Widespread Noise Impacts from A320
Average of 6dB of ``Extra`` Noise
The airbus whine is perceived on the ground up to 30 miles away from the runway. A simple upgrade can eliminate the whine up to 9dB.
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Airbus’s A320 family of aircraft, the A318, A319 A320 and A321, makes an annoying wailing noise while on arrival to airports. This unpleasant noise, known as the Airbus or A320 whine, occurs between 7- 30 miles from landing before lowering flaps or landing gear. The noise is caused by air passing over circular vent holes under the wing, similar to wind blowing over a bottle- just on a much larger scale. These annoying wailing tones can be heard on the ground and add an extra 2-11dB of noise to the plane, above the sound of the engines.
The A320 whine can be eliminated by mounting a small air deflector, a vortex generator, upstream of the 2 vents on each wing. The vortex generator was developed by Lufthansa and German Aerospace Centre(DLR) after research of many years. Airbus sells these as a retrofit and calls them “FOPP ( Fuel Tank Over Pressure equalization Ports) air deflectors.”
Lufthansa, Europe’s second largest carrier, retrofitted 157 of their A320 family aircraft with the vortex generators, and required it on all new deliveries since February 2014. Air France made an early commitment similar to Lufthansa. After public pressure in the UK, British Airways and easyJet have committed to timeline for installing the modification on their A320 family fleets by June of 2016.
*NEW*United Airlines is the first US Carrier that committed to installing the fix. Installation of the Vortex Generators will begin in 2017.
US Airlines and number of A320 aircraft in fleet
% of fleet
|Total US majors||316||487||244||1047||97|
All Airbus A320’s made after 2014 have the A320 whine “fix” installed as standard equipment. To retrofit the Airbus FOPP air deflectors takes 2 people a total of 10 man hours. The modification can be installed during routine aircraft maintenance but for safety reasons the wing’s fuel tanks will need to be partially defueled, which occurs when the plane undergoes a more rigorous maintenance. The air deflectors are installed in front of the (2) Fuel Over Pressure Protector (FOPP) cavities on each wing and involves the removal and re-installation of the FOPPs. Some quoted estimates in the US are between $3-5k per plane for hardware and labor. European carriers who have performed the retrofit report total price can be $10-20k per plane. A new A320 costs $97 Million.
Research on vortex generator solutions to reduce A320 noise has occurred since 2001. A similar vortex generator has been certified in Europe for use since 2007.
Airbus doesn’t comment on whether customers should retrofit their aircraft with the modification, and are not forward with airports about benefits or costs. Airbus commercial customers need to make inquiries to the Airbus Upgrade Services division.
Where the noise comes from
The FOPP vent openings purpose is to help equalize the pressure in fuel tanks mounted inside each wing. Installing the A320 Air deflector has no negative effect on the performance or efficiency of the aircraft- it just reduces noise for the communities under the airport’s approach path.
The A320 aircraft is not alone in creating parasitic noise but it is the worst offender with the most ready solution. The A380 and 737 also have recognizable whines but as of yet don’t have as ready a solution. The addition of Winglets and Sharklets, which look like vertical fins on the end of an aircraft’s wings, likewise can reduce noise to communities during take-off, increase lift, fuel efficiency and range and enhance safety for following aircraft but their installation requires strengthening wings and their expense has to be spread over many years of operations. In contrast, the A320 Vortex generators is close to being just a bolt-on fix that can be paid for by a handful of 1st class tickets.
Heathrow Airport has identified the A320 issue as a practical element in its “Blueprint for Noise Reduction.” Gatwick has had the most practical success in reducing fleet noise as its two major carriers, BA and easyjet have committed. Los Angeles (LAX) airport and San Francisco (SFO) airports are discussing a pilot program to incentivize retrofitting the A320 family aircrafts that fly between their airports.
The A320 Family is Airbus’s most popular single-aisle, dual engine product. The A320 aircraft competes with the Boeing 737 as the most flown planes- 6,315 Airbus A320 aircraft worldwide. Over 990 A320 planes are active in the US- none of which have the retrofit.