Thursday, October 31, 2013

What's Up with All the Airplane Noise? Short Answer: Blame the Wind

"East Flow" by Jackson Pollock, not really (via

If you live in South Philadelphia, you've heard your fair share of air traffic noise recently. Typically, the noise level from PHL and the Penn's Landing Heliport on Columbus Boulevard isn't too bad. In all honesty, unless there is police activity in the sky or a plane soaring though a beautiful sunset, I bet you rarely even think about the aircraft over South Philly. However, a recent post within the South Philly forum of Philadelphia Speaks ponders the recent air traffic volume increase throughout the area.

It seems the "simple" answer is the change in wind direction. "Basically, planes have to land in to the wind," said a fellow Pennsporter with knowledge of air travel operations. "That means runway usage is primarily dictated by wind direction, and traffic flows follow the runway usage."

Because Philly usually has winds out of the west, planes tend to start the landing process over South Jersey and the Delaware River. In fact, according to the FAA's briefing (PDF) on the Airspace Redesign Program, planes from PHL "depart to the west about 70% of the time and to the east about 30% of the time, although the actual amount varies with wind directions." The cloud cover we've been experiencing certainly doesn't help as they reflect airplane noise.

Our fellow Pennsporter backs this up, "recently, the wind has been coming out of the east, an east flow, so departing traffic is climbing and turning over South Philly to head towards their destinations, so we tend to hear more airplane noise."

Sorry folks, it looks like we're in that 30% range for the time being -- so blame the wind for your early morning aircraft wake up calls.  If you want to dig a little further, check out this handy FAQ (PDF) from the Airport Noise Office, including how to contact them in the event you want to file a complaint.


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