Airports in the U.S. have gradually been transitioning to automated flight systems. These systems generate new flight paths over populated areas. While they can improve flight efficiency, the increased noise associated with these novel flight patterns potentially pose serious health threats to the overflown communities. In this case study, we estimated the monetary benefits relative to health losses associated with one significant change in flight patterns at LaGuardia Airport, year-round use of “TNNIS Climb”, which happened in 2012 as a result of flight automation in New York City. Prior to that, the use of the TNNIS Climb was limited to the U.S. Open tennis matches. Methods:
We developed a decision-analytic model using Markov health states to compare the costs and quality-adjusted life years (QALYs) gained associated with the limited use of TNNIS (old status quo) and the year-round use of TNNIS (current status quo). The TNNIS Climb increases airplane noise to above 60 decibels (dB) over some of the most densely populated areas of the city. We used this increased exposure to noise as the basis for estimating ground-level health using data from sound monitors. The total costs (including both direct and indirect costs), QALYs, and the incremental cost-effectiveness ratio (ICER) were estimated for the limited versus the year-round use of the TNNIS Climb. Results:
The incremental lifetime costs and QALYs per person exposed to noise associated with the limited versus the year-round use of TNNIS was $11,288, and 1.13, respectively. Therefore, the limited use of TNNIS had an ICER of $10,006/QALY gained relative to the year-round of TNNIS. Our analyses were robust to changes in assumptions and data inputs. Conclusions:
Despite increases in efficiency, flight automation systems without a careful assessment of noise might generate flight paths over densely populated areas and cause serious health conditions for the overflown communities.
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