The last thing you’d expect to hear from anyone who’s flown recently is that planes are too quiet. But that’s exactly what Airbus is hearing from pilots who say the A380 super-jumbo makes so little noise they’re having trouble getting to sleep.
Emirates airline pilots say the four engines propelling the long-haul jets are so quiet they can hear every crying baby, snoring passenger and flushing toilet, making it all but impossible to nod off during their breaks. The problems are unique to the A380, which Airbus boasts is significantly quieter than anything else in the sky. We took a ride aboard Emirate’s super-luxe A380, and it is indeed whisper-quiet. Emirates never expected that to be a problem.
“We’re getting lots of complaints,” Capt. Ed Davidson, the airline’s senior vice president for fleets, told Flight Global. “On our other aircraft, the engines drown out the cabin noise. [On the A380] the pilots sleep with earplugs, but the cabin noise goes straight through them.”
As if that weren’t bad enough, the pilots have to deal with passengers rapping on the door of their sleeping quarters because they often mistake it for a lavatory. That’s Emirates’ fault, though. Airbus typically puts crew quarters behind the cockpit, but Emirates nixed that idea so it could maximize room for its opulent first-class cabin. The airline also didn’t want the crew bunks in the cargo hold, because it thought that might be claustrophobic. With no other options, Airbus put the crew quarters at the back of the plane.
Archrival Boeing is having fun telling Airbus, “We told you so,” reminding everyone that it predicted this problem last year when Boeing marketing VP Randy Tinseth wrote on his blog:
You may recall media reports earlier this year making a lot of noise about how quiet it was aboard the A380. In stories about the A380 passenger experience, we read that even seated by a window, you could hear conversations on the other side of the airplane, or even several rows away. In some reports, when passengers mentioned that this might be a bit disconcerting, they were told that one might have to “get used to” eavesdropping on an airplane… You’d probably agree that the most disturbing background noises are the random ones — talking, coughing, lavatory doors closing. How disturbed you are during a flight is a function of the degree to which the random noises rise above the background noise.
The easiest and most logical solution would be to pack the walls of the crew quarters with insulation, but that isn’t an option, because Emirates is loathe to increase the weight of the plane. Airbus is searching for other solutions, including the possibility of piping in ambient noise.
It isn’t unusual for pilots to have trouble nodding off on the job. The study Crew Factors in Flight Operations XII: A Survey of Sleep Quantity and Quality in On-Board Crew Rest Facilities found 91 percent of pilots slept soundly at home, but only 71 percent could fall asleep aboard a plane. The study validates the Emirates pilots’ complaints, too. It found that although background noise like the drone of a jet engine can make falling asleep tougher than stretching out in coach, putting up with random noise makes it all but impossible.
[Wired By Dave Demerjian December 08, 2008 | 5:57:49 PMCategories: Air Travel]