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Government noise attitudes survey: people increasingly disturbed by aircraft noise

26th January, 2015

In its first national noise attitudes survey since 2000, Defra, the Government’s environmental department reveals that people are now more sensitive to noise, with around a third of those surveyed from a sample spread around the UK feeling annoyed, disturbed or bothered by aircraft noise. Twice as many people as in the previous survey were found to be very or extremely disturbed by aircraft noise.

Increased sensitivity to noise

Defra carried out a large-scale survey in 2012 assessing the UK population’s attitudes to noise and whether attitudes had changed since the last assessment in 2000. Defra interviewed 2,747 people, in a sample that was broadly representative* of the UK population. A key finding of the survey was that people are now more sensitive to and annoyed by noise from all sources, with the issue rising from 9th in 2000 to 4th in a list of local environmental concerns.

More disturbed by aircraft noise

A headline finding from the survey was that a third of all people interviewed were bothered, annoyed, or disturbed to some extent by aircraft noise, underlining how significant an issue aircraft noise is across the UK. Comparing the results to the last survey in 2000, a similar number of people were aware of hearing aircraft or airport noise (now 72%) but those disturbed by it rose from 20% in 2000 to 31% in 2012. The number of people very or extremely disturbed by aircraft noise doubled compared with the previous survey. All findings for aircraft noise were found to be statistically significant.

noise attitudes summary figure

Figure 1: Summary document: National Noise Attitudes Survey 2012


An alternative tale of aircraft noise disturbance

The aviation industry and the Airports Commission have been arguing that because planes are becoming quieter, average levels of aircraft noise have been decreasing. Yet Defra’s findings suggest that the problem, as experienced by people is only becoming worse. The graph below shows that while the population size within the 57 Leq noise contour (the measure used by Government to indicate the onset of significant community annoyance) decreased between 2000 and 2012, the proportion of people annoyed, disturbed or bothered by aircraft noise increased significantly.

These findings present a challenge to both Government policy and the industry’s stance of heralding the success of continually shrinking average noise contours. Both Government and industry have to confront the challenge that while individual aircraft may be getting less noisy, the noise problem is growing. Today, the main cause of community annoyance is often not just the loudness of a single aircraft but the frequency of them. With ongoing discussions about concentration of flight paths and airport expansion, it is a challenge that politicians must urgently confront.

noise graph2

Graph produced by AEF. Size of population within the 57 Leq of the six largest UK airports (Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester, Stansted, Birmingham and Luton) shown by the red line against the proportion of people in the Defra noise survey to be disturbed, annoyed or bothered by aircraft noise, shown by the green bars. Source for population data 2000-2010: Sustainable Aviation noise roadmap; the 2013 figure for population size is based on the figures provided by Jacobs for the Airports Commission in their estimates of the current population size within the 57 Leq noise contour


The impacts of increased disturbance

In the Defra noise attitudes survey, people were asked how their lives were being disturbed by various noise sources. For the people who identified aircraft noise as one of the main three sources of noise they hear, a third said that their sleep had been affected by aircraft noise (6.1% of all the people surveyed). Of the people who identified aircraft noise as one of the three main sources of noise they hear, around a fifth highlighted that it affected their concentration, having a conversation or whether they have windows or doors open.


The Defra National Noise Attitudes Survey is available here.

* There was an over-sampling of people in the highest social categories A/B who are more likely to be disturbed by aircraft noise but also an oversampling of older people who are less likely to be disturbed by noise from all sources (page 3 of summary document).

Image Credit: Martin Hartland via Flickr