Airport noise committee requests a reduction in nighttime flights

In response to a noticeable uptick in nighttime air traffic, an airport committee is asking carriers to voluntarily reduce their night flights.

Airport staff have documented an increase in air traffic in the late night and early morning hours, and found that some airlines are adding red eye flights. Dana Nelson, the Metropolitan Airports Commission manager of Noise, Environment and Planning, said many of those flights are departing from the West Coast, allowing travelers to arrive early for business meetings. Between 10:30 p.m. and 6 a.m., there were 204 more flights in May than last year and 95 more in June.

Council Member John Quincy (11th Ward), a member of the Noise Oversight Committee, pushed for action to curb nighttime plane noise. Committee members agreed to draft a letter to airport carriers.

“There is no question that there is a change here,” said committee member Elizabeth Petschel. “I think the letter would be very timely.”

Nelson said officials made a similar request several years ago.

The airport has seen a spike in complaints this summer related to nighttime traffic, plane altitude, flight frequency and noise.

Staff reported a “slight” increase in plane noise between 2014 and 2015 year-to-date, and mentioned that temperatures are averaging about 7 degrees warmer than 2014. Planes in warm, dense air — particularly larger, heavier aircraft — take longer to gain altitude. The past year also saw a reduction in small 50-seat regional jets.

But noise levels are generally trending downward from historic levels, staff said, due to a reduction in total operations and reductions in noisy aircraft. Airport staff expect new aircraft to continue becoming quieter.

Altitude trends haven’t dramatically changed from recent years, according to airport staff. Planes typically depart at altitudes higher in the winter and lower in the summer.

“In terms of warm weather months, we’re not seeing [altitudes] lower than what we’ve seen in the past,” Nelson said.

Total aircraft operations in 2015 are running 3 percent lower than 2014, staff said. The peak hour of operation is 1-2 p.m. with 81.3 average daily flights, which is lower than peak hours in 2014 (87.3) and 2013 (95.6).

Minneapolis officials have encouraged the Federal Aviation Administration to vary its runway use so flights are less concentrated over Minneapolis. Sending departing planes over Minneapolis is a preferred option for controllers throughout much of the day, as the airport can handle more traffic with that configuration.

In an email last spring, Council Member Linea Palmisano (13th Ward) said the control tower has offered to try alternative configurations when transitioning between higher and lower demand in the morning and at night. The “mixed flow” would send arriving planes over the Minnesota River and Mendota Heights, she said, with departures over Eagan.

“What does this mean in terms of real life experience? It should mean less noise in the early morning,” Palmisano said in an email. “Instead of starting departures over Minneapolis around 6:45 a.m., they will start closer to 7:20 a.m. While this change may seem small, I think this could make a difference for folks. The control tower is exploring how to implement a mixed flow in the evening shoulder period also, but we don’t know what they can do yet.”