On May 30 Heathrow Airport published ‘A quieter Heathrow’, a report setting out the airport’s commitments to reducing aircraft noise while safeguarding the UK’s connectivity.
In the report, Heathrow makes a range of new commitments on noise which, it says, includes publicly ranking airlines on ‘noise performance’, trialling new departure routes with NATS, proposing to trial steeper approaches into Heathrow, establishing a new noise insulation scheme to replace the existing schemes, exploring innovative solutions to noise insulation for schools such as ‘adobe’1 buildings and proposing a significant increase in fines for airlines that break noise limits.
The report states that as well as connecting the UK to long-haul markets around the world and supporting more than 100,000 local jobs, Heathrow recognises that an airport of its size has downsides for people living nearby, in particular aircraft noise. ‘A quieter Heathrow’ brings together a range of measures to meet the Government’s aspiration ‘to strike a fair balance between the negative impacts of noise and the positive economic impacts of flights’2. The report focuses on five areas: quieter aircraft, quieter operating procedures, noise mitigation and land-use planning, operating restrictions and working with local communities. These measures mean that aircraft flying in and out of Heathrow are on average 15% quieter than fleets of the same airlines which land at other world airports.
Colin Matthews, CEO of Heathrow, says: ‘Heathrow is at the forefront of international efforts to tackle aircraft noise and as a result, even though the number of flights has almost doubled since the 1970s, fewer people are affected by noise. We will continue to work with airlines, NATS, policy makers and local communities to further reduce aircraft noise whilst safeguarding the vital connectivity and economic growth that Heathrow provides.’
‘A quieter Heathrow’ is not about adding new runways at Heathrow. It sets out important steps that can, and are, being taken now to reduce aircraft noise. However, Heathrow recognises that if it is to grow, a comprehensive package of measures to tackle noise will need to be put forward to ensure there does not have to be a choice between more flights or less noise.
Heathrow states its actions to reduce the impact of noise include:
Quieter aircraft: Heathrow encourages the quietest aircraft through higher charges for the noisiest aircraft and reduced charges for the quietest aircraft. The airport will be proposing a significant increase in fines for airlines that break noise limits and, later this year, launching a ‘Fly Quiet’ programme which will publicly rank airlines according to their noise performance at Heathrow.
Quieter operating procedures: Heathrow operates runway alternation, uses Continuous Descent Approach and ‘Noise Preferential Routes’. New trials will include a departure route trial, investigating the impact of ending the practice of ‘westerly preference’ and proposing to trial steeper approaches as part of the next night noise regime. Heathrow says it will also propose a significant increase in noise fines for aircraft that exceed departure noise limits at night.
Noise mitigation and land-use planning: The airport offers a noise insulation for community buildings and homes, financial assistance with relocating to ‘quieter’ areas and campaign for local planning authorities to restrict new developments in the noisiest areas. From 2014, it plans to launch a new ‘Quieter Homes’ programme incorporating lessons from a pilot it is currently running.
Operating restrictions: The number of ‘night flights’ permitted at Heathrow is restricted by an annual ‘cap’ and there are noise restrictions on aircraft departing late at night and early in the morning. Heathrow also has a voluntary ban in place for arrivals scheduled to land between 04:30 and 06:00 not to touch down before 04:30. In addition, departures are not scheduled between 23:00 and 06:00.
Working with local communities: The airport works with local authorities and resident groups such as HACAN to trial new operational procedures that could provide noise respite, keep residents up to date through a dedicated noise website and use proceeds from noise fines to fund local community projects. A new social media service will be launched to update residents on unscheduled changes to operations which may impact on noise and aim to continually improve Heathrow’s global ranking for community engagement on aircraft noise, benchmarked by independent analysis.
The airport says these actions mean that Heathrow today is significantly quieter than it was four decades ago. Since the early 1970s, (which the airport describes as when the jet age began), both the area and the number of people within Heathrow’s noise footprint have fallen around tenfold3. This is despite the fact that during the same period the number of aircraft using Heathrow each year has nearly doubled and the number of dwellings within the footprint has also increased significantly. The fall in population within each contour has continued in recent years, as the newest generation of aircraft like the A380 ‘superjumbo’ has started to enter service with airlines.
The airport adds recent research by industry-body Sustainable Aviation suggests that this trend will continue. Its Noise Road-Map suggests that by 2050 advances in aircraft technology will allow the number of flights in the UK to double without increase in aircraft noise4
- ‘A quieter Heathrow’ can be downloaded at www.heathrowairport.com/noise
- Heathrow’s commitments to reduce the impact of noise are set out in further detail in its Noise Action Plan, a document which Heathrow is required, under EU law, to publish every 5 years. The current Noise Action Plan, which was adopted by the UK Government in May 2011, can be found at http://www.heathrowairport.com/noise/what-we-do-about-it/noise-action-plan
1Adobes are igloo-like shelters constructed from bags of earth and plaster. They can accommodate approximately 30 people and their construction and shape can help reduce aircraft noise. Heathrow has recently worked with Hounslow Heath Primary School to part-fund the installation of Adobe buildings in its playground, to allow pupils to study outside, without being disturbed by aircraft noise. Heathrow is looking at how it could adopt this approach with other schools around Heathrow.
2 Department for Transport, Aviation policy framework, 22 March 2013, p.55
3Based on CAA data presented to T5 Inquiry and supplemented by ERCD Report 1201 Noise Exposure Contours for Heathrow Airport 2011. http://www.heathrowairport.com/static/Heathrow_Noise/Downloads/PDF/ERCD-Reports-1201-Noise-Exposure-Contours-for-Heathrow-Airport-2011.pdf
4Sustainable Aviation Noise Road-map, 23 April 3013.