Pilot Hearing Loss and Tips for Protecting Your Ears

Hearing loss caused by noise is a huge problem for all pilots and flight instructors, especially those who fly small aircraft. Think about it: Day after day, flight after flight, pilots are subjected to a constant din from the engines, exhaust, propeller, fuselage and other areas. And unlike other noisy professions, pilots are generally subjected to the same noise frequency and intensity for extended periods of time. Here are some important things to know about noise fatigue, and how you can help prevent long-term hearing loss.

While noise fatigue is a health issue for all pilots, small aircraft, especially turboprop planes, are generally noisier and less insulated than large commercial jet aircraft. Even if you fly a larger aircraft with a quieter interior, you are probably exposed to ambient noise from the tarmac or in the cockpit with the cabin door open. Most noise inside and around the aircraft are from four main areas:

  1. Noise from the exhaust stacks (especially short stacks) usually located directly beneath the cabin, and the subsequent airflow pushing up against the bottom of the fuselage
  2. The propeller and airflow off the propeller against the windshield
  3. Airflow through vents, leaks around doors and turbulence throughout the fuselage
  4. Engine noise, especially the vibration of air-cooled engines

Average Everyday Decibel Levels

The decibel (dB) is the unit used to measure sound intensity. To give you an idea of ​​the average decibel level of some everyday sounds, consider the following:

  • A whisper – 30 dB
  • A quiet room – 40 dB
  • Normal conversation – 60 dB
  • Busy traffic – 70 dB
  • Gas lawn mower – 106 dB
  • Jackhammer – 130 dB
  • Jet engine – 140 dB

Keep in mind that permanent hearing damage can occur from sounds louder than 85 dB, physical pain occurs at around 125 dB, and an eardrum may burst at 140 dB. The Occupational Safety and Health Organization (OSHA) states that the maximum level of "safe" exposure to loud sounds is 90 dB for up to eight hours, or 100 dB for up to two hours. OSHA requires that workers exposed to noise levels higher than 85 dB must use hearing protection equipment.

Study on Aircraft Noise Levels

In 2010, an Occupational Health & Safety study entitled, "Interior Sound Levels in General Aviation Aircraft" sought to determine if prolonged exposure to interior aircraft noise is a health hazard for pilots.

For the study, sound samples were taken in a Cessna 172 and a Piper PA-44 Seminole – two planes with different airframes. While the planes were in flight, two sound-level meters took readings from within an occupant's headset, as well ambient noise from the cabin, to get an idea of ​​true noise levels without any hearing protection.

To simulate a "worst flying day scenario," the researchers tested for eight-hour exposure, and created an eight-hour time weighted average from the sound sample readings. The time-weighted average for all of the aircraft cabin measurements came in at 86.26 dBA. The study's data reinforced that pilots are indeed exposed to sound levels higher than OSHA standards. The study also determined that the use of a headset is adequate hearing protection for a projected eight-hour period. Read the full study . To get an idea of ​​the decibel level inside your aircraft, buy a decibel meter at an electronics store and (safely) take readings during the climb, cruise and descent. Keep in mind the dB level inside your headphones should be lower than the ambient, unprotected noise level in the cockpit and cabin.

Tips for Protecting Your Ears

If the ambient noise level inside your cockpit reaches 90 dBA, you should be using hearing protection equipment. A good set of headsets are essential, especially if in-cockpit noise levels exceed OSHA exposure limits. Active noise reduction headsets are recommended because they improve signal-to-noise ratios and enhance sound quality. Another benefit of a quality headset is that they reduce high-frequency background noise, making speech signals clearer and easier to understand. For maximum protection, combine a good set of active noise reduction headsets with earplugs. Another good tip is to limit your exposure to loud activities before flying, such as mowing the lawn or listening to loud music.

If You Have Symptoms of Hearing Loss …

Some symptoms of hearing loss include difficulty understanding what people are saying, listening to TV and music at loud levels and avoiding social interactions because hearing is frustrating. Prolonged exposure to loud noises and unchecked hearing damage can also cause irritability, lack of focus, high blood pressure, increased stress levels, insomnia and high or abnormal heart rate.

If you suspect you are suffering from hearing loss and its side effects, see your doctor and / or get checked by a qualified otolaryngologist or audiologist to find out the extent of the hearing damage, if any, and what you can do to treat it.

7 Tips to Getting Over Your Fears Before Getting Your Private Pilot License

We all have fears. Some of us won’t even admit to them, but we have them. Embarking on anything new, while being very exciting, can also be very scary. The reason, the main reason…fear of failure. You need to get over your fears not only of flying, if you have one. but of failing as well before you can be the proud owner of a private pilot license.

If you’ve taken a driver’s test and didn’t pass the first time, you remember what that was like when the instructor turned to you and said, “Sorry, you failed.” If you looked up the word “down” in the dictionary, you would have seen a photo of yourself right next to the definition.

Nobody likes to fail, and fear of failure is one of the worst fears in the world.

Okay, great… now that we’ve established that… how do we deal with it?

Here are a few great ways of overcoming the fear of failure.

1. Consider The Missed Opportunity.

Imagine that you decide that you’re too afraid to go through with learning how to fly and taking your exam. Now imagine what life is going to be like without being able to do this very thing that you love so much. I’m assuming that if you want to learn how to fly, there is a big reason for it. Focus on that instead of the fear and this will go a long way to alleviating that fear.

2. Research The Alternatives

Imagine what you will have to do without your PPL. You’ll have to rely on commercial airlines. You won’t be able to go where you want to go WHEN you want to go there. You’ll be at the mercy of others. The alternatives to flying your own plane, if you don’t want to rely on commercial airlines, are driving, train, bus and even boat. If that thought makes you sick to your stomach, focus on it. That’ll get you over your fear of failure.

3. Put The Worst Case Scenario Into Perspective

Let’s say you fail your PPL exam? What’s the worst thing that can happen? They can’t tell you that you can’t take it again. You can still take another shot at it. It’s not like this is a one time offer. If that were the case, there would be a ton of people not driving or flying planes. It’s not the end of the world if you fail. At worse, you have to wait a little longer to get your PPL.

4. Understand The Benefits Of Failure

Believe it or not, you learn something from failure. You learn what it is you did wrong and get a chance to improve it. Would you rather that you didn’t fail your exam only because some instructor took pity on you and ended up getting yourself killed because you really weren’t ready to fly? I think you know the answer to that.

5. Make A Contingency Plan

If you do fail, have a plan. You should already be planning in advance on taking more lessons, getting more flight time and rescheduling. Failing doesn’t mean that you give up.

6. Take Action

The best way to get rid of that fear is to just go ahead and do it. The more you procrastinate, the more afraid you’re going to become until you reach a point where you’re unable to take your exam at all.

7. Burn Your Boats

In ancient times, Greeks would burn their boats so that they had no choice but to move forward. They couldn’t turn back. I don’t know what you have to do in order to burn YOUR boat but do it. If that means picking up the phone and scheduling your exam, do it. Don’t look back.

Hopefully, the 7 items I’ve gone over will help you get over your fears of getting your private pilot license