Government “policy” on aviation noise

We use “policy” in quotes advisedly, because although there is the appearance of a policy on aviation noise, it is written in doublespeak and means nothing because the terms it uses are ambiguous and undefined. Naturally, this serves the industry very nicely because it can run rings around constraints. And naturally it serves politicians nicely too, because they can claim to have a policy when people ask. How can so few words look so meaningful yet deliver so little benefit? A Civil Service par excellence.

In the Government’s Aviation Policy Framework, the core policy so carefully crafted to dodge the issue states the aim is “to limit, and where possible, reduce the number of people in the UK significantly affected by aircraft noise.

What’s wrong with that?

Firstly, it fails to make clear what is meant by “aircraft nose”. As our page on Aircraft Noise explains, there are a number of ways such noise can be measured and reported, since there are a number of annoyances: peak loudness, number of intrusive noise events, when and how often the events occur, average noise footprint over a period of time.

Secondly, the policy does not say what “significantly affected” means. In the centre of a busy, noisy city the noise of a passing aircraft will be noticed far less than in a quieter rural environment – and in either case will be noticed more by night than by day. Or do they mean affected in health terms – if so how is this to be determined?

Thirdly, is the reduction of the number of people so affected to be achieved by planning decisions which prefer flying over villages to flying over towns? Or does it imply (heaven forbid!) that the number of flights will be reduced to a point where less people are “significantly affected”?

And finally, what does this have to say about respite, where planes use different flight tracks on different days of the week for example, to bring relief to those who would otherwise be affected every day. Doing so may in some cases be regarded as beneficial, but has the effect of increasing the number of people affected overall. So is that against policy?

LADACAN attended a series workshop sessions at the DfT during the summer of 2018 to help point up the shortcomings in the current policy and bring pressure to bear for a more coherent articulation of what the government seeks to achieve, and how progress will be measured. A consultation based on a Green Paper draft Aviation Strategy was conducted in Spring 2019 with a view to a White Paper in the Autumn. This was delayed by the publication of advice from the Committee on Climate Change that aviation expansion aspirations had to be more than halved in order to meet net zero targets by 2050. The revised Strategy is still awaited…

This is why the work of organisations such as LADACAN is so vital – please consider joining to support us with some time, talent and perhaps a little financial help. See the About page for more details. And to find out more about Luton Airport’s disgraceful bad-neighbour track record, see our Noise breach page.