During an earlier assignment in Germany I lived on “Kurt Tucholsky Strasse.” He was a German author of the late 1800s and early 1900s, and one of the things he wrote had to do with the issue of noise in Germany:
“Es gibt vielerlei Lärm, aber es gibt nur eine Stille.” (“There are many kinds of noise, but only one silence.”)
Lärm (noise) is a big deal in Germany; a densely populated nation of 82 million living in a space the size of Montana. To deal with noise in such a congested area German governments have rules; no mowing your lawn on Sundays, no military flights on weekends or holidays, no commercial flights into or out of one of the busiest airports in Europe (Frankfurt) overnight, etc.
Not surprisingly, it was in Germany in 1907 that the world’s first “Antilärmverein” (Anti Noise Society) was established. You also should not be surprised to hear that a German pharmacist developed the first earplug and German engineers set the pace with Lärmschutzwände, giant, ubiquitous noise abatement barriers along Autobahns.
“Germans don’t mind noise – as long as you don’t make any.” This is a saying often heard and it is in this environment that U.S. Army Europe seeks to train to ensure ready forces. USAREUR units make noise while at shooting ranges, during the conduct of exercises, and also via military aviation. It is with regard to military aviation-produced noise that I want to explain what we do and why we do it.
Did you know that there are more than 3.2 million flights in German airspace per year? Yet, according to the German Military Aviation Authority (Luftfahrtamt der Bundeswehr), only 43,000 of those flights are military ones. That represents about 1.5 percent of all flights and that number has been gradually decreasing since 2008. The military flights that the Ministry of Defense is most concerned about are an even smaller number; some 26,000 flights occurring in about 6 “TRAs” (Military Aviation Training Areas) in the country.
The numbers become even smaller when one considers complaints. Given the 26,000 or so military flights, the Luftwaffe Press and Information Center in Cologne registered about 8,000 complaints by phone call or email in 2017. Of those 8,000, nearly 60 percent concerned U.S. military flights. And of those 60 percent, seventy per cent pertained to USAFE flights. For 2017, USAREUR aircraft thus accounted for a very small percentage of the noise complaints registered at the German Military Aviation Authority. In fact, only 12 rules and regulation flight violations which created noise were confirmed against USAREUR units in 2017.
Putting aviation noise further into perspective, per the German Federal Environmental Agency some 10.2 million in Germany are affected by road-traffic noise. Some 6.2 million are affected by rail-traffic noise. But only 700,000 are affected by aircraft noise.
We are guests in Germany. Our forward-based presence here, an ocean closer to potential near-peer aggressors and hotspots, is not something we take for granted. Indeed, we invest in cultivating and maintaining good relations with our host nation and we invest time and effort in limiting the aviation noise we make.
We use noise abatement procedures, such as varying routes for take-offs and landings, and bypassing populated areas. We also abide by noise-based operating restrictions (no flights after 2 p.m. on Friday and none on weekends). And we hold Noise Abatement Councils twice per year in Wiesbaden, Ansbach and Ramstein.
A recent NAC was held in Wiesbaden on April 24 and was typical of those held throughout the country, bringing together luftwaffe experts, local mayors, state government officials, U.S. aviation units and garrison leaders.
As we train, we make noise. What we seek is a balance between the military aviation noise that we produce and the German population’s desire for rest, quiet and good health that comes from non-elevated noise levels.
We seek to be good neighbors and we devote considerable time and attention to abiding by host nation rules and regulations, explaining our mission, and where possible, adapting our training.
Recently, the 12th Combat Aviation Brigade commander offered local mayors and county officials in the Ansbach and Illesheim areas a flight aboard a CH-47. They did so, and did not become complete converts, but gained an appreciation for the care our pilots take in avoiding urban areas. They were impressed with our transparency and conscientious efforts to explain what we do and why we do it.
Mike Anderson is the director of host nation relations for U.S. Army Europe.
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