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What’s Making All That Noise? Analyzing the Noise Associated with Drone Flights

On Sep 28, 2022, Chris Stonor highlighted an issue that is fast becoming the dominant rallying point for the public with respect to drones – noise. His article describes the issues local residents are having with the noise from Wing drone flights over local neighborhoods. One resident described the amount of noise as “often eight times an hour, each day and every day,” which would make anyone concerned. The problem stems from the fact that drones are vehicles that necessarily fly at lower altitudes than other aircraft and are flying vehicles meant to interact with the public. Other aircraft fly much higher than drones which means their noise has not been as much of an issue. The closer you are to a noise source, the louder it will be. It can be especially bothersome if you are directly under the vehicle’s path. Noise is an issue that must be addressed, by the vehicle manufacturers, the drone operators, and the ANSPs, to help alleviate negative public opinion about drones and their future in society.

OneSky is working to do just that. We have developed ways to understand noise levels over regions, including noise planning, noise visualization and reporting, and ways for residents to report excessive noise in their areas. Local municipalities or regional governments define noise ordinances, and we use those noise thresholds as constraints in our UAV Traffic Management (UTM) system.

OneSky’s analytics are key to understanding the noise produced by varying classes of drone vehicles, and we use that data when drone operators are planning flights. Our UTM provides flight area constraints based on noise ordinances, thresholds, and time of day so that if flights are planned in an area that violates regulations, the UTM will not automatically authorize the flight, and drone operators can reroute.

Our UTM reports on both planned and actual noise, and we visualize noise values, which can then be used to exclude specific areas from future flight plans for the day. This might happen if there has been too much-accumulated noise in a given area.

Noise analysis in the OneSky UTM
Figure 1, Relative noise values for a delivery drone. Green is less noisy, white/gray is noisier.

In Figure 1, noise is calculated and visualized as an A-weighted decibel value on the ground for a drone delivery flight. The delivery is flying over a residential area on a hill, and the higher on the hill you live, the more noise you’ll hear. This simple example just shows that noise varies with distance, but it highlights the geometry of the situation. You’ll always hear more noise when you are directly under a drone’s flight path. This provides guidance to ANSPs to route drones in less populated areas. Additionally, the type of drone flying above impacts the noise on the ground. Larger, heavier drones will likely be noisier than smaller drones. This fact can guide operators in choosing smaller vehicles, when possible, over more populated areas.

Noise is one of the most relevant things the public is aware of as the drone industry moves forward. If it’s not addressed and if the public is not part of the solution, there will be pushback which may slow the growth of this new industry. OneSky is dedicated to working with ANSPs and operators to help monitor and plan for noise in accordance with local and regional regulations and to help the public with methods for communicating when there is too much noise in their area.



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