With Amazon expected to open a regional air hub at Fort Worth Alliance Airport in October, a handful of new flights will take to the skies over Northeast Fort Worth each day.
As the number of flights grows, the airport is working to reduce the noise effects of its planes on nearby residents. According to a 2018 environmental assessment conducted by Alliance Airport, noise mitigation will be needed to minimize the noise exposure to homes around the transportation hub.
On July 9, the Federal Aviation Administration awarded an $8 million grant to Alliance Airport to study the airport’s noise impact on nearby homes.
Some of the grant will also be used for sound insulation and noise-mitigation measures for homes once the study is complete.
“With the addition of the Amazon air hub that will open later this year, our noise signature will increase slightly,” said Christian Childs, director of aviation operations for Alliance Airport. “The funds will be available to do a further in-depth study and to fund any mitigation needed in that study.”
Since its opening in 1989, Alliance Airport has grown to support about 112,326 takeoffs and landings in 2018, according to the environmental assessment. It offers cargo, corporate and government flights for users such as FedEx Express, GDC Technics and the U.S. Air Force.
As the airport has grown, so has residential development around the transportation hub. Though airports are usually built in remote or undeveloped areas, they often attract development, said Ross Aimer, a retired United Airlines pilot and CEO of Aero Consulting Experts.
According to Fort Worth City Council Member Dennis Shingleton, much of the growth around Alliance Airport is due to its location in AllianceTexas. The development is home to more than 500 companies employing more than 61,600 workers.
“The airport was there before any of the [residential]growth was there,” Shingleton said. “Thousands of people and thousands of homes have moved in for a variety of reasons, both job-wise and for convenience of transportation.”
When it first opens, Amazon’s hub is expected to add three to five flights per day to Alliance Airport. By 2025, that number could grow to 38 daily flights, or 13,870 flights per year, according to the environmental assessment.
The possible noise effect
Cindy Allen, Realtor with DFWMoves, said noise and traffic at the airport are not keeping residents from buying homes in nearby developments. In fact, Allen said, interest around the Amazon hub and the jobs it will bring is luring more homebuyers to the area.
“When you have a big name coming in, it excites people,” Allen said. “It creates a buzz, which is good for the whole area.”
She also said she has not seen noise have a negative effect on nearby property values.
“Even if there was noise, AllianceTexas is flourishing,” she said.
Preparing for Amazon
The FAA requires airports to file an update on noise effects to surrounding areas every 10 years. Alliance Airport began its latest update in January and expects to publish findings in 2020, Childs said.
With homeowners’ permission, the study uses recording devices to measure the difference in noise levels inside and outside of a home.
Airport officials will use the results to decide what steps to take to reduce flight noise from Amazon and the airport’s other users.
“Nobody in the country knows what the particular noise impacts are going to be with this type of operation,” Ernest Huffman, principal transportation planner with North Central Texas Council of Governments, said of the Amazon hub.
NCTCOG assists governments in a 16-county area with regional planning.
“We’re a year or two out before we understand how we can mitigate some impact [at Alliance Airport],” Huffman said.
The acceptable amount of flight noise can vary from home to home. How much noise a residence experiences can also differ based on the location and age of the home. The effect can even change on a daily basis, depending on the temperature and time of day, Aimer said.
Airport officials also have to gauge whether the noise heard at a home stems from factors like the type of plane being flown and other sources, such as highway traffic.
“Unfortunately, it’s not just a simple [number of]decibels that is acceptable to live in,” Childs said. “It truly depends on so many different environmental factors.”
The airport is expected to begin contacting homeowners in September about noise-mitigation efforts. Those efforts are expected to be completed by Dec. 31, 2024, according to the environmental assessment.
Possible next steps
If the airport does find it needs to reduce the noise effect on homes, it has several options.
Some airports can change their flight paths so planes do not pass directly over homes. Airports can also restrict the number of flights that take off early or late in the day, according to Aimer.
Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport conducted a $155 million noise-mitigation program in the 1990s, according to Sandy Lancaster, environmental program manager for the airport.
Since then, the airport has implemented noise and flight track-monitoring systems to measure and minimize the noise its planes contribute around the airport.
It also works to minimize development around the airport that would be sensitive to noise.
The neighborhoods expected to experience the most noise exposure from Alliance Airport’s increased flights are Rivers Edge and Woodland Springs.
In the past, Alliance Airport has worked with some homeowners to minimize noise by installing soundproof insulation in walls and roofs, as well as more noise-efficient, double-paned windows. New caulking around doors and windows also helps, Childs said.
The airport could purchase an affected home, though Childs said that is a last resort.
“We do not expect any of the affected homes in our noise contours to be remotely close to needing a purchase option,” Childs said.
The airport’s other options include guaranteeing appraised market value when homeowners sell their properties. The airport could also pay for some of the costs associated with the sale of residential properties. New owners would be informed of the noise before they buy the homes.
These measures are taken to ensure a timely sale of the affected property, according to the environmental assessment.
If homeowners accept help with noise mitigation, they must sign an avigation easement, according to the environmental study. The easement allows the airport to continue flying planes over the home.
“[We want] to make sure that the folks that live in the homes … have an acceptable and reasonable expectation of what would be considered a normal and non-disruptive life by the airport,” Childs said.