Aspen Airport Less Noisy, But Could Be Quieter

Sep 11, 2014

There more newer, quieter private jets touching down in Aspen compared to ten years ago. That’s part of an ongoing, and unusual, effort by the airport to cut down on plane noise. And private pilots have played an important role.

  Sound of a jet flying out of Sardy Field.

That’s the sound of a commercial plane taking off from Aspen’s airport one fine September morning. You might be able to hear the sound of Highway 82 as well.

Ryk Dunkelberg is an airport noise expert and helped put together the latest official report on exactly how bothersome Pitkin County’s airfield is.

“The commercial aircraft fleet is very quiet. They’re all brand new aircraft, from a noise standpoint.”

So the real culprits are…

“Noisier, louder, older, business jets and some of the louder turbo props. The community seems to be more irritated with the business jet aircraft fleet, than the commercial fleet.”

In part because of this factor.

“The overall noise levels are very, very low in the Valley. And because of that, the difference in the background noise and the aircraft noise is greater when the human ear hears that, than in a more urban area.

Plus the foothills reflect sound, as well. So, Aspen’s Airport kicked of a program in 2005 to try and bring it all down-- and cut down on greenhouse, too. And officials got a bit lucky. Right around that time, older noisier jets started phasing out. That’s helped a lot. And Aspen rangled in pilots into helping, too.

“We have asked some of the pilots and the operators to use their quieter aircraft, and then recognize them publicly for doing so. We send out letters to the operators that are identified in the annual fly quiet reports, which are available on the website.”

And Pitkin County Commissioners get to hear all about those  those cooperative pilots, too. The result?

“Well, the overall cumulative noise levels have gone down by twenty five to twenty eight percent. And the overall noisy, noisy, aircraft in the fleet are down to less than 1 percent of the overall operations, which is much quieter than most airports at this stage across the country.”

Unfortunately, Residents in the Upper Valley may not be able to hear the difference compared to nine years ago.

“One of the problems with noise reduction at airports is that you still hear the aircraft, and it may be 10 decibels quieter, but if you don’t have a good historical memory, you don’t really think it’s that quiet because you still hear the aircraft.”

There is another way to cut down on the noise -- maybe even to noticeable levels. At a meeting last week, outgoing airport director Jim Elwood pointed to when pilots use auxiliary power. That’s the engine used to first start up a plane, and can be quite loud. If a passenger is late, and a pilot doesn’t know it…

“That system’s been running for an extra hour. So how do we reach and touch those individuals so they can be sensitive   to call the pilots and say you know we’ve run into a delay, we’ll be there a little later or at this time instead.”

Especially as highway traffic leading into the airport... gets more congested in the high season.