Today’s question comes from Jeremy. He asks,

I’m looking to develop a residential subdivision that is close to a naval air force base. There are plenty of houses all around the subject property. Could the airport affect what gets built on the property?

Jeremy this is a great question.

The regions around airports are all subject to elevated noise levels. The good news is that modern civilian aircraft have got a lot quieter as more fuel efficient aircraft have replaced the early jet engines of decades past. Newer aircraft use a turbo-fan high bypass engine that relies on the turbine to rotate a fan, rather than simply using the thrust of the tent engine combustion to propel the aircraft.

But airports that are close to residential areas regularly get complaints from the general public. The airport authority don’t like getting complaints, so instead they restrict what can be built near the airport so that they don’t get complaints.

The aviation authority in most countries have a set of standards that they use to both measure and enforce noise coming from an airport.

The FAA has a measure of noise called Community Noise Equivalent Level (CNEL) and a second measure called the Day Night Average Sound Level (DNL) On a map these noise contours show the measurements as you get further from the airport. Some airports that are close to residential areas like John Wayne airport in Orange County have even gone so far as to restrict flight departure and arrival times so as not to disturb the neighborhood. No flight will depart John Wayne before 7AM, and they also need to use noise abatement procedures. That means taking off at a steep angle of attack until the aircraft reaches the boundary of the airport property, then throttling back and using a slower rate of climb. There is a close interplay between the operation at the airport and the surrounding community.

Now a naval air force station will have a lot of jets which are very noisy. They often depart in tandem, and they will go supersonic causing sonic boom which is loud enough to drown out conversations inside a home of office building.

Strange as it may sound, the airport authority may have jurisdiction over what gets built in the area surrounding the airport. They may prohibit development within certain noise contours. They may also impose additional requirements on the construction.

For example, if you are allowed to build, you might be required to provide additional sound insulation. That could include triple glazed windows instead of double glazed windows.

I spent several weeks evaluating a waterfront property a few years ago that was close to an airport. The way the map was drawn showed the airport exclusion zone roughly coinciding with the edge of the river.

Nobody could tell us whether the inside of the line, the outside edge of the line, or the center of the line represented the edge of the exclusion zone. It would take months for the airport authority to rule on any development. They would not even offer an opinion unless a full application was submitted to the airport authority. That meant spending a lot of money on design and engineering only to be told no you can’t build in that location.

So in our case we didn’t buy the property, even though it looked extremely desirable. The last time we looked, that land was still for sale 4 years later. I’m guessing we made the right decision.

There are noise and vibration engineers, which is a branch of mechanical engineering. There are a subset of that specialty who specialize in airports. These are the folks you need to consult in making a determination whether your property is buildable or not. The city will generally grant your zoning permit which could give you a false sense of security that you have all the entitlements you need to build a home in that location.