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ILM Hosts Public Meeting On Noise Study

By Emma Dill, posted May 16, 2024
Dozens of Wilmington residents turned out on Wednesday for a public meeting about an ongoing noise study at Wilmington International Airport. (Photo by Emma Dill)
When certain military aircraft fly over Jeff Edwards’ house on Grace Street, the windows vibrate, and a deafening noise enters the home. 

“All conversation stops, and fingers go in the ears when this happens,” he said Wednesday.

Edwards was one of dozens of Wilmington residents who attended a public meeting this week to discuss an ongoing noise study at Wilmington International Airport. The voluntary Part 150 noise study, funded by a Federal Aviation Administration grant, kicked off this spring and will take 18 to 22 months to complete, said ILM Airport Director Jeff Bourk.

The airport received the grant last fall and selected airport consultant Coffman Associates Inc. to lead the study. Representatives from the firm answered questions from attendees Wednesday during the meeting inside the gymnasium of Snipes Academy.

Edwards and many other attendees said flyovers from military jets and other aircraft have the biggest impacts on their day-to-day lives. 

“The commercial aircraft don’t really make much disruption,” Edwards said. “The nature of the problem is not consistent loudness; it’s spikes that happen a couple of times a day.”

The study will gather data about noise around the airport and identify measures that can help reduce the noise impacts from aircraft flying into and out of ILM. The study can also encourage future land uses compatible with aircraft noise levels and establish procedures to implement and update study findings.

Edwards, however, said he has concerns about the measure being used to gauge the noise impacts. The study plans to use a measure called Day Night Average Sound Level, which, according to the FAA, aims to reflect a person’s cumulative exposure to sound over a 24-hour period. 

Edwards said that won’t account for the spikes in sound he and his neighbors experience during jet flyovers.

“My point is that averaging … over 24 hours doesn’t pick up the pattern of noise,” he said. “It’s the spikes in the noise that are disturbing.”

Residents in and around downtown Wilmington and ILM have for years expressed concerns about aircraft noise levels, especially from military aircraft. In 2022, a noise abatement memorandum of understanding was established between the air traffic control tower in Wilmington to implement noise abatement procedures.

That has resulted in a reduction of noise complaints, Bourk told attendees on Wednesday, but he hopes the ongoing noise study will help reduce further noise impacts.

“We entered this process because we want to be a good neighbor to the extent that we can and still meet our obligations as an airport,” Bourk said. “At the end of it, we’ll know what the noise exposure is officially, which we don’t today.”

Once results from the study are in, the airport will be able to identify what can be done to mitigate the impacts of the noise and procedures that can be put in place to guide future flights. Completing the noise study also opens up the opportunity for additional federal funding, Bourk said.

“If the study shows that there are impacts, in certain areas, there’s additional money available to help mitigate those impacts, he said. “So that’s why it’s really important for me that we do this because it opens up another federal funding source to help mitigate more, and if you don’t do the study, you don’t get money access to those funds.”

Although ILM can recommend voluntary procedures for pilots to follow, Bourk said the airport isn’t able to pick and choose the aircraft they allow to use its facilities.

“If you’re an airport in a community, you can’t say, ‘Well, we like your airplane noise level, but we don’t like yours. So you can come in, and you can’t,’” he said. “As an airport operator, you can’t set those types of restrictions.” 

The study’s next steps include measuring the airport’s aviation noise and its impacts and exploring noise abatement and land use alternatives. According to ILM spokesperson Erin McNally, another public meeting will be held in the fall, with more to follow next year.
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