Airplane Noise Maneuvers

Q: I have a colleague who says that when taking off from Long Beach Airport, the plane crosses over a section of the city which, because of anti-noise rules, requires the pilot to shut off the engines, and then restart them. She said the pilot gets on the loudspeaker before flight to notify the passengers.

And I have a colleague who insists that planet Earth is only 5,000 years-old, that the Pope is an operative of Satan, and that a shady cabal of Zionist conspirators, in league with the United Nations, controls my neighborhood bank and the New York Times. I really hate to say it, but guess which colleague has the more credible argument?

Don’t take it personally, yours is one of hundreds of implausible scenarios presented by anxious, or otherwise ill-informed flyers.

Noise abatement strictures are quite common when taking off over urban neighborhoods. They might dictate a steeper than normal ascent; unusually close-in turns, and/or a reduced thrust setting during climbout. Reducing power and switching the engines off, needless to say, are completely different things. No commercial aircrew, ever, intentionally shuts down an engine for any reason short of a serious problem or emergency.

With regard to your second hand story, it’s possible the crew informed passengers of a noise abatement maneuver so they would not be alarmed by a power reduction soon after liftoff. Even this is strange, however, as the changes in sound and acceleration aren’t normally very drastic.

As you know, airplanes take off and land into the wind whenever they can, but noise restrictions are one of the factors that occasionally make this impossible. Some runways, indeed whole airports, are subject to nighttime curfews.


This article is part of a collection that originally appeared on Salon.com. Patrick Smith, 38, is an erstwhile airline pilot, retired punk rocker and air travel columnist. His book, Ask the Pilot (Riverhead) was voted “Best Travel Book of 2004” by Amazon.com. Patrick has traveled to more than 55 countries and always asks for a window seat. He lives near Boston.