars modifying almost 1,600 homes and apartments on the North Side to temper the roar of aircraft arrivals and takeoffs at San Antonio International Airport. 

Permanent noise monitoring terminals also were installed in areas surrounding the airport and more upgrades are on the way, along with additional grant money for the facility. 

This fall, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is introducing a system that soon could affect the way residents experience noise coming from the airport. 

To address the impact of air traffic growth and improve safety, the FAA plans to incorporate the use of global positioning system technology to move aircraft more efficiently in and out of the airspace surrounding the San Antonio International Airport. 

Known as performance-based navigation (PBN), the system when it’s integrated will mean some flight corridors are narrowed from as much as four miles wide to one mile. 

“Is that a big deal? If you live underneath it, it might be, because the concentration [of flights] … has now changed,” said the airport’s Noise Officer Josh Heiss, speaking to the Airport Advisory Commission on Tuesday. 

Flight paths could also change, leading people on the ground to see and hear more or less aircraft overhead than they previously did. 

In one example, Heiss showed how flight paths are projected to change. A map of arrivals to runway 31L coming from the direction of far northwest San Antonio narrows to cover less area west of Interstate 10, reducing flights over areas such as Leon Valley. The same narrowing occurs in other flight paths from every other direction into and out of that runway.

But new flight paths will occur only in cases in which the aircraft has been equipped with PBN, Heiss said.

The dozens of noise monitoring terminals already in place throughout neighborhoods surrounding the airport allow the team tasked with managing the noise program to integrate flight traffic control data with actual noise levels and respond to residents’ questions and complaints. 

That system can be accessed on the aviation department’s website.

Since the first airport noise study was conducted in 1990, the city has spent $135 million to provide residential acoustical treatment to 1,582 homes, condos and apartments within the noise exposure map zone, Heiss said. The program was voluntary.

But because every residence is different, contractors and architects were enlisted to advise property owners on how best to block the noise from entering the interior space. Solutions ranged from noise-canceling windows and doors to adding insulation and making changes to heating and air conditioning systems. 

Heiss also revealed to advisory commission members the airport’s latest noise exposure map based on 2021 data. 

The map shows noise “contours” roughly surrounding the runways that are created using an FAA computer modeling program. The program takes into account a year’s worth of data on how often the runways are used, the types of aircraft and the number of arrivals and departures. 

This map illustrates noise exposure in the areas surrounding San Antonio International Airport. The orange blocks indicate properties that have undergone acoustic treatment. Credit: Courtesy / Airport Advisory Commission

It also figures in the time of day, with a contour changing shape when there are more nighttime flights, and examines future proposed changes to the airport’s runways.

“In 1997 and 2000, those contours were significantly larger,” he said, with one of the loops extending to Interstate 35. “Over time, these contours have narrowed and grown closer to the ends of the runway.”

One of the main reasons for that is changes in aircraft design, which has made them lighter overall. 

The FAA is planning to conduct an environmental assessment to determine the impact of implementing PBN at San Antonio’s airport, and following that, the agency plans to hold two meetings on Nov. 3 and 4 that will be live-streamed to the public. 

Also on Tuesday, airport officials announced that the FAA has awarded the San Antonio airport grants totaling $8 million for two construction projects. 

More than $5 million will go toward the emergency response road project to rebuild sections of the air rescue vehicle access roadway. Another $2.3 million will be allocated for a taxi lane reconstruction project. 

That brings the total federal funding awarded to the San Antonio airport in the past three months to $20.5 million. In November, the City Council approved a 20-year airport improvement plan that comes with an estimated $1 billion price tag.

“This funding will help us continue moving towards our goal of making San Antonio International Airport the best it can be,” stated Jesus Saenz, director of airports for the City of San Antonio. “These grants make it possible for us to grow, strengthen and maintain our high safety standards.”



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