That Flyby Noise

Noise exposure limits — the NEF — are drawn by Transport Canada with the aim of protecting citizens from excessive noise. The red contours on this map are from 1990, and the blue lines from 2008. The contours continued to vary slightly over the years, but problems persist.

The Waterfront is an attractive and wonderful place to live and visit. On the minus side it has frequent noise pollution, mainly due to planes taking off from the Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport, commonly known as the Island Airport. Landings are less loud, but departing planes that fly low past the condo towers, parks and Harbourfront Centre have a ruinous effect on the area, which functions as cottage country for much of Toronto.

As vacation travel has revved up at this airport after COVID, so have festivals and events attracting millions of visitors to the Waterfront and the Islands. They are next to the flightpath, and many locations suffer from debilitating noise, which might be much louder than federal regulations allow. But first the problem must be identified, and that process is ongoing in meetings that include YQNA’s expert Hal Beck. It should be simple to confirm, since noise can be measured by high-end equipment or even inexpensive phone apps. But Transport Canada in Ottawa has a 90-page book of regulations on the subject that baffle even its own staff. They only accept measurements from acoustical engineers. Their aim is to keep excessive noise inside a NEF (noise exposure forecast) contour around an airport and away from residents.

The Island Airport NEF contours were drawn in 1978, neatly avoiding all development lands. At that time the Waterfront was industrial with hardly any commercial air traffic or large aircraft. Jump to today, when the Waterfront is densely populated as part of the largest urban development in North America, and industrial uses have been replaced by high-rises and high-tech companies. This new world needs a new NEF contour that protects the Waterfront from noise.

Noise is not the only problem at this airport. It still operates with heavy financial losses, although it must be self-sustaining as part of Ports Toronto’s right to exist. To keep it going, the Feds funnel our tax dollars to the airport in various ways. It is promoted as essential for Toronto, but that is not the case since the UP Express Train to Pearson Airport opened in 2015.

Even if information and complaints from residents carry little weight in this noise debate, you can satisfy yourself by measuring sound on a phone app. When a plane approaches, check out whether it tops 70 decibels. Any noise exceeding 70 dB is considered disturbing, and above 85 dB can cause harm over time. Then you will have the answers directly from the aircraft engines to your ears. Waiting for the federal bureaucratic system to sort it out could take a long time. You can also lodge a noise complaint with the Island Airport.

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