New technology may lessen aircraft landing noise at SFO

Peninsula residents may notice a reduction in aircraft noise this summer due to new technology being tested at San Francisco International Airport.

The technology, software called En Route Descent Advisor, is designed to queue landing aircraft from as far away as 300 miles, guiding them in at low power on a gradual descent, rather than forcing pilots to level-off, or step down, at various altitudes as is done currently, officials said.

“Pilots won’t have to be ‘stepped down’ because the computer will do the thinking for them to guide them in,” said Mike McCarron, spokesman for San Francisco International Airport.

Reduced noise is only one of the benefits. By using EDA to manage traffic, air controllers will be able to largely eliminate circling, cut air pollution, shrink fuel consumption by up to 2 percent, or up to 800 pounds of fuel per flight, and shorten travel times, according to Richard Coppenbarger, primary engineer on the NASA Ames Research Center-led project.

United Airlines, FedEx, Boeing and SFO have joined forces to participate in the first tests of EDA on two to three aircraft a day beginning in July and running through December, officials said.

“By using EDA, you should have an aircraft coming in with a steady hum rather than having to power up [increasing noise] when they level off,” said Bert Ganoung, SFO noise abatement director. Ganoung said descending into thinner air requires increased thrust to fly at altitude.

Having lived with airport noise for the better part of 20 years, San Bruno resident Scott Buschman welcomed the news. While it is primarily departure noise that affects his family, landing aircraft are also a factor when the wind switches around. “I would think that any technology or means the airport would like to explore to reduce airplane noise is a great idea,” Buschman said.

“Preliminary information suggests this will be a very beneficial program for residents and the Airport/Community Roundtable is very interested,” said Supervisor Mark Church, chairman of the Roundtable, which monitors noise complaints.

“Eventually we would want to extend this to all airlines and airports that are equipped,” Coppenbarger said. Full deployment of EDA at the nation’s busiest airports could be possible in five to 10 years, with Federal Aviation Administration approval, he said.

Gradual descent arrivals aren’t possible today because too many variables exist for flight controllers to contend with, including the number of aircraft, weather and knowing which runways are open, officials said.

Handling that mountain of data is where EDA comes in, Coppenbarger said.

ecarpenter@examiner.com

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