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Tackling the impacts of light aircraft noise

Addressing noise from light aircraft was a key factor in the creation of AEF back in the 1970s. Many of those problems still exist today, whether it’s the intrusiveness associated with a relatively low-flying plane or helicopter, or the repetitive nature of activities like circuit flying for training purposes or aerobatics. 

While light aircraft are less noisy, in decibels, than larger commercial aircraft, their slower speeds, lower flight altitudes and tonal characteristics frequently combine to create a noise disturbance for local communities. In fact, the useful but now obsolete Government planning guidance on noise and planning acknowledged that “local planning authorities should also be aware that in some circumstances the public perceive general aircraft noise levels as more disturbing than similar levels around major airports” and that “helicopter noise has different characteristics from that from fixed-wing aircraft, and is often regarded as more intrusive or more annoying by the general public”.

AEF receive more queries about the issue than about any other subject related to aviation. We have collected our member’s experiences in several surveys over the years, and they demonstrate that alarm bells should be ringing over light aircraft noise.

Despite coming to the attention of policymakers, few measures have been put in place over the decades to control unreasonable levels of noise. The UK lags behind countries like Germany, which has made it mandatory for light aircraft to be fitted with silencers and other noise-reducing technologies, and New York, which recently took steps to allow residents to sue operators of helicopters engaged in leisure flights for nuisance.    

A recent report for the Government on decarbonising general aviation highlighted that there are over 5,000 fixed-wing aircraft under 5,700kg registered in the UK and a further 2,500 helicopters and microlights. While the long-term trend has seen a general decline in flying hours since 2006, records show that the number of movements has increased since the pandemic. These aircraft operate from a mix of licensed airfields, private landing sites and helipads all over the UK, totalling over 400 facilities.

What do we want to see?

AEF believes that no one’s life should be blighted by aircraft noise. We want to see greater transparency in reporting, and national and local authorities being able, and seen, to hold airfields and pilots accountable for reducing noise impacts. As such, we call for:

  • The CAA to be transparent about the number of complaints it receives about light aircraft noise (currently, data is not published);
  • Planning policy guidance on how to assess aircraft noise and a range of suggested planning conditions that can be applied to airfield planning applications to be reinstated; 
  • A local authority commitment to investigate claimed breaches of planning conditions and to enforce them where they are proved; 
  • Airfields to be good neighbours by enforcing noise abatement procedures and other noise control measures effectively;
  • Airfields to require newer, and quieter engines in all small planes engaged in repetitive activities like circuit flying and aerobatics, encouraging owners to retrofit other aircraft with silencers and multi-bladed propellers which are available); and
  • Effective noise monitoring around airfields.

For general guidance on aircraft noise, please go to AEF’s noise guide.