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European noise legislation fails to reduce the number of people affected by aircraft noise

Noise regulation for aircraft and airports takes a number of forms, including local planning decisions, national policy for specific airports, international standards for aircraft, and European regulations.

In 2002, two pieces of European noise legislation were passed: Directive 2002/30/EC ‘on the establishment of rules and procedures with regard to the introduction of noise-related operating restrictions at Community airports’, and Directive 2002/49/EC ‘relating to the assessment and management of environmental noise’.

Directive 2002/30 implements the ‘balanced approach’ to aircraft noise management recommended by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO). This set out the ‘four pillars’ of noise management, namely reduction at source, land use planning, operational procedures, and operational restrictions and was intended to give the aviation sector extra leeway in terms of managing noise. “The aircraft operating industry considers the Directive as protection against the use of operating restrictions as a first resort”, states the Commission’s report. While it permits European member states to introduce new operating restrictions at airports, particularly by limiting noisier aircraft (those that are only marginally compliant with the ICAO ‘chapter 3′ standard) or through the use of noise budgets, it does not require them to do so.

Earlier this year, the Commission submitted a report on the application of this Directive. It concluded that while the legislation had been useful in ensuring that all interests are taken into account when considering restrictions, its application had been limited. The number of people affected by noise, including the night period, had increased since the Directive came into force, the Commission found, and is likely to continue going up in future.

The UK Government has committed itself to liaising with the Commission over how the application of the Directive might be improved. Prior to opening these discussions, the Department for Transport contacted a number of organisations for their views, including airports, airline operators’ organisations, airport consultative committees, and environmental organisations.

AEF’s response to the DfT can be downloaded here. It argues that:

  • Both this Directive and 2002/49/EC need to be strengthened if the European Council’s 2006 commitment to reduce transport noise is to be met. The Commission’s statement that despite the implementation of this Directive, the numbers of people affected by aircraft noise is likely to increase in future underlines this point.
  • We should not be surprised by the finding that this Directive has had limited effect, given that any action is discretionary. Without the introduction of mandatory thresholds we can see little chance of an overall improvement in the noise pollution around airports.
  • We have been disappointed by the only very small increases in stringency for noise that have been agreed at international level and believe that there is a strong case for amending the definition of marginally compliant aircraft in the Directive to -10 EPNdB (a very modest increase in the minimum standard for aircraft operating in Europe).