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D. Hogan, Ph.D.

Luke Air Force Base has been a major pilot-training base for almost 70 years. When it began operations in 1941, the lands surrounding the base and/or under its flight paths were undeveloped desert or scantly-populated agricultural land far from populated areas. But with the rapid growth of the Phoenix Metropolitan Area in the post-World War II era, development has expanded into areas surrounding the base threatening the viability of its operations.

Since Luke AFB is perceived as a major contributor to the economies of the state of Arizona and the Phoenix area,1 the state and the West Valley communities around Luke AFB have taken steps to regulate land use in the vicinity of the air base and its flight paths to minimize the safety and noise issues associated with its operations.

State laws and planning/zoning actions by local jurisdictions have preserved the viability of Luke AFB’s current mission as the largest F-16 training base, and thereby allowed the continued flow of economic benefits from base operations. It should be recognized, however, that these land use restrictions also have negative economic effects that are concentrated on property owners, the business sector, and the local governments in the surrounding communities. More generally, these negative effects also impact the wider economy and partially offset the positive benefits of Luke AFB operations.

The U.S. Air Force is planning to begin replacing the F-16 with the new F-35 within the next few years and to phase out the F-16 over the next decade. Luke AFB is being considered as a site for an F-35 training base. If it becomes a training base for F-35 pilots, it is anticipated that the scale of training operations would largely remain the same. However, results of testing by both the Air Force and independent experts indicate that the noise levels of the F-35 are much higher than the F-16.


If aircraft noise associated with F-35 training operations is significantly higher than current noise levels in areas surrounding the base and its flight paths, the adverse effects resulting from base operations would also escalate. Focusing only on the economic effects, the higher noise levels would have negative effects on property values in the affected areas, and the existing land use plans would need to be modified to reflect the higher noise levels. Both of these would result in losses in property values and have adverse effects on the economies of the surrounding communities.

Measurements of Aircraft Noise Levels

Aside from safety issues associated with aircraft crashes and other types of accidents, noise is the largest burden placed on surrounding areas by the military operations at Luke AFB. Loud noises can be very annoying and, if at a high enough level and/or sufficient frequency, can cause health problems. But while most agree that excessive noise is bothersome, it is a subjective issue. Noises from different sources vary by intensity, duration, frequency, and time of day at which the noise occurs. How different people evaluate the level of annoyance and/or the disruption associated with particular types of noises can be affected by all these and many other factors. In an effort to take at least some of these factors into account, a number of alternative measures of noise level have been developed.

The decibel or dB is the most fundamental measure of noise level. It measures only the intensity or “loudness” of noise. It has largely been supplanted by the “A weighted” decibel or dBA, which accounts for the fact that humans do not hear high or low frequencies as well as middle frequency sounds. The “sound exposure level” or SEL is a noise measurement that accounts for both the intensity and the duration of a single noise event. In some instances, as for example comparisons of the relative noise levels of an F-16 versus an F-35, the noise levels are typically reported in terms of either dBAs or SELs.


Aircraft noise as it relates the noise levels around airports is usually defined in terms of a more complex measure, the day/night average sound level - denoted either as DNL or Ldn. This is a measure of total aircraft-generated noise averaged over a 24-hour period, with a penalty for nighttime noise. DNL measures are typically calculated from data collected from alternative locations surrounding an airport over a period of time. The latest published DNL data for Luke AFB was calculated by the Air Force from data collected in 2001.2

Conventionally these calculated DNL measures are represented in terms of DNL noise contours that show the areas surrounding an airport in which the DNL is equal to or higher than a particular value. Figure 1 shows a set of such contours for the area surrounding Luke AFB.3

The Federal Aviation Administration identifies a DNL level of 65 as the upper limit of acceptable aircraft-generated noise levels. The Environmental Protection Agency on the other hand defines the threshold level at 55+.

There are ongoing debates on the relative strengths/weaknesses of the alternate measures. But it is important to remember that all these metrics are alternative approaches to measuring the level of noise. They do not directly measure the level of annoyance caused by the noise. In particular, since noise levels around airports are usually described in terms of DNL noise contours, it should be noted that the DNL measure has been criticized for understating the practical effects of noise and its annoyance (FAA WebPages 1999).

Noise Levels and Current Land Use Restrictions

In Arizona, noise-based constraints on land use are regulated by state law and local zoning ordinances. State law requires disclosure to property owners/buyers that property is in the vicinity of a military airport with the potential for accidents and high noise levels. All political subdivisions in the vicinity of a military airport are required to


Figure 1: JLUS and AICUZ Noise Contours


adopt land use plans and enforce zoning regulations that assure development compatible with the high noise and accident potential associated with military airport operations. Land use compatibility requirements related to noise levels defined in terms of DNL-based noise contours are specified by state law. These land use constraints are based on the noise contours from the 1988 Joint Land Use Study (JLUS). Residential – DNL less than 654 Schools – DNL less than 65 Commercial/retail trade – most less than DNL 805 Industrial – DNL less than 855 Government – DNL less than 805 Medical/cultural/non-profit organizations (inc. churches) – DNL less than 755 Parks/playgrounds/spectator sports – DNL less than 75 Golf courses/water sports/riding stables – DNL less than 805

The development potential of approximately 33,000 acres in the West Valley communities surrounding Luke AFB has been constrained by these regulations (Luke Forward Campaign 2009). Some incompatible development occurred before these restrictions took effect. A 2002 study compared existing land uses against the compatibility criteria established by state law. The majority of inconsistent uses were residential uses totaling 182 acres (Arizona Military Regional Compatibility Project 2003).

The Impact of Aircraft Noise on Property Values

The negative effect of airport/aircraft noise on property values is a wellresearched/documented issue. There are dozens of published studies on the topic, all of which come to the conclusion that property under or nearby the flight corridors of airports experiences diminution in market value.


One of the most important studies was conducted for the Federal Aviation Administration in 1994. The results indicated a consistent negative impact of aircraft noise on residential property values. For the area surrounding the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), in the case of moderately-priced homes, it found a 1.1 percent loss in market values per dBA above a “quiet threshold.” For the John F. Kennedy Airport (JFK) in New York, the loss in market value for moderately-priced homes was estimated at 0.5 percent per dBA. (Bell 2001).

Studies of the environs of LAX, Ontario, and John Wayne airports in southern California estimated the negative impact of values of single-family residences ranging from 15 to 43 percent – averaging a 27 percent loss in market value. The studies also included analysis of the impact on non-residential property and found significant negative effects on commercial space.6

A 2004 study that synthesized the results from 33 studies of airports in Canada and the United States over the 1969-1997 period estimated a range for the loss in residential property values of 0.5 to 0.7 percent per dB for levels up to 75 dB. The study indicated that the noise discount would be substantially higher for areas that are affected by noise levels higher than 75 dB (Nelson 2004). These statistics imply that the value of a moderately-priced home located within the 65 DNL noise contour would be about 9 percent lower than an equivalent home located in a neighborhood not affected by aircraft noise.

The analyses of the Southern California airports found more severe effects of aircraft noise on property values. The 1.1 percent loss in value per dB estimate from the LAX study would imply that the loss in value of a home within the 65 DNL contour would be almost twice as large at about 17 percent.7


Negative Economic Effects of Existing Noise Levels Impact on Property Values

A substantial portion of land zoned for residential use in El Mirage, and some areas zoned for residential use in Surprise and Buckeye are located within the JLUS 65 DNL. The values of existing homes in these areas are substantially lower than they would otherwise because of their location in the vicinity of Luke AFB and subject to high levels of aircraft noise. Based upon the results of the studies cited above, estimates of the magnitude of lost value would range from 9 – 17 percent. In dollar terms, this would mean that the value of a home located within the 65 DNL noise contour otherwise valued at $150,000 would be worth $14,000 to $26,000 less than an equivalent home without aircraft noise.

Impact on Potential Development

Most of the land area of the City of El Mirage lies within the JLUS 65 DNL land contour and is thus subject to these noise-based land use restrictions. The southwest corner of the city lies within the JLUS 75 DNL contour and is therefore subject to noiseattenuation requirements and additional constraints on some non-residential land uses. Similarly, most of the northwestern portion of Goodyear and some of the southeast portion of Surprise and the northeast portion of Buckeye lie within the JLUS 65 DNL land contour.

The noise-based land use restrictions limit the development potential of the property in these areas. If these restrictions were not in place, it is possible that these properties would have been developed for higher-valued uses – increasing the wealth of the property owners, the level of economic activity in the area, and government revenues. Even if the properties are not yet developed, potential for their development in the future (which does not now exist) would tend to increase their market value and property tax


revenues due to higher assessed values. Thus, the existence of these land use constraints depresses the market value of properties subject to the regulations.

Higher Noise Levels Associated with the F-35

Testing by both the Air Force and independent experts shows that the F-35 is much louder than the F-16 that currently flies out of Luke AFB.

Tests at Eglin AFB in Florida (the first base picked as a training site for F-35 pilots) compared the F-35 to the F-15, which it would replace at that base. Other testing shows that the level of noise produced by the F-15 is slightly louder than the F-16. The test results indicated that the noise level of an F-35 on take-off was 9 dB (SEL) louder – about twice as loud - compared with the F-15. The comparison is even worse on landings. During approach, noise from an F-35 was 19 dB higher – about 4 times as loud - than an F-15 (U.S. Air Force 2008).

Other tests reported in the Eglin AFB Environmental Impact Statement provide direct comparisons between the F-35 and the F-16 in terms of noise levels under the flight path at various altitudes. For example, at 1,000 ft. (an altitude typical for flight paths over El Mirage) the noise level of the F-35 was 21 dB higher than that of the F-16 – about four times louder (U.S. Air Force 2008). Independent tests conducted at Eglin AFB in 2009 found noise levels on landing/approach for the F-35 to be 15-16 dB louder than the F-16 (U.S. Air Force 2008).

The size of the area surrounding Eglin AFB subject to high noise levels from the F-35 is also much larger than that associated with the F-15. Although the pattern of settlement around Eglin AFB is much different than Luke AFB, the test results for Eglin AFB indicated that the number of people exposed to sound levels of 75 dB or more would rise dramatically – from 142 to 2,174 (Rolfsen 2008). DNL noise contours plotted for the area surrounding Eglin AFB also expand drastically based upon the noise levels of the F-35 compared to those based on the mix of existing aircraft without the F-35. The


distance from the runway to the 65 DNL contour along the typical flight path grows from 4.8 miles to 8.4 miles and distances to the sides of the flight paths also greatly expand (U.S. Air Force 2008).

Impact of the F-35 on Luke AFB Noise Contours

As part of the 2003 Luke AFB Air Installation Compatible Use Study, an updated set of noise contours was prepared using 2001 flight data based upon changes in flight operations - the most important being a change in the predominant direction of departure so that 70 to 94 percent of departures would be to the southwest (U.S. Air Force 2003). These updated AICUZ noise contours generally are smaller than the 1988 JLUS contours and more accurately reflect noise levels produced by current F-16 operations. To the north and northeast of Luke AFB, the 65 DNL contour extends into four residential areas in El Mirage. A recreational vehicle community is also within the contour. Churches and public schools lie within the 65 DNL contour. To the west, some small areas of residential development are located within the noise contours. To the south, the 65 DLN contour extends to the intersection of W McDowell Rd and N Perryville Rd. Impacted land areas are generally used for agricultural purposes, but some residential and commercial properties, plus part of the state correctional facility lie within the contour.

Because the 1988 JLUS noise are not based on the noise levels associated with current flight operations at Luke AFB, at the present time some areas where the actual noise levels from current operations are below the 65 DNL threshold are still within the JLUS 65 DNL noise contour. This may lead to an incorrect impression about the true intensity of noise levels measured at 65 DNL. This will no longer be the case with the F-35.

An official set of noise contours for the vicinity of Luke AFB based on F-35 noise levels has not been developed. However, an estimated 65 DNL noise contour map for F-35 operations has been prepared by Dr. Wayne Lundberg, an aircraft noise expert, and presented at the 2009 National Defense Industrial Association Conference. It shows


clearly that the area adversely affected by F-35 noise will be much larger than that based on existing noise levels. The 65 DNL contour for F-35 operations covers all of El Mirage and Youngtown, a large swath through the middle of Sun City, eastern portions of Surprise, a corner of Litchfield Park, and large portions of Goodyear, Buckeye, and some unincorporated areas of the County (Lundberg 2009). A copy of Lundberg’s map is presented as Figure 2.

Negative Economic Effects of the F-35’s Higher Noise Levels Impacts on Property Values

Evidence from testing indicates that the noise levels associated with the F-35 compared with the F-16 are anywhere from about 10 to 20+ dB higher. Using the lower bound of an increase of 10 dB would imply a loss in value in the 6 - 11 percent range for homes in the areas affected by the higher noise levels, while a 20 dB increase would imply losses in value in the 12 - 22 percent range. Losses of these magnitudes would be equivalent to dollar losses of $9,000 to $33,000 for a $150,000 home.

Because of the higher noise levels associated with the F-35, the area significantly impacted by aircraft noise will be much larger than was the case with the F-16, and more residential areas with many more homes will be affected. As described in the previous section, virtually all of El Mirage, Youngtown and substantial areas in Sun City, Surprise, Litchfield Park, Goodyear, Buckeye, and unincorporated Maricopa County will become subject to aircraft noise levels high enough to affect property values.

Thus, the higher noise levels would result in declines in the market value of residential properties of hundreds of millions of dollars in these West Valley communities. The case of El Mirage offers the clearest example, since virtually all of its residential areas would be covered by the F-35’s 65 DNL noise contour. Residential property owners in that city alone could suffer overall losses in the $200 million range, based on the mid-point of the percentage losses in market values cited above.8


Figure 2: Lundberg 65 DNL Noise Contour Map

11 Red: F-35 / Green: Current Operations

Impact on Potential Development

The current noise-based land use restrictions are based on the 1988 JLUS noise contours. The results from Eglin AFB imply that DNL noise contours for the vicinity of Luke AFB based on F-35 operations could well be larger than the JLUS contours. If this is the case, more areas will become subject to land use restrictions, and the development constraints on some properties may be strengthened.

These noise-based land use restrictions will limit the development potential of property in previously unaffected areas. If larger areas of the environs of Luke AFB become subject to noise-based land use restrictions, the negative impacts of these constraints on the wealth of area property owners, the economic vitality of the region, and government revenues will be even larger than the current situation.

END NOTES 1. The latest economic analysis of the economic impact of the base estimated that its operations contribute $2.17 billion in overall economic activity and support 22,000 jobs in the Arizona economy (The Maquire Company 2008). While $2.17 billion is an impressively large number, it should be noted that it represents less than 0.5% of total state economic activity. 2. The DNL measure does not provide a good indication of “single event” noise. For example, 50 noise events with a sound intensity of 98 dBA over a 24-hour period is equivalent to a 65 DNL. For this reason, how to interpret DNL values is controversial, and the measure is criticized for understating the effects of noise (Bell 2001). 3. The map depicts both the JLUS 65 contour on which the current land use constraints are based, and the updated AICUZ contours based on current F-16 operations. 4. Some very low density agriculture-related/rural residential is allowed in areas subject to DNL up to 79-84.


5. Indoor noise-reduction measures required in area subject to noise levels above 69 DNL. 6. From studies conducted by Randall Bell as cited in Bales (2002). 7. The estimate of a 9 percent loss in value is based upon the results from Nelson (2004) taking the mid-point of his estimated range of 0.5-0.7 percent loss per dB and assuming an increase in noise level of 15 dB. This figure is based on the difference between 50 and 65 dB. The LAX study found the noise level in neighborhood not subject to airport noise was about 50 dB.

(0.6 percent loss in value per dB) X (15 dB louder noise level) = 9 percent loss

Similarly, the estimate of a 17 percent loss in value was calculated using the 1.1 percent loss per dB figure from the LAX study and assumed the same 15 dB difference in noise level. 8. According to 2009 property tax records (Maricopa County Assessor 2009), full cash value of residential property (including both owner-occupied and rental properties) in El Mirage totaled more than $1.4 billion. The mid-point of the estimated loss in market value from the studies cited would be 14 percent (the range was 6 to 22 percent), which would imply a decline in the total value of residential property of about $200 million.



Arizona Military Regional Compatibility Project, Western Maricopa County/Luke Air Force Base Regional Compatibility Plan, March 2003.

Bales, L. County of Orange: Loss of Property Value and Property Tax Revenue Attributable to El Toro Airport Noise, January 2002.

Bell, R. “The Impact of Airport Noise on Residential Real Estate,” The Appraisal Journal, July 2001, pp. 312-321.

FAA WebPages, “Aircraft Noise: How We Measure It and Assess Its Impact,” www., April 1999.

Luke Forward Campaign,, 2009.

Lundberg, W. “Consideration of Operational Noise Impacts on Land Use as a part of the Weapons Systems Engineering Process,” National Defense Industrial Association Conference, (, 2009.

Maricopa County Assessor, Copy of 2009 State Abstract August Final Revised,,


Nelson, J. P. “Meta-Analysis of Airport Noise and Hedonic Property Values: Problems and Prospects,” Journal of Transportation Economics and Policy, January, 2004.

Rolfsen, B. “F-35 Twice as Loud as F-15,” Air Force Times, October 27, 2008.


The Maquire Company, Economic Impact of Arizona’s Principal Military Operations, 2008.

U. S. Air Force, Air Installation Compatible Use Zone (AICUZ) Study: Luke AFB, November 2003.

U. S. Air Force, Final Environmental Impact Statement: Eglin AFB, Florida, October 2008.