My interest in airport noise comes from two sources. First of all, I live near the airport, and second, my career was in airports and the last 30 years were at Pearson, largely in the planning area. My topic today is the increasing night flights and the by-products of annoyance, sleep deprivation and decreased quality of life.
In 1996 there were about 9,600 flights at night between 12:30 and 6:30 in the morning. In 1997, the first full year after the airport was transferred to the GTAA from Transport Canada, the budget was 10,300. Currently, through a strange formula in which the budget for night flights increases in proportion to passenger growth, Transport Canada allows more than 19,000 flights during the night.
Compare this to other airports. Frankfurt imposes a complete ban. Heathrow allows 5,800, but that is tied to a noise quota budget that is decreasing. Montreal bans large aircraft over 45,000 kilograms, which reduces the overall noise dosage.
Although the aviation industry likes to point out that there is a budget that restricts the number of night flights, a restriction that increases annually is merely a temporary limitation. In the long term, it is a restriction in name only.
With the hope of attracting more business, the GTAA determined that the natural growth in the budget would not be sufficient to meet the demand and petitioned Transport Canada to permit three bump-ups of 10%. The approval was granted in 2013. Although the increase has not been used, it remains on the books.
I would to illustrate the nature and the severity of night noise by a graph, which is on the wall. In the bottom right corner, you see an airplane flying over a square, which is the noise monitoring station at a place in Garnetwood Park. Garnetwood Park is located just north of Markham, where these two gentlemen come from, and south of another residential area in Mississauga, which the aircraft will pass over en route to the airport. The noise level is 80 decibels, which the equivalent of an alarm clock.
Below that, you'll see another plane coming in, which will arrive at the noise monitoring station about two minutes later, and beyond that another and another and another.
In the middle, there is a panel that shows some information on the aircraft. It shows the elevation, which is 1,480 feet. This is somewhat misleading because that is ASL, above sea level. It is actually less than 1,000 feet above the ground. You'll note the origin of that flight, which is Puerto Vallarta, and the time, 3:18 a.m.
The current night flight budget is unreasonable. There must be an absolute upper limit on the number of flights and the maximum allowable noise. Night flights should be treated as a scarce and decreasing resource to be used judiciously, not one that is used with no upper limit. It is unacceptable for the industry to enjoy all the increasing economic benefits while the community bears all the increasing social and environmental costs.
Some night flights are necessary for the well-being of the region, but there must be a balance between the wants of the industry and the needs of the community. I doubt that the economy would be in peril if flights from sunspot destinations were not permitted to land in the middle of the night.
I have some suggestions for improvement. First, eliminate the provision for the annual increase in the night flight budget and the provision for the three bump-ups.
Second, over a five-year phase-in period, reduce the night flight budget back to the 9,600 that was in place when Transport Canada last operated the airport. Along with that, introduce measures to manage the total annual noise dosage and the maximum allowable levels for individual flights.
Third, introduce a substantial surcharge on night flights so that the true social and environmental costs of night flights are reflected in the total costs. This should apply to all airlines, including those that currently pay a fixed annual fee to operate at Pearson.
Undoubtedly the industry will vigorously protest any changes from the current scheme, as it will then have to make decisions on which flights to operate and which flights to drop.
However, changes are necessary and new regulations are needed so that the interests of the communities in the vicinity of the airport no longer remain secondary to the interests of the industry at Pearson and at all other airports.