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Know Where the Planes Are

By: Jeff Straub, Chief Technology Officer at LibreWorx

Why you and your buyers should know exactly where low-flying and noisy aircraft are traveling.

With 110 airports in North Carolina alone (four international, 30 municipal/regional and 75 private), there’s a very good chance that some of the properties you’re showing (and your clients are considering buying) are going to have low-flying aircraft nearby. And with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) making changes to the flight paths of dozens of airports around the country, properties that have been historically quiet may soon have some noisy flights overhead, thus lowering property values and upsetting buyers.

Knowing where low-flying aircraft are not only helps you and your buyers avoid any surprises, it also provides you with the information needed to help your clients make the best housing decision possible.

Planes aren’t where they used to be

Starting in 2010, the FAA set out on a 20-year endeavor to improve the aviation infrastructure of the United States with their NextGen program. The changes include a variety of benefits like increased safety, reducing fuel usage and shortening flight times. But unfortunately for a great number of communities, a large part of the program consolidates existing low-altitude flight paths and creates new ones. As a result, many homeowners are finding a drastic increase in aircraft noise with no way to combat it.

Take Phoenix, Ariz. — with over 1.5 million flights each month, Phoenix Sky Harbor International airport (PHX) is the one of the top 10 busiest airports in the country. When the FAA started rerouting landing and departing aircraft at PHX in 2014, it created issues for entire communities whose homes had never been subject to aircraft noise. The city tried everything it could to rectify the situation for its residents, including bringing a lawsuit against the FAA and convincing Senators to file an amendment to try and force the FAA to get input from the community before changing flight paths. Despite their efforts, nothing worked, and the changes remain in place.

PHX is just one of the 70-plus airports included in the FAA’s NextGen program. Closer to home, North Carolina’s NextGen changes are currently underway for Charlotte Douglas International, Piedmont Triad International, Raleigh-Durham International and others in the area. Being aware of current and historical aircraft noise for a property is more important than ever.

Don’t rely on the airports 

You may have noticed the noise exposure maps put out by airports, but these can be extremely conservative when it comes to actual aircraft noise levels. That’s because the larger the area the airport identifies as affected, the more money the airport (and the FAA) has to pay homeowners to mitigate the noise. This money can come in the form of providing sound insulation to homes that are minimally affected or offering to purchase properties of those for whom aircraft noise is at its worst. Since it’s beneficial for the airports to set what they consider “bad” noise levels to be as high as possible, their noise ratings often don’t tell the whole story.

The noise can be more than just annoying

Along with the general annoyance that can come with being in the flight path of low-flying aircraft, there can also be health issues involved. Awareness of the negative health effects of noise pollution has been around for some time. In fact, the World Health Organization named noise pollution the second biggest environmental cause of health problems after air pollution. A recent study from Harvard School of Public Health found that exposure to aircraft noise may actually result in an increased chance of cardiovascular disease. In the study, they found that towns with a 10 decibel increase in aircraft noise had a 3.5 percent increase in cardiovascular hospital admissions.

A top reason to cancel an offer

We’re all familiar with the main reasons buyers lose interest in a property: price, living space, schools, inspection results, etc. A recent survey of home buyers conducted by SellingUp — a UK-based real estate company — focused on learning more about the non-typical reasons buyers might move on. Of those surveyed, 41 percent said that discovering a property is subject to aircraft noise would be enough for them to withdraw an offer and/or lose interest completely.

When you consider that this lies somewhere between a third and half of your buyers, it’s too large of a percentage to gamble with. Whether you are a homebuyer, renter, property developer or real estate investor, knowing where low-flying and noisy aircraft are going to be is key. That’s where Clear Quiet Skies comes in.

A Solution: Clear Quiet Skies

Although there are several tools on the market that help to inform property owners and prospective buyers about aircraft noise pollution, the most comprehensive is Clear Quiet Skies. This application offers free aircraft noise evaluations for any address in the country. If you’re a homebuyer or renter and want a quick overview of air traffic patterns in your home-search area, use the Air Traffic Evaluation too. Or, if you need more detailed information, utilize custom Air Traffic Assessment Reports for a look into actionable scenarios based on historic flight information, current trends and proposed FA changes. Learn more at

About Jeff

Jeff Straub is the CTO at LibreWorx, a North Carolina-based software development company and developer of Clear Quiet Skies. With a background in software and aviation, Jeff founded Clear Quiet Skies to provide accurate and unbiased information to the general public about where aircraft noise really is, and who it affects.

© Copyright 2017. North Carolina Association of REALTORS®, Inc. This article is intended solely for the benefit of NC REALTORS® members, who may reproduce and distribute it to other NC REALTORS® members and their clients, provided it is reproduced in its entirety without any change to its format or content, including disclaimer and copyright notice, and provided that any such reproduction is not intended for monetary gain. Any unauthorized reproduction, use or distribution is prohibited.

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