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Further comment from AEF on today’s aviation consultations

2nd February, 2017


Contact: Cait Hewitt // // 0203 859 9371

                Tim Johnson// // 0203 859 9371

Key questions on climate change and public health remain unanswered in government consultations

The Government has today published several important documents on airport expansion and airspace. Reaction from the AEF:

On the draft National Policy Statement for Airports

AEF Deputy Director Cait Hewitt said:

The Government seems determined to push Heathrow expansion through Parliament regardless of its environmental impacts.

Air pollution in London is at crisis level, but the revised Government air quality plan demanded by the courts won’t be ready till July. And despite repeated warnings from the Government’s own advisers that it needs to be able to show that Heathrow expansion won’t compromise the Climate Change Act, there is no plan to even consider aviation emissions policy till later this year.

On noise, the Government’s airspace consultation, published in parallel, suggests that Heathrow’s noise impact will be assessed using ‘indicative’ flight paths which may be subject to change further down the line. So those who may eventually be overflown, and who may otherwise have voiced an opinion at this important stage in the process, may not see the need to engage.

How can Parliament be expected to agree support for Heathrow expansion until it’s clear whether this is possible within climate change and air pollution limits, and until the location of flight paths has been finalised?

On publication of new official research on aircraft noise annoyance

AEF Director Tim Johnson said:

Aircraft noise represents a serious and growing problem for people around airports and under flight paths. This new, Government-commissioned report provides authoritative evidence that a greater number of people are annoyed by noise at lower levels than in the past.

Airport noise assessments are currently based on out-of-date policies that underestimate the numbers of people affected. A new approach is needed if the impact of both today’s operations, and of any future airport growth, is to be properly understood. The study published today, which took in to account the impact of noise on over 2000 people living near to nine of the major airports across England, found that the same percentage of respondents said to be highly annoyed at 57 dB in the Government’s 1982 study are now annoyed at 54 dB. It also found a significant link between increased noise annoyance and poor health.

The Government can no longer rely on the antiquated 57 Leq measurement as the cut-off for community annoyance. We welcome the fact that proposals released today on airspace change require noise at lower levels to be measured and taken into account. But evidence that aircraft noise annoyance is a bigger problem than the Government previously thought it to be now needs to be acted on, with a meaningful noise strategy, and targets for reducing the numbers affected.

On today’s proposals for providing a framework for decisions relating to airspace change

AEF Director Tim Johnson said:

Today’s proposals follow intense community pressure over recent years for the Government to act to prevent significant airspace changes being implemented without either consultation or compensation for those affected on the ground.

Communities who have been suffering the noise effects of aircraft flying down increasingly narrow corridors as a consequence of satellite navigation technology will welcome today’s proposals to take better account of local circumstances and engage more with those affected. Communities will also be encouraged by the prospect of compensation for airspace changes, a call-in power for the Secretary of State to intervene where the impacts are likely to be significant, and a requirement to assess noise down to lower thresholds.

The Government’s proposal to create an independent commission on aircraft noise will also be welcomed by some communities hopeful that the body will provide some fresh thinking on the issue. But with no requirement to deliver a noise reduction strategy, and without enforcement powers, or the teeth to make binding recommendations, its effectiveness may be limited.

Overall this is a strategy about catering for more demand. Improvements to the process in terms of transparency and communication won’t tackle the underlying need to reduce noise. The Government’s hope that future noise reductions will be achieved through the introduction of quieter aircraft and a reduction in stacking will only have a marginal impact given the likely increase in the number of aircraft. These hopes also ignore the reality that people are becoming more annoyed by aircraft noise than they were in the past, despite technological improvements. The Government-commissioned SoNA report, released today by the CAA, confirms the finding of many other recent studies that sensitivity has increased over the years.

Noise levels around many airports are already too high, and are likely to get worse if the sector continues to expand. We urgently need a Government strategy for limiting noise to within levels that are safe for health. It shouldn’t fall to members of the public to have to defend themselves against their local noise environment becoming intolerable.


Contact: Cait Hewitt 0203 859 9371 /  

Tim Johnson 0203 859 9371 /