Heathrow and 2M debate noise

heathrow control tower sunsetHeathrow has submitted evidence to the Airports Commission showing that the airport can increase flights while continuing to reduce the number of people affected by aircraft noise.

If government supports a third runway at Heathrow, the airport has committed to reducing aircraft noise by encouraging the world’s quietest aircraft to use Heathrow and routing aircraft higher over London. The airport has also committed to lessening noise impacts for people under flight paths by delivering periods of respite with no aircraft overhead and providing free noise insulation for people in high-noise areas.

Heathrow says it is significantly quieter than it was in the past. Since the 1970s both the area and the number of people within Heathrow’s noise footprint – the 57db noise contour – have fallen around tenfold, despite the number of flights doubling. Heathrow’s new proposals for a third runway will see noise reductions continue, say Heathrow. Even with a third runway, the measures they propose could mean that in 2030 there will be around 10-20% fewer people within Heathrow’s noise footprint than today.

Heathrow’s latest submission to the airports commission says that by the time a new runway is operational Heathrow will have phased out the noisiest aircraft, and is proposing that only quieter aircraft should receive new take-off and landing slots.

It also says the airport’s proposals for new runways include sites further to the west than the existing airport, and that every mile further west an aircraft lands means it is approximately 300 feet higher over London on its landing approach.

They also say that airspace can now be redesigned, that their new proposals maintain the principle of runway alternation, and that new free noise insulation schemes for residents will combine to make life much less noisy for people living on the flightpath.

Heathrow Sustainability Director, Matt Gorman, said: “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, around 90% fewer people are affected by noise. The evidence we have submitted to the Commission today shows it is possible to add the flights that will boost UK jobs, growth and trade whilst keeping the impact on local residents to a minimum. New aircraft technology, new flight paths and better noise insulation all have a role to play in allowing Heathrow to grow quietly.”

The effect of noise may also be overstated. Aircraft noise is not deterring people from moving into the area around Heathrow. Hounslow’s population has increased by 20% since 2001.

New Noise Study needed?

Meanwhile, the 2M Group of councils has called on the Airports Commission to order a new study of attitudes to aircraft noise.

The councils say that without an updated study the Commission could be basing recommendations on sites for new airport capacity on surveys carried out more than 30 years ago.

They put forward the ANASE study from 2007 into attitudes to aircraft noise which was rejected by the last Government, while suggesting a brand new study is needed.

Wandsworth leader Ravi Govindia said: “The problem with the noise measure produced by the original 1980s study is that it does not bear any relation to real-life experience.

“It is difficult for a measure to command public confidence when it effectively tells people living in places like Barnes, Fulham, Putney, Ealing, Chelsea, Stockwell and Windsor that they are not affected by noise because they live outside the 57 decibel area around Heathrow.”

Hillingdon leader Ray Puddifoot said: “We took the decision to invite the ANASE team to address the concerns expressed about their work at the time. We believe the updated study is an important body of evidence which we are happy to make available to the Davies Commission.”

Hounslow deputy leader Colin Ellar said: “Experience from abroad shows that other airports close to major cities have to accept night curfews – we urge the commission to ensure that the cost of introducing a night curfew at Heathrow is included as part of the decision making process for where any additional capacity can be provided.”

The councils are calling for a new social survey of community attitudes to aircraft noise which they say could provide a “rational basis for assessments on future capacity”.

While unrelated to business and economic development, the subject of noise and how it is measured is an important battleground in the aviation debate. The councils maintain that their ‘social survey’ based on how people feel about noise will be a better measure than the empirical measurement of noise levels against a 57db contour deemed acceptable, which is favoured by the airport.

What is also true is that population around Heathrow continues to grow, airport noise is not a deterrent to people moving in to the area. The motivation of finding work, which an expanding airport provides better than many things, is more powerful than worries over noise it seems.

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