Today, research is being done to equip airplanes with “active noise control” technology that greatly reduces noise in the entire cabin. The technology works by producing a pressure wave of equal amplitude that is opposite to the unwanted sound. When this wave is added, the result is a quieter aircraft cabin. It’s the same technology that is used in noise-cancelling headsets, and can be used in the bigger space of an airplane cabin.
What’s more, much of the excessive noise from airplanes is now filtered out with ear plugs and communication headsets. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Association requires that personal hearing protection be worn for workplace noise over 85 decibels. Rob Hunter, head of flight safety for the British Airline Pilots Association, says that pilot hearing loss isn’t as much of a concern now that ear protection is the norm.
According to Hunter, research suggests that pilots are prone to getting hearing loss in only one ear, because cockpit communication headsets are typically only worn on one side. Now pilots are encouraged to wear headsets that cover both ears. “From the pilot’s perspective, aircraft are no longer as noisy as they were,” he concludes.
Despite such improvements, pilots and other aviation workers still need to take the risk of noise exposure seriously. “It’s about long-term exposure,” Cottell says. “Prevention is the key these days and that all comes under the auspices of occupational health and safety.”