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AEF brings together communities and regulators at aircraft noise event

On Tuesday 5thMarch, AEF brought together communities, regulators and noise experts for a one-day conference to shine a light on the current aircraft noise challenges across the country and to consider the Government’s current proposals to manage the impact of noise on those on the ground. 

Setting out the latest policies and evidence

The morning session included presentations from the newly formed Independent Commission on Civil Aviation Noise (ICCAN): the Department for Transport: Public Health England: and the CAA’s Environmental Research and Consultancy Department. In the afternoon, we heard from the Chair of the London Assembly Environment Committee, Caroline Russell, as well as community groups the Aviation Communities Forum, Melbourne Civic Society and Teddington Action Group.

ICCAN came into being earlier this year with a remit to promote best practice and to consider the needs of communities in engaging with the airspace change process. Sam Hartley, Secretary to the Commission, explained how the organisation is taking shape and what to expect over the coming months. The commission is currently engaged in a programme of meeting with airports and community groups across the country, and will shortly be seeking input into its draft strategy for the first eighteen months, including how best to hold the industry to account on noise commitments. 

Tim May, Head of Airspace and Noise Policy at the Department for Transport presented on the Government’s Aviation Strategy Green Paper, which it now aims to finalise by the end of the year having extended the consultation deadline until 20thJune. Proposals to address aircraft noise include new qualifying rules for noise insulation, the introduction of guidance for housing built near to airports, requirements for airports to publish noise information and to improve performance, and incentives for aircraft to be less noisy.

Responding to the Government’s plans, AEF’s Cait Hewitt described the Aviation Strategy as pro-growth and pro-market, encouraging expansion without any quantitative targets to reduce noise. Drawing on the nine recommendations outlined in the AEF’s discussion paper on aircraft noise, published last year to inform the Aviation Strategy, Cait reinforced the case for noise targets informed by the WHO’s recent environmental noise guidelines, and the urgent need for clarity on the roles and responsibilities on the myriad of UK bodies currently involved in the regulation of aircraft noise. 

Dr Darren Rhodes from the CAA’s Environmental Research and Consultancy Department presented on what the DfT has described as the biggest ever assessment and forecast of aircraft noise in the UK, looking at likely impacts out to 2050. Noise exposure as measured using Leq is expected to reduce by 2050, despite an increase in aircraft movements. The number of people exposed will increase in the next decade, however, before it starts to fall. 

Darren also presented two new reports looking at the noise implications of emerging technologies such as supersonics and drones, and at the significance of ambient noise levels to how people respond to aircraft noise. The latter study found a ‘weak but statistically significant’ association between lower ambient noise levels, and people being more annoyed by aircraft noise.

Whilst the need for better regulation is underpinned by clear evidence of the links between aircraft noise and adverse health effects, up-to-date research is still needed, stressed Ben Fenech of Public Health England. The recent WHO Environmental Noise Guidelines, he noted, only considered studies published up to 2014, many were conducted outside Europe, and there is significant divergence in the findings. While there is strong evidence that aircraft noise has an impact on the risk of cardiovascular diseases, he said, more work is needed to understand the noise level at which the impacts becomes significant. Similarly, more work is needed to understand the relationship between aircraft noise and poor mental health.

Communities have their say

The afternoon session was opened by Caroline Russell, who told the conference that the London Assembly remains opposed to all aviation expansion in London. Stressing the health impacts of increasingly concentrated flightpaths, she said that public interest must come before commercial interest, adding that noise insulation is not an adequate solution, as it is impossible to keep all windows closed, especially during warm weather. 

Paul Grimley from Melbourne Civic Society focused on the impacts of freight at East Midlands airport, highlighting that the generous cap on noise imposed at East Midlands through the planning system allows for significantly more noise in future, and provides no meaningful constraint. Charles Lloyd speaking for the Airports Community Forum focused on airspace modernisation, arguing that that Government’s current approach will benefit the industry rather than communities. 

On behalf of the Teddington Action Group (TAG), David Gilbert and Stephen Clark compared the differences in annoyance values found in the UK SoNA study with those identified by the World Health Organisation in its recent Environmental Noise Guidelines. TAG highlighted that the sample area for SoNA didn’t include residents who had recently experienced changes to flight operations at Heathrow, and this was likely to underestimate the level of community reaction.

Tim Johnson, director of AEF, wrapped up the conference with a presentation covering general aviation noise issues, including increases in helicopter complaints both to AEF and to the CAA, and the lack of official advice on how noise should be managed at small aerodromes with training, aerobatic and parachuting operations. While the Green Paper has added a chapter promoting general aviation, the only proposal to manage its noise impacts is an invitation to the industry itself to review the effectiveness of its own guidance on best practice. Government guidance is needed, AEF argued.

Presentations

An introduction to ICCAN, Sam Hartley, Secretary to the Commission, ICCAN

Aviation 2050: The future of UK aviation, Tim May, Head of Airspace and Noise Policy, DfT

The draft aviation strategy: Strengths and weaknesses, Cait Hewitt, Deputy Director, AEF

Valuing aircraft noise in the UK, Ben Fenech, Noise and Public Health Group Leader, Public Health England

Aviation strategy: Noise analysis, Darren Rhodes, Head of Environmental Research, CAA

Airspace modernisation and noise policy, Charles Lloyd, Aviation Communities Forum

Aviation green paper: Tackling aircraft noise at night?, Paul Grimley, Melbourne Civic Society

Understanding the implications of changes in airspace: WHO, SoNA and the missed evidence, Dave Gilbert and Stephen Clark, Teddington Action Group

General aviation and helicopter noise issues, Tim Johnson, Director, Aviation Environment Federation

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