In an age when general aviation airports are under attack as sources of unwanted noise, Cannes-Mandelieu Airport on France’s Mediterranean coast has reached an accommodation with its neighbors. Just four years ago Côte d’Azur residents were threatening to shut the airport down.
According to Umberto Vallino, marketing and statistics manager for Cannes-Mandelieu, the key to the good-neighbor program is a noise-abatement effort launched in April 2011. Anchoring this effort is a computer program developed by Belgian company A-Tech Acoustic Technologies.
“At one point, it appeared we were in serious jeopardy of being shut down,” said Vallino. “Not only local residents but environmental groups and regional politicians had formed an alliance, and noise was the main issue.”
Closing the airport would have indeed reduced noise, but it would also have created an economic disadvantage for the city, which is host annually to such major events as the Cannes Film Festival. The city itself is a major tourist attraction for high-net-worth visitors throughout much of the summer.
And while the days of double-digit growth at the airport ended with the recession, Cannes-Mandelieu still records some 12,000 business aircraft movements annually. During peak activity in May, July and August, the airfield may see as many as 2,000 movements a month.
Use of the airport is restricted to allow only aircraft weighing less than 22 metric tons (48,501 pounds), and hours of use generally are restricted to daylight hours, with some seasonal variation. There are also strictly enforced approach and departure procedures, and even a requirement that reverse thrust and propeller reverse pitch not be used beyond idle power. But even with those concessions, noise remains a somewhat sensitive issue.
In response, the airport has established a bureau of environmental studies and neighborhood relations, an office that also manages the A-Tech noise-tracking program. The noise abatement program includes four permanent noise sensors placed strategically along the approach and departure routes, with a fifth mobile sensor available to fill in where needed. The noise is measured in dB(A), and the microphones record not only noise levels but also their duration. An A-weighted system is typically used for compliance with government regulations in measuring hearing risk.
According to Claire Rousseau, head of environmental issues at the airport, the noise sensors also interface with airport radar to trace excessive noise back to the offender. Overlaid on her computer, any individual approach track can easily be seen. “If an aircraft made a track gap, I contact the pilot and I sit down with him to discuss the matter and how he might have flown the pattern differently,” explained Rousseau. “If there is a noise complaint by a resident and we did record unacceptable noise levels on the date and time of the complaint, I speak with those who complained and assure them that we will take steps to see that it does not happen again.” And she emphasized that each complaint is treated “on a case-by-case basis with total objectivity.
“This contributes to the quality of the dialogue and establishes in the community the relevance of our anti-noise program,” she added. Cannes-Mandelieu (Stand 1062) is one of 10 airports in France equipped with a similar system to document noise on approach and departure.
“We have also had a request from Paris-Le Bourget Airport to meet with us so that they can develop a similar methodology,” said Rousseau, “and the first meetings have been held.” Representatives of other airports have visited Cannes-Mandelieu to observe the system in operation and examine how the Côte d’Azur airport manages its relationship with residents and responds to noise complaints.
Vallino is convinced that environmental issues are becoming more and more important and that the business aviation community can dodge that bullet. He wants to engage with airports outside France that are dealing neighborhood protests of aircraft noise. “I contacted Santa Monica [Municipal] Airport in California a few years ago and I thought we had a shared experience in the management of neighborhood issues.”
While relations with residents around Cannes-Mandelieu have improved, Rousseau said she has not noticed a drop in the number of noise complaints. However, she suggested this may be the result of increased awareness linked to wider dissemination of information about the program throughout adjacent neighborhoods. “This has encouraged more people to contact me for answers when they feel an airplane has flown too low or made too much noise.”
Perhaps more welcome are e-mails received expressing appreciation for the airport’s efforts.
It should be noted that noise is not the only environmental concern of Rousseau’s office. The airport is also ISO 14001 certified, subscribing to standards of ecological management, and its bi-annual Latitude newsletter reports on issues of environmental importance.
While the airport is facing some restrictions, it continues to grow to meet the demands of general and private aviation. Cannes-Mandelieu has launched a study to determine the feasibility of extending its 5,282-foot Runway 17/35 by another 500 feet. Also, approach and departure procedures that imposed a movement ceiling of five takeoffs and five landings an hour is being expanded to six movements an hour.
On the airport’s north zone, one new 4,756-sq-ft aircraft storage hangar has already been completed, two more of the same size are under construction and a fourth is planned. The entire project is expected to be completed in 2013. Recently finished is a project to provide electricity to all 20 aircraft parking stands adjacent to the terminal, eliminating the need for operators to run aircraft APUs for power.
“We’re making the airport a better place for resident aircraft and companies, as well as for visitors,” said Vallino. “And we’ve built a new rapport with our neighbors. We think the airport is going in the right direction for everyone.”