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Plane noise is noticeably louder in Billings, and it's unlikely to change soon

Increased cargo flights the main cause
Fed Ex unloading cargo
Posted at 5:32 PM, Nov 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-17 19:32:32-05

BILLINGS — Susan DeCamp hasn't slept well over the past two months, and she knows why.

"On several nights I’ve been woken up in the middle of the night," she said.

DeCamp said a squadron of airplanes started flying over her house that sits at the base of the Billings Rims very early in the morning about two months ago.

"And it was remarkable because it was all of a sudden," DeCamp, who's lived at her house for five years, said.

Those planes are carrying the region’s packages.

"Billings is freight hub of whole state, as well as northern Wyoming," said Kevin Ploehn, director of aviation for Billings Logan International Airport. "Right now, there’s a UPS plane on the ground at about 4:30 a.m. All of the supporting aircraft are lined up waiting to start the sorting process. Once that's done, the planes peel out by 5:30-6 a.m."

Around 13 of them, all smaller aircraft that don’t have the noise-canceling technology of jumbo jets. So why is it worse now? Because people continue to buy more things online than ever before.

"Freight numbers have been going thru the roof for the last 5,6,7 years. I can't even remember the last time the numbers didn't go up," Ploehn said. "Christmas is when it gets really busy. They’ll double the number of planes they bring in just to haul freight."

Zimmerman trail rims
The rimrocks rise high above Zimmerman Trail in Billings.

That means the noise is likely to get worse before it gets better. But DeCamp and some of her neighbors aren’t concerned with the number. They want planes to change their flight path.

"Why route them over the most populated area in Montana?” she asked. "It's a security issue. Small planes are more affected by wind shears and are more likely to crash."

"We try to mitigate that as much as we can by working with air traffic control," Ploehn answered. "We’re moving planes further west, further east before they start turning in over the city."

Cargo planes aren’t going away. Ploehn said between leases, landing fees and grants, they are bringing in over $500,000 a year to the city. But when asked about major carriers like UPS and FedEx’s landing times, he offered a bit of hope.

"It’s a national schedule. They change all the time depending on what’s going on."

A schedule change is likely to be on a lot of residents' Christmas lists.