Sunday, June 23, 2024

Noise study on the horizon for ILM following resident complaints

Wilmington International Airport was awarded a nearly $1 million grant to perform a noise study that identifies decibels (Port City Daily/ Shea Carver)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — While military operations are actually down at the local airport, noise issues  are still coming in from neighboring communities.

READ MORE: The sound of silence: Military flight noise complaints tanked at ILM following FAA and DOD memo

To identify exactly where higher-than-average decibel levels are occurring, the Wilmington International Airport is conducting its first-ever federally authorized noise study.

It received a $915,000 grant from the Federal Aviation Administration to conduct a Part 150 Noise Compatibility Study. The airport is contributing $102,000 as its share.

Airports choose to partake in the study, designed to identify significant and future noise impacts from aircraft operations to address any issues outside ILM’s property bounds. 

“It provides an opportunity for the public to give input,” ILM deputy airport director Granseur Dick told the Wilmington Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Board last week. “It’s a full study of users of the airport, types of aircraft and timing.”

Decibel levels will be tracked for a year beginning in 2024; results will provide the airport with noise contour maps. This data will identify where “from an FAA-standpoint,” acceptable levels of noise are located in relation to the runways and airport terminal.

“More importantly, it will identify where noise corridors exceed airport property,” Dick said. “It will recommend opportunities for mitigation, which could include noise barriers on the airfield, vegetation, or in extreme cases, noise-proofing residences.”

Residents in New Hanover County, especially those living within a few miles of ILM have been complaining about increased aircraft noise for a few years, specifically regarding military jets.

ALSO: ‘IT’S THE SOUND OF FREEDOM’: Here’s why military aircraft love Wilmington airspace

“I’m sure you’ve heard this in your communities; we’ve certainly heard complaints from citizens regarding noise and military use, occasionally specific to commercial aircraft,” Dick told WMPO last week.

The airport started tracking complaints in 2021. Between March and December, ILM intercepted 133 noise complaints due to the jets.

Since January 2023, 19 “unique households” have called or emailed about 50 times — double in six months what was recorded for all of 2022 with 25 calls.

Based on ILM data, military traffic averages 11,000 to 11,500 flights per year, with an all-time high recorded in 2021 with 14,245 flights.

The Department of Defense and FAA signed an agreement in January 2022 in an attempt to reduce the noise jets create. Military aircraft, which land at ILM to refuel, must now remain and approach landings at a higher altitude, starting at 2,500 feet and kill their afterburners as they approach the ground.

After the agreement was put into place, there was a one-sixth decrease in noise complaints to ILM over a year, from January 2022 to 2023.

The local airport had one fixed-base operator, Modern Aviation, at the time the federal agreement was implemented; now it has two. Aero Center Wilmington opened in June last year and serves as a second location for aircraft maintenance, fueling, and additional general aviation services. In November, it expanded its 5,200-square-foot facility by another 78,800 square feet.

Modern Aviation — operational at ILM for more than 40 years, though under a different name until 2018 — entered into a $8.4 million, 42-month contract with the U.S. Department of Defense in September 2021. It allows the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and federal civilian agencies refuel at ILM.

For the first six months of 2023, there were 4,499 military operations, about 5% less than during the same period in 2022.

ILM spokesperson Erin McNally said staff still receives complaints. 

One came in April 4 by a resident of Smith Creek Estates, located 3 miles from the runway. The resident wrote to Commissioner LeAnn Pierce that Saturday, April 1, “was almost unbearable” and attributed it to multiple harrier jets doing vertical take-offs and landings. 

“The sound that is like a pressure washer hitting your ears lasted about 3-4 minutes as they approach for landing floating, which I thought was prohibited in our community according to agreements made by the airport authority and military leaders,” he wrote.

The resident sent a log he kept over 10 days, noting multiple afterburners and even a large commercial plane takeoff rattling his house.

Pierce responded she would need to “refresh” herself on the agreement in place but would look into the matter (see the agreement at the end of the article).

McNally explained ILM applied for the noise study grant due to the excessive growth occurring at the airport. In 2022, ILM reached a record-breaking number of passengers at almost 1.1 million. And it’s slated to exceed that in 2023 with nearly 1.3 million.

Recently named third-fastest growing airport in the country, ILM has launched a five-year plan to invest $165 million in improvements, including another expansion of the terminal.

Based on its increase in airlines, number of flights and enplanements, ILM will also increase parking from roughly 1,500 spaces to 2,100, with room for up to 4,000 spots and a deck in the future.

In addition there will be updates to its front curb and creation of a dedicated passenger vehicle lane and one for commercial traffic to ease drop-off and pick-up lines.

Additional projects include the possible widening 23rd Street, realignment, realigning Airport Boulevard, adding new signage, and rehabilitating the main runway.

ALSO: More terminal space, parking deck part of ILM’s $165M five-year plan

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