Oakville/Halton Takes a Leadership Role on Reducing Aircraft Noise

Is there a solution to the problem of aircraft noise in Oakville?

Lufthansa jet preparing to land
Oakville/Halton Takes a Leadership Role on Reducing Aircraft Noise

About the Author

Jeff Knoll

Jeff Knoll

Jeff Knoll is the Ward 5 Regional & Town Councillor, and resides in OakPark with his wife and children. He is also the CEO of Film.ca, a successful independent movie theatre located on Speers Road just west of Kerr Street.

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This year a number of Town of Oakville councillors have been working on the Mayor’s Advisory Group (MAG) to reduce Aircraft Traffic and Noise. The results indicate that we’re making progress. The MAG includes the Regional and Town Councillors from all north Oakville wards. The goal is to develop concrete changes resulting improvements for Oakville residents. Among other things, we’ve been lobbying officials to change the aircraft regulations and procedures used as approach to land at Pearson International Airport. It’s been a tough slog.

The problem of noisy aircraft overhead has been around for quite a while now. Noise from passing aircraft appears to have a greater impact in the northern areas of Oakville because they are right on the flight path aircraft have been required to follow since 2012. That’s when NAV Canada changed the procedures for landing at Pearson.

NAV Canada is the private organization charged with operating Canada’s civil air navigation services. It is a non-government, not-for-profit corporation that operates outside of the political sphere. Canada’s air navigation services were formerly operated by Transport Canada. In 1996, in a period of government restraint, many in the airline industry succeeded in pressuring the federal government to change what they saw as a conflict of interest involved in having Transport Canada as the service provider, the regulator and the inspector of air navigation services. NAV Canada was created as a result, and air navigation services were transferred to its care. The organization’s mission is to facilitate the safe, efficient and cost-effective movement of aircraft through air navigation services such as air traffic control, airport advisory and flight information and aeronautical information. One of the advantages of the organization’s structure now is that no politician can unilaterally create changes that are unsafe or not in keeping with the national interest. NAV Canada tracks 12 million aircraft movements a year, making it the world’s second-largest air navigation service by traffic volume.

NAV Canada made procedural changes to the Standard Terminal Arrival Routes (STARs) at Pearson in 2012 to meet International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) standards that ensure that aircraft heading away from the airport have enough room to turn back onto final approach for landing. Under the previous STARs, which were 4.2 miles wide, it was possible, in certain wind conditions, for aircraft to fly right through the final approach course while there was traffic on the parallel runway, causing the aircraft to come too close. This widening of the downwind leg to 5.2 miles put the track over north Oakville.

At the same time, NAV Canada lowered the mandatory altitudes for the STARs, putting aircraft even closer to homes in Oakville and increasing the amount of noise reaching the ground. These altitudes are lower than necessary for safe descent and landing at Pearson, but are sometimes required for traffic separation. It would be possible for the highly trained air traffic controllers at Pearson to manage these descents to lower altitudes when necessary, while allowing other aircraft to stay higher when traffic conditions permit.

The combined changes that NAV Canada implemented in 2012 brought aircraft lower over more parts of Oakville than had previously been the case. They also required aircraft to descend towards the airport at a lower, slower speed. This is problematic because aircraft generate a lot of aerodynamic noise when their wing flaps are extended at a lower altitude, according to Captain David Inch, a north Oakville resident with 35 years of international and domestic experience as a commercial airline pilot.

“The major points are the issues of sound generation, attenuation and recurrence,” Mr. Inch says.

Commercial Jet Engine

Photo Credit: Photo credit: SuperJet International / Foter / CC BY-SA

Sound Generation, Attenuation and Recurrence
He notes that sound generation relates to the aerodynamics of flap and speed brake usage. If aircraft were permitted to increase their speeds slightly as they fly over Oakville while preparing to land at Pearson they would reduce the need for flaps, and Mr. Inch says that would help to reduce the amount of noise generated.

He also says that attenuation of aircraft noise is a function of altitude, and that the amount of noise that would reach the ground in Oakville could be lessened if aircraft were allowed to fly a little higher.

Recurrence refers to the number airplanes flying over Oakville and although no one is recommending we reduce the actual number of flights into Pearson Airport, Mr. Inch does believe there are times of the day when aircraft could be rerouted to different runways, particularly between 11:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m. He also says his suggestions would save airlines millions of dollars in fuel costs every year and aid in the reduction of greenhouse gases, all without compromising passenger safety.

Mr. Inch became involved in the aircraft noise issue initially through the Toronto Aviation Noise Group (TANG). He believes simple changes could be made to procedures at Pearson Airport that would reduce airport noise over Oakville without compromising safety.

“Safety has always been upmost in my mind but I’ve been involved with efficiency issues for a long time as well,” Mr. Inch says. “I do a lot of international flying – to Frankfurt, Paris, London, Copenhagen, Tel Aviv, etc. – and we don’t see the Toronto procedures at virtually any other airport in the world.”

You can access a comprehensive report Mr. Inch completed on the topic here: https://northtoronto.files.wordpress.com/2015/02/inch-report.pdf.

The bottom line is that Mr. Inch believes aircraft could safely remain at 6000 feet or higher while flying over Oakville and then descend, as per air traffic controller instructions, when they are closer to the airport. He also feels aircraft speed should remain above 210 knots until a slower speed is absolutely required.

If aircraft were permitted to increase their speeds slightly as they fly over Oakville while preparing to land at Pearson they would reduce the need for flaps, and Mr. Inch says that would help to reduce the amount of noise generated.

Taking Action
While the Town of Oakville has no official standing with NAV Canada, and this is not technically a municipal issue, no other municipality in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) has taken up the mantle like we have. In reality, however, the issue has to be managed and regulated at the federal level, and all of our efforts to date have been focused on influencing change at that level.

The first public meeting of the Oakville MAG on aviation noise was held in February of this year, and a second meeting followed in mid-July. I’ve personally met with NAV Canada officials to discuss landing procedures and the rules related to altitude and speed that pilots must follow.

We’ve also had meetings this year with Transport Minister and federal Member of Parliament for Halton Lisa Raitt, to seek her assistance on the issue. Although the Minister does not have jurisdiction over NAV Canada procedures, she was able to induce NAV Canada, and the Canadian Airports Council to develop the Airspace Change Communications and Consultation Protocol. This protocol formalizes public consultations for flight path changes at major airports right across this country. It’s a first for Canada and I was pleased when the Minister credited the work we’re doing here in Oakville with providing the major impetus for its development.

The minister also announced that NAV Canada and the Greater Toronto Airport Authority (GTAA) have developed an initiative that affects us in Halton specifically. The region-specific Toronto Pearson Noise Mitigation Engagement Strategy has been tasked with developing measures to deal with airport noise concerns in the Toronto area, particularly in North Toronto and the Western Greater Toronto Area (GTA) and Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area. A meeting will be held in Halton Region in September.

The collaboration involves regional meetings with community members and their leaders, as well as meetings with local, provincial and federally elected officials. Feedback from these meetings will be used to develop a solution to concentrated flight paths and increased aircraft noise.

Other Initiatives
We’ve had wins in a number of other areas as well. Thanks to our persistence,

  1. Oakville/Halton has won a seat at the GTAA’s Community Environment Noise Advisory Committee (CENAC). This group meets regularly to discuss noise-related issues and, up until this year, our requests to be included had fallen on deaf ears. Halton Region is now represented on the committee along with other CENAC members from Brampton, Mississauga and Toronto.
  2. The limitation on noise complaints has been changed. The GTAA previously only tracked noise complaints from people who were within 10 nautical miles of Pearson International Airport. This excluded a lot of people in Oakville. Now, anyone can lodge a complaint related to any flight that originates or lands at Pearson Airport through this link: http://www.torontopearson.com/en/noisecomplaint/#. If you would prefer to make a complaint by telephone you can call the Noise Management Office at (416) 247-7682.
  3. We’re continuing to consult with every authority involved to bring what pressure we can to reduce the impact of aircraft noise in Oakville.

Special Thanks
We really can’t do this alone. An initiative like this one is very dependent on the efforts of concerned citizens who are dedicated to making a difference in the lives of the people in our community. At the head of the list of people we need to thank for their commitment is Captain David Inch, whose tireless efforts, exacting analysis and profound understanding of the workings of the aviation world has made a huge difference to our determination to alleviate the problem of aircraft noise in Oakville and area.

We are also indebted to the other members of the Oakville Mayor’s Advisory Group on Aircraft Traffic and Noise: Captain Richard Umpherson (retired), Richard Slatter and Ed Kurak.

What Can You Do?
We don’t know if these efforts are going to completely fix the problem. But I have a modicum of hope that we will see results within the next year or so. We do know that numbers count: if you or anyone you know is affected by aircraft noise, I urge you to file a complaint with the airport at this link: http://torontopearson.com/en/noisecomplaint/?terms=noise+complaints#.

A sophisticated web tracking system called “WebTrak” allows the airport to determine which aircraft was in the air, and where, within 30 nautical miles of the airport at exact times of day. It’s accessible through this link:www.torontopearson.com/webtrak.

And, if you would like more information about NAV Canada’s changes to flight routes, please visit
http://www.navcanada.ca/EN/products-and-services/Pages/Frequently-Asked-Questions.aspx. This is a challenging issue and I know how frustrating it is for many. We’re working on it—and we appreciate your input and assistance.

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Readers Comments (2)

  1. Trudy Fong says:

    I have been trying to reach Jeff Knoll for a few Weeks now via email regarding the site we are to complain to and have had no response ! Thought I would try this way !! it appears that we live too far from the airport for our complaints to register ! The site won’t accept our postal code . I only live at Trafalgar and Upper Middle … You can’t get much closer to the airport in Oakville !! Any other ideas ? It is getting pretty unbearable here !! I understand this is a minor issue compared with others you have to deal with bit if you just give me the correct information , I will be happy to do my part !!

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  2. Gordon Brennan says:

    Integrity, Ethics, Moral behaviours labelled as “Political and Vexatious,” but Jets buzzing over North Oakville Homeowners heads 7 days a week is “Not Political nor has it any Politicians influence.” Perhaps since Councillor Knoll, a career Politician, has been leading the so-called fight against the planes flying over our head for the past 3 years has been unsuccessful in any changes being done, then he should step aside and allow a non-politician to lead a new initiative to have NAV Canada hear the noise from the planes and make the excellent ideas and changes brought forth by Captain David Inch? Perhaps Mr. Inch should be leading the MAG? Perhaps Councillor Knoll should take a poll of how many property owners have moved out of North Oakville because of this ongoing issue? Ask local Real Estate Agents about this issue and take their comments to NAV? Further, are new homeowners in North Oakville being told by New Home Builders that they will be subjected to excessive noise by low flying aircraftin their Agreement of Purchase and Sale? Councillor Knoll IS CORRECT that there is power in numbers so we need to get those numbers heard by NON-POLITICAL persons. MP Lisa Raitt is no longer “in-power” with the new Liberal Government. Waiting on MAG to talk about this issue for another year or two is not going to help any of the homeowners and businesses, actions speak louder than words.

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