Airport Noise NIMBYism: An Empirical Investigation

Every growing city encounters criticism from residents who will settle for little else but the status quo. Local governments, intent on building or expanding infrastructure, must contend with citizens opposed to the inconvenience and nuisance of increased construction, more neighbors, and heavier traffic. This hostility to expansion, called “NIMBYism” (not in my backyard), can be a barrier to denser development, lower housing prices, and ultimately economic growth.

But NIMBYism extends beyond opposition to urban development, and its consequences can hinder economic growth in nonobvious ways. In this policy brief, we explore a particular category of NIMBY complaints surrounding airport noise. Airport noise can be a nuisance, but it is also necessary for economic activity in the modern world. We evaluate noise complaint data from a selection of US airports to quantify opposition to airport noise. We find that the source of airport noise complaints is highly concentrated in a few dedicated complainers.

Airport noise policy must strike a reasonable balance between noise abatement and the economic benefits associated with noisy airplane takeoffs and landings. However, because the majority of noise complaints come from a small number of loud objectors, there is a danger that this balance has been tilted too far in the direction of noise abatement. We hope that increasing awareness of the lopsided distribution of noise complaints can help promote noise standards that strike an appropriate balance and facilitate the advancement of faster and cheaper commercial flight.

Click here to read the full publication →