I would like to update you on a subject about which there has been much discussion for some time now-the noise caused by seaplanes, and the increasing number of complaints and legal action undertaken by residents and municipalities against this type of operation. It is an extremely delicate subject, and the opinions of seaplane operators and residents are often diametrically opposed. Transport Canada is regularly called upon to intervene in this kind of situation to help the parties find tailor-made solutions. It turns out that, with a little co-operation, proper planning, and by implementing some simple precautions, it is possible to reduce the number of decibels (the measure of sound) that affect residents, and maintain or re-establish good neighbourly relations.
Let's review some established facts about noise. I put them into three categories: the source, the surrounding factors, and the hearer. This is not a complete list, and you may already know all the facts, but you may also learn new ones, or reflect on them after making the list.
- Two-bladed propellers make more noise than propellers with three blades;
- Some types of engines produce higher decibels, especially at full throttle;
- The intensity of the noise is less bothersome than repeated exposure, that is to say, a very loud noise for a short amount of time is less bothersome than repetitive medium-intensity noise (touch-and-goes, for example);
- The number of decibels decreases with distance, that is to say, if you take off further from shore, or fly over residences at a higher altitude, the noise heard by the residents will be not be as loud.
- Wind carries sound downwind;
- The landscape may prevent noise from dissipating. Thus, the hills that often surround lakes act as an amplifier.
- Noise tolerance differs from person to person. Studies show that some people are more sensitive to, and bothered by, noise;
- Noise tolerance varies depending on the activity being done, and the time of day. For example, noise at 6a.m. on a Sunday morning when we're trying to sleep is much more annoying than the same noise at 2p.m. on a Saturday afternoon, when we're working in the yard.
What do we do with this information? Whether you're a private pilot who uses a seaplane occasionally, or an operator who carries out aerial sightseeing, be proactive. Consider the “noise” factor when choosing the type of aircraft being used, contact the municipality and residents in the area before beginning your activities to find out their concerns, avoid carrying out activities at “risky” times of the day; plan your take-off run in order to move away from the more densely populated areas, and reduce climb power as soon as possible; adjust your path in order to have a steeper approach angle (reduced engine) instead of conducting a low approach with a lot of power; avoid unnecessarily approaching or overflying houses; maintain good communication with people; take the time to explain your safety requirements to them; and lastly, try to find amicable solutions. In our experience, there is nothing more effective than communication, respect, and trust to prevent the situation from getting out of hand. By following this advice, you will be able to fully enjoy your favourite pastime as a private pilot, and if you work in the field, you will avoid negative publicity for your company, and all kinds of legal procedures that result from conflicts.
Of course, you should never compromise safety to reduce noise at all costs, but it is often possible to integrate good practices to manage noise without putting your safety at risk.
Have a safe flight!
Regional Director, Civil Aviation