Private and Business Flying (General Aviation)
This section refers to ‘General Aviation’, which includes training, private and recreational flying, as well as business aviation.
A lot of General Aviation activity takes place in rural locations where background noise levels are low, and both aerobatics and flying training can involve low level flying for long periods, with repetitive circuits often performed at 1000 feet. Together with the distinctive noise characteristics of both helicopters (known to cause annoyance at lower average noise levels than fixed wing aircraft) and piston-driven planes, General Aviation therefore generates significant annoyance, and is often perceived as more intrusive than commercial aircraft.
Helicopters generate a unique set of noise problems and little if any provision may be made for community consultation and engagement around heliports. A 2008 report by Defra made a number of policy recommendations based on its report ‘Research into the improvement of the Management of Helicopter Noise’ but these have never been taken forward.
While the numbers of people affected may be small compared to large airports, those who are affected can experience high levels of disturbance for long periods, particularly at weekends and in the summer, when people spend most time outdoors.
There are some 370 civil aerodromes in the UK, of which only 22 are large enough to have been required to draw up noise action plans. At the remainder, the only constraints in terms of noise are those imposed by the planning process, and many developments take place through incremental growth. Much General Aviation activity, meanwhile, takes place under the 28-day planning threshold: land can be used for alternative purposes than those for which planning permission exists for up to 28 days in a calendar year (a rule sometimes exploited by farmers rotating fields for helicopter landings for 28 days at a time to provide summer-long tourist trips). Flying training can now take place at any UK aerodrome irrespective of whether or not it is licensed by the CAA.
While the Government has noise powers under the Civil Aviation Act to regulate noise at named airports (involving ‘specification’ under section 5, which AEF helped to secure, or ‘designation’ under sections 78 and 79), historically these have only been used at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted. Like commercial aviation, General Aviation is both exempted from the requirements of Environmental Protection Act and, under the Civil Aviation Act, protected against legal claims for noise nuisance. In practice, therefore, there are many aerodromes at which no protection exists for local residents in relation to noise.
UN noise certification requirements for light aircraft currently lag behind the technologies that are available. While countries such Germany have introduced more stringent requirements, ensuring that technologies such as multi-bladed propellers and silencers are widely available for most aircraft types, certification requirements for use in the UK are currently prohibitive, resulting in low levels of take-up.
As well as pushing for a more effective approach to General Aviation and helicopter noise at the Government level, AEF provides specific advice to members on how to negotiate most effectively locally, and how best to use the planning system to secure protections such as respite, changes to flightpaths, or limits on the type or number of aircraft that can operate. General advice on the planning system in relation to aviation is available in our online planning guide. Information about AEF membership is here. Finally, the Government provides guidelines for good practice in the running of airport consultative committees. The guidance is relevant for airfields as well as larger airports and can act as a useful lever for communities struggling to have their voice heard. AEF helped persuade Government to publish the original guidelines and contributed significantly to their update in 2014.