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Lowering the Volume

In this issue, I’m going to stick with the environmental theme I began last month by talking about noise — another element of our eco-challenge - and what we’re doing to make our operations as quiet as possible. We don’t usually make a lot of noise about it (rim shot), but I’m pleased to report that the airlines — working in collaboration with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the aircraft and engine manufacturers, and communities around the world — have made significant progress in recent years when it comes to noise reduction. For example, new technologies have enabled mainframe manufacturers to reduce the sounds created by the displacement of air as planes move through the sky. Engine makers have helped lower the volume by, among other things, reducing the noise created by engine exhaust. Today, jet engines are 60 percent quieter than they were in 1960. American and other airlines have seized on each round of advances, replacing older, louder aircraft with newer planes that incorporate the latest technology.

The FAA has implemented, over time, increasingly stringent noise standards. The story of the Boeing 727 is emblematic of how the modern airline fleet has evolved as new standards have taken effect. In the 1970s, the first generation of airline jets was replaced by the 727. If you were to look at the American Airlines fleet of 10 years ago, you would see a lot of 727s. Today, those aircraft have all been retired, sold, or recycled; they've been replaced by quieter, more advanced jets, including the latest-generation 737.

In the early 1990s, authorities in the United States and in Europe mandated that the noisiest aircraft be phased out, beginning in 1994. The transformation to the new standard had to be done by 2000 in the United States and by 2002 in Europe. Through retirements, the purchase of newer aircraft, and the retrofitting of some older planes, the makeover was accomplished. And the effects of the transformation have been remarkable. The FAA reports that in the United States, the number of people exposed to unacceptable levels of aircraft noise has fallen by more than 90 percent since 1975.

Of course, as with all things in life, we can do better. At American, we plan to lower the volume even more as we refresh our fleet with the next generation of jet aircraft. Between 2009 and 2012, we’ll be taking delivery of dozens of new Boeing 737s. The environmental benefits are manifold: In addition to being quieter, these aircraft will burn less fuel and emit less greenhouse gases.

Our ability to reduce the impact of noise on communities is a function not just of what we fl y but also of how we fl y. To illustrate, aircraft are routed away from residential areas whenever possible — often over large bodies of water and industrial areas — when flying at low altitudes (i.e., during takeoff and landing).

Our progress to date has been encouraging. But, realistically speaking, until someone invents a silent jet engine — or until gliders become a feasible means of international travel — airlines everywhere are going to have to keep working hard and thinking hard about how to get the volume down. At American Airlines, that’s what we intend to do.

Thank you for flying with us today. Have a great trip!

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Gerard J. Arpey
Chairman & CEO
American Airlines