Making Waves Across the Business Aviation Industry

By Emily Hung ’23, October 27, 2022

Rhea Hanrahan's ’09 career as a noise consultant.

Across the country, Rhea Hanrahan ’09 is making a difference in the lives of people living in communities near airports. As a noise consultant for Harris Miller Miller & Hanson Inc. (HMMH), Hanrahan works with airports to mitigate noise issues and the environmental impacts caused by planes.

Unsurprisingly, her unconventional job required an unconventional post-college path. A physics major during her time at Ithaca College, Hanrahan took part in an internship at IBM in the summer before her senior year, where she worked in a shock and vibe lab, as well as a noise lab. That experience sparked her larger interest in noise, and her senior thesis topic was on how to reduce noise with sound insulation material.

After graduating, Hanrahan taught physics to students at an outdoor adventure learning center, Guided Discoveries, in Southern California. While she enjoyed the work, she knew it wasn’t going to be her career. “I still wanted to find a way to use my physics degree to give back a little bit, but I knew I wasn’t going to make a lifelong career out of teaching,” she said. 

I still wanted to find a way to use my physics degree to give back a little bit, but I knew I wasn’t going to make a lifelong career out of teaching. 

Rhea Hanrahan ’09

One day, she came across a job opening for a noise consultant at HMMH, a small, woman-owned environmental company headquartered in Burlington, Massachusetts, with offices in multiple other states. “The application described all the things that I’m interested in, such as outdoor data collection, because I’ve been out in different national parks doing noise monitoring. They were looking for engineers, physicists, mathematicians, and acousticians, and I said to myself, ‘I have that degree.’”

She received a call from the hiring manager for an initial interview and started her job with HMMH in December 2009.

Since then, Hanrahan has worked with a variety of clients—mainly airports—on environmental assessments and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Part 150 program, depicting aircraft noise levels and the amount of exposure to it on surrounding communities.

In spring 2019, she was given the opportunity to open and head HMMH’s New York City office, where she now works. Her rise has earned her a spot in the 2021 Airport Business Top 40 Under 40 report, which honors individuals across the world who are shaping the business aviation industry in profound ways.

“One of the main reasons I nominated Rhea for the Business Aviation’s Top 40 Under 40 award is her can-do attitude,” said Mary Ellen Eagan, CEO of HMMH. “No matter how challenging or urgent the request, Rhea’s response when asked to help out is always, ‘of course.’ Equally important, she says it with a smile. And most importantly, she delivers.”

Luke Keller, IC professor of physics and astronomy, has known all about Hanrahan’s work ethic since she was a student in his Senior Thesis course. “Rhea was a fantastic student in large part because she worked well independently and was also good at working with others and asking for help when needed,” he said. “Asking for help takes courage and initiative. I’m thrilled, and not at all surprised, to see how those skills have translated into Rhea’s professional success.”

Hanrahan says she is proud to be part of a woman-owned business and is enjoying the work she’s doing. “I’m very specifically in noise and air quality, and it’s such a subset and specialized area of focus,” Hanrahan said. “There’s very few of us who do that in the country. I feel very fortunate to be the top leader in it.”