Soundproofing for Airports and Transportation Hubs

When it comes to loud, intrusive noises, airplanes are in a class entirely of their own. At close proximity, their engines can literally be deafening, and without ear protection, you’re likely to rupture your eardrums if you stand close to a jet during takeoff.

When you get dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of flights arriving at and departing from an airport on a daily basis, you’ll inevitably have persistent noise issues. Engine sounds aren’t just a problem on the tarmac, either—they’re usually audible within terminals, transfer tunnels, and other interior spaces.

Luckily, with effective airport soundproofing techniques, you can keep the majority of this intrusive noise contained to the runway. In this guide, we’ll discuss the challenges of airplane noise in airports and similar spaces, highlight some effective materials for mitigating such issues, and detail some strategies you can use to silence sound problems in transportation hubs.

The Challenge of Noise in Transportation Hubs

Aside from the roar of jets taking off and landing, there are a variety of other noise sources in play at most commercial and private airports. Some of the primary factors contributing to excess noise level in such spaces include:

  • Passengers – The world’s busiest airport, Hartsfield-Jackson International in Atlanta, services almost 170,000 passengers per day. That’s hundreds of thousands of conversations, pieces of dropped luggage, phone calls, and other sound sources contributing to a persistent roar of intrusive background noise. Even less busy airports deal with a constant flow of passengers and, where humans abound, noise will follow.
  • Other vehicles – From refueling trucks on the tarmac to personal vehicles in parking lots and passenger transportation carts within terminals, it isn’t only plane engines turning over and contributing to airports’ noise issues.
  • Machinery – From the crank of the conveyor belt carrying off your luggage to the whir of moving walkways carrying passengers to their gates, you’re never far away from motorized devices (and their resulting noises) in an airport.

If you’re in another type of transportation hub, such as a train station or bus terminal, then there are even more factors contributing to potential noise levels. Diesel bus engines, for instance, generally produce around 80-85 decibels (dB) of noise. When you get many together navigating around one terminal, however, the volume can surpass a dangerous 120 dB. Subway stations are no better and often measure in at similarly high volumes.

All that excessive noise can potentially damage the ears of passengers and staff at transportation hubs. Spikes of 120 dB are rare within buildings, but are enough to cause significant pain and rapid ear damage.

It’s extended exposure that has the most potential for injury, however. Eight hours of listening to 80+ dB of noise—the levels created by aircraft flying a mile overhead—is enough to cause permanent ear damage.

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The Importance of Soundproofing in Transportation Infrastructure

Obviously, with many airport, bus terminal, and train station employees working eight hours (or more) a day, five days a week, it’s necessary to outfit transportation hubs with soundproofing measures. Soundproofing isn’t just for the benefit of employees, however, it likewise leads to a better customer experience.

Travelers in busy transportation hubs crave a little peace and quiet on their journeys. Many airports have recognized this desire and have thus switched to a silent operation model. Silent airports eliminate one more common (and particularly annoying) source of loud noise: announcements. The list of airports laying off the public address system keeps growing, signaling the silent model is well-received by their travelers.

Soundproofing is another savvy way to increase the overall degree of silence within transportation hubs. It may also be necessary to comply with occupational noise regulation standards. The Occupational Safety and Health Association (OSHA) permits a maximum exposure to 85 dB over an eight-hour shift. So, if your volume levels surpass this threshold, you’ll need to take corrective action to bring your workplace up to code.

Innovative Soundproofing Materials and Technologies

Large, open spaces such as airports and transportation hubs can be a hassle to soundproof as they’re conducive to producing echoes. Luckily, with modern, innovative soundproofing solutions, you can get a grasp on excess airport noise and reduce reverberations no matter how large your space.

Installing echo-reducing panels around the walls of your biggest, most open areas can absorb significant amounts of aircraft noise. The Wallmate Stretch Fabric Wall System, for instance, is a particularly pertinent choice for large spaces as:

  • It can be customized to fit rooms of any size without the need to prepare the walls ahead of time
  • It doesn’t require staples or other wall-damaging fasteners to install
  • The set up process is exceptionally simple and won’t require a team of specialized contractors
  • The fabric comes in a wide range of colors to match the aesthetics of any space
  • The fabric can also be replaced when torn or worn, rather than having to reinstall an entirely new assembly

Other sound blocking materials can be used to reduce aircraft noise pollution throughout smaller sections of transportation hubs as well. Soundproof doors, for example, can keep unwanted noise out of private lounges and closed gates. Likewise, Acoustic Barrier Ceiling Tiles can be installed anywhere there’s a drop ceiling and boast a Noise Reduction Coefficient (NRC) of 1.15—slightly above perfect on a trusted scale that measures how much sound a material absorbs.

Case Study: Successfully Soundproofing the London Underground

Farringdon Station on the London Underground sees 90,000 bustling passengers per day. All those riders create a lot of ruckus and, when you add in the noise from dozens of trains passing every hour, you have a recipe for serious sound issues.

The Tube’s operators knew all that noise could cause significant discomfort to the station’s passengers and staff. Likewise, it could potentially work its way up the 25 meters (82 feet) to The Big Smoke’s streets and contribute to the city’s already rampant noise pollution.

To mitigate sound transfer through the station’s tunnels, waiting bays, and ticketing areas, the construction team applied mineral fiber insulation, such as SAFB or Rockwool, within the cavities of the walls before the station’s opening in 2022. For additional information on similar high-performance insulation solutions, consider exploring our Ultra Touch or InsulGreen Insulation products. After installing the mineral fiber, they further enhanced structural integrity and acoustic control by overlaying the walls with perforated glass fibers and reinforced concrete.

The solution worked and the station (and others in the line soon to be outfitted with the same treatment) meets all government noise regulations with the added bonus of being highly flame retardant.

Implementing Soundproofing Measures in Existing Structures

Of course, if your airport, train station, or bus terminal is already built, it’s not quite as easy to open up the walls and add in sound insulation. While such a major renovation would be amongst the most effective soundproofing solutions, it would also be one of the most time-consuming, costly, and difficult to undertake.

So, if you don’t want to open up your existing structure’s walls, you’ll have to search for other soundproofing solutions to keep noise at bay. Aside from lining the walls with sound-absorbing panels or fabric as previously mentioned, there are other ways to retrofit transportation hubs to deter sound.

One effective and cost-friendly option is to hang baffles in wide, open spaces such as check-in areas and waiting bays. Baffles are an effective soundproofing solution for transportation hubs as they:

  • Significantly reduce the noise level and reverberations reflected off hard, metal ceilings—the exact kind you’re likely to find in airports, bus terminals, and train stations
  • Cost less than other solutions such as insulation and floor underlayments as they don’t require any deconstruction efforts to install
  • Will last well into the future as they’re up high and out of reach of passengers, staff, and any other passersby

Materials, however, may not even be your greatest concern or cost when soundproofing a large transportation hub. Other issues and expenses you may need to think about include:

  • The costs of labor needed to implement soundproofing solutions and, if necessary, perform any other construction or deconstruction related to their installation
  • The revenue you may lose if you need to shut down for an extended period due to renovations
  • The literal sounds of the renovations themselves—which, if you continue to operate during the process, could be louder and more annoying than the actual planes, trains, and busses

If you do implement major soundproofing solutions, ensure you communicate the plan to your staff and passengers early. Give them ample time to make other arrangements if you plan to suspend operations and, once you’re finished, measure volume levels around your space to ensure your efforts paid off.

The Future of Airport Soundproofing

Scientists and materials experts are constantly striving to produce the next big innovation in sound control. Recently, researchers from Boston University created a new type of solution that might alter the world of soundproofing as we know it.

The small device features a round outer shell with an internal, helix-shaped track of plastic. It’s been dubbed a metamaterial—i.e. a material engineered to exhibit properties not shown in nature. In this case, the small mechanism reflects soundwaves back toward their source while still allowing air to pass through.

When hooked up to a bassy subwoofer, the small device effectively muted the music attempting to blast through its surface. According to researchers on the project, it can block up to 94% of sound transmission without significantly affecting airflow.

The device, like many other sound absorbent materials currently in development, could have profound soundproofing capabilities once it hits the market. If, in the next decade or so, you can hear a pin drop inside an airport somewhere, this small gadget might just be the one to thank for that peaceful silence.

Creating Quieter, More Enjoyable Transportation Experiences

With the potential dangers of loud noise growing ever clearer and the demand for air travel continuing to rise year after year, airports and other transportation hubs have to rethink their approaches to sound issues. As noted, many are switching to silent mode by eliminating announcements, but they should likewise recognize the need for soundproofing infrastructure within their own walls (as well as floors and ceilings).

If you have a bus terminal, airport, train station, or other transportation hub that gets loud and unruly from time to time, it’s best to step up and address noise issues before they spiral out of hand. Fill Acoustical Surfaces in on the exact sound problems you’re having and, together, we can work toward a solution that reclaims peace for your passengers, your staff, and yourself.

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