European Parliament begins scrutiny of EU airport noise rules
In December, the EC presented its ” Better Airports” legislation package, which it said is “a comprehensive package of measures to help increase the capacity of Europe’s airports, reduce delays and improve the quality of services offered to passengers”. The European Parliament will soon start scrutinising the draft regulation. The Airports Package aims to replace the airports noise directive with regulations and generally water down protection for residents. But the MEP in charge of the dossier and steering the noise regulations through the Parliament appears sceptical about the Commission’s motives. On noise, he feels the Commission has put economic considerations above all else when drafting the regulation, which is not acceptable. The regulation is aiming to have fewer restrictions on airports, so their growth is not jeopardised. There are hopes of banning the noisiest planes, and decide on a timetable following a “cost effectiveness assessment”. The worry is that noise reduction that has economic costs will be opposed.
European Commission plans to ease noise restriction measures around airports have been met with scepticism by the MEP (Jörg Leichtfried) in charge of the dossier in Parliament, who believes the EU executive is placing economic considerations above citizen’s concerns.
The European Commission wants to end the “many inconsistencies” as to how noise restriction measures are put in place across the EU, saying they may hinder the development of extra capacity in the bloc’s already crowded airports.
“Decisions on cutting noise levels have to balance protection for citizens living close to airports against the needs of those who wish to travel,” the EU Executive said in December (see below) when it presented its so-called ‘Better Airports’ legislation package.
The package included a new EU regulation that seeks to bring more transparency in decisions over noise restriction measures, in line with guidelines developed by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).
“Residents are entitled to be protected from excess noise from airports but it is necessary to take into account costs in terms of lost capacity and the impact on economic growth in a region,” the Commission argued.
Together with more flexible airport slots and ground-handling rules, the EU executive hopes to unleash the development of Europe’s airports, bringing €5 billion to the European economy and creating up to 62,000 jobs by 2025.
Easing noise restrictions around airports
The European Parliament will soon start scrutinising the draft regulation. But the MEP in charge of the dossier appears sceptical about the Commission’s motives.
“I think the motivation behind this regulation is to … have fewer restrictions than there are now. I think that is the real intention of the Commission,” said Jörg Leichtfried, a socialist MEP from Austria who is in charge of steering the draft noise regulation through Parliament.
According to Leichtfried, the Commission has put economic considerations above all else when drafting the regulation, an objective he does not adhere to. “Costs that are raised by noise restrictions – that shouldn’t be the question,” he said.
“I do not think personally [that there are too many restrictions in place],” he told EurActiv.
Increasing the transparency of the process
The EU executive, for its part, claims it wants to bring more transparency to the decision-making process and avoid noise restrictions measures that are “inconsistent” with other objectives – such as flight safety or the environment.
“This is not about targets, but about the decision-making process,” the Commission says.
One key aspect of the new regulation is that it forces decision-makers to be independent from any stakeholder. “Airports would no longer be allowed to take decisions on operating restrictions,” said Helen Kearns, spokesperson on transport issues at the European Commission.
In addition, “the consultation of citizens living around airports would become mandatory” she told EurActiv, while local residents would have to be kept “regularly informed on progress of noise mitigating measures”.
At the end of the day, national authorities will still be able to place restrictions on flights if they want. According to the the EU executive, the new regulation, “gives the Commission a scrutiny role – it does not replace a member state’s final decision.”
Jörg Leichtfried agrees and says few MEPs are in favour of giving the Commission a power of veto over national decisions anyway. “I did not hear an argument in favour of such a right for the Commission,” he said.
Phasing out the noisiest planes
On the other hand, Leichtfried says the regulation might end up banning the noisiest aircraft. “That could be an outcome that is acceptable, yes.”
Indeed, airport authorities will be allowed to phase out more easily the very noisiest aircraft under the Commission’s draft – and decide on a timetable following a “cost effectiveness assessment”.
Leichtfried believes the intention is to ensure that eventually only the quietest engines are allowed – the so-called called ‘Type 4’ ones, an outcome, which he said was “acceptable”.
“But the devil is in the details,” he cautioned, saying a phase out with a timetable might be a good idea. According the Commission’s draft, any phaseout would have to be spread over five years minimum.
Moreover, Leichtfried indicated that there seemed to be little appetite for a radical change of existing rules, which he said were “quite satisfying” overall. “A lot of colleagues” in Parliament believe there is no need for changing the existing directive, he told EurActiv.
It is likely that, unless the proposals are agreed by the end of the Danish Presidency of the EU (which comes to an end in June), they will not happen as it is thought the following Presidency (Cyprus and Malta) will not push them.
The Transport and Tourism Committee – the key Committee on this – are meeting on 8th May.
Europe’s Airports 2030: Challenges Ahead
Section 3: Noise
The current system
Noise-related operating restrictions are put in place by Member States at most large European airports. Restrictions protect people living near airports from the effects of aircraft noise and form part of a wider noise-abatement strategy, which has four principal elements. Those elements are: reduction at source (quieter aircraft); land-use planning and management; noise abatement operational procedures (e.g. avoiding overflight of a specific area); and operating restrictions (e.g. bans on flights during the night). As these measures may reduce the available capacity at airports and also impact non-EU airlines, the decision-making process must follow international principles on noise management (the balanced approach established by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)).
The current rules
Under Directive 2002/30, Member States are obliged to ensure that decisions on noise-related operating restrictions carefully balance the need for noise protection for residents near an airport against the possible impact of such restrictions on air traffic. The process to be followed, including noise assessments, must properly assess the proportionality, cost-efficiency and transparency of noise-related operating restrictions.
What is the problem?
There are still many inconsistencies as to how such restrictions are put in place around Europe. In some cases, noise restrictions may not be compatible with the safest operational conditions for the operation of flights into an airport. There may be an excessive impact on the capacity of an airport due to noise restrictions, which can in turn have a knock-on effect at other airports. Noise restrictions can also have other environmental impacts such as additional holding patterns which may be required for incoming aircraft. Noise restrictions may also encourage further residential development near the airport which should be kept clear in order to reduce the noise impact of airport operations. Lastly, from a procedural point of view, there is often a tendency for noise restrictions to become ‘cast in stone’ without review, meaning that new operational techniques, technological solutions or aircraft technology cannot easily be deployed.
The new proposals
The proposals aim to improve the procedures used to establish noise-related operating restrictions at EU airports, in order to improve clarity and transparency and better reflect the ‘balanced approach’. This will create a common European approach to setting restrictions. The objective is to improve the way that restrictions are put in place rather then to call into question the legitimate need to protect residents from excess airport noise.
The new proposals will:
- Allow airport authorities to phase out more easily the very noisiest aircraft which can account for a disproportionate amount of noise nuisance. This means reviewing the outdated definition of marginally compliant aircraft to take account of developments in technology.
- Give the Commission a scrutiny role, ex ante, on new noise measures, with a view to ensuring a consistency of approach across Europe. The proposals are not about noise target setting, but about the procedures prior to decisions. The aim is to ensure that restrictions on noise must be justified, in a transparent way and are evidence-driven, and follow “the balanced approach” agreed by the UN- body responsible at international level (ICAO, International Civil Aviation Organisation). This is however only a review right for the Commission, it will not substitute for a Member State decision.
- Include practical steps to support the implementation of measures, including: the clarification of the links between noise measures and airport management;the improvement of noise mapping and administrative support to ensure the efficient use of the European airspace;
The proposals should allow airports to ‘decouple’ the growth in air traffic from the level of noise nuisance suffered by local residents, allowing improved noise protection at the same time as preserving growth and the economic contribution which it makes.
(which contains much more information, on a range of subjects).
Back in December 2011, John Stewart did a brief analysis of the EC package, and what it actually means:
European Commission’s “Better Airport’s” Package
This package is disappointing. It does very little for residents. Its main aim is to find ways to enable more planes to use Europe’s airports.
Its starting point is that “if no action it taken, by 2030 19 European airports will be operating at full capacity all day, every day, and an estimated 10% of demand will go unmet through lack of airport capacity”.
It, therefore, wants to find ways of making airports more efficient so that they can handle more planes. The Commission has identified a number of ways in which this can be done:
At present it is quite difficult for airlines to sell slots. This means that airlines often operate planes that are fairly empty simply to keep their slot. The Commission is proposing to make it easier to sell slots to other airlines.
The Commission has found that 70% of flight delays are caused by problems on the ground, not in the air. Therefore, it has come up with a number of proposals to make operations on the ground – known as ‘ground-handling’ – more efficient.
The Commission recognizes that, if these measures are effective, it will enable more planes to use Europe’s airports and that this will mean increased noise levels for residents. Therefore, it is proposing some measures which would reduce noise:
- It will make it easier for airports to phase out the noisiest aircraft
- It is suggesting that the Commission is given a role to scrutinize noise procedures at airports. It wants to see consistency acrossEurope. It wants to see decisions about noise taken in a transparent way, with residents properly informed. It also wants decisions about noise to be based on factual evidence. But it goes into very little detail about this. And it stresses that the interests of residents must be ‘balanced’ against the interests of passengers and of the aviation industry.
The Commission is proposing that Directive 2002/30/EC be repealed and be replaced by the proposals in the “Better Airports” Package. This, though, would not form a new directive. They would simply be rules and procedures.
The Commission’s proposals must be approved by the European Parliament and member state governments under what is known as the “co-decision” procedure, before being adopted.
These proposals to find ways to increase the number of planes using Europe’s airports are in not in the interest of residents. Nor will they help to reduce C02 (climate change) emissions.
The proposal about slots is very weak. Slots could be the key to reducing the number of aircraft using busy airports. If slots were auctioned, governments could control the number of slots available at an airport and could raise money from the auction.
The proposals specifically rule out noise targets for airports.
The proposal which may be useful to residents is the plan by the Commission to ensure that decisions about noise procedures at airports are taken in a transparent way, with residents properly informed.
The only advantages in these proposals for people affected by aircraft noise are that it will a little easier for airports to phase out the very noisiest aircraft and that airports might be forced to consult with residents in a more open and transparent way.
But the proposals, as a whole, are not good for people affected by plane noise. It is going to be difficult, though, to persuade most national governments or most Members of the European Parliament to reject them because the European Commission is “selling” them as improving efficiency.
On the Noise section of the EU “Better Airports” package, groups across Europe concerned about aircraft noise are encouraged to write to the European Commission, along the following lines :
The Key Points
1. We welcome the Commission’s proposal to make it easier to phase out the noisiest aircraft currently using European airports. However, this does not offer sufficient opportunity to protect residents.
2. Directive 2002/30/EC needs to be retained and strengthened. It should include noise targets which airports are required to meet. These targets should be based on the guidelines produced by the World Health Organisation. There should be a date by which these targets should be met. It should follow the pattern of the Air Quality Directive which set legal limits to be met by 2010. We recognise that it will take some years for the World Health Organisation noise guidelines to be met but without a target date there is no incentive for the aviation industry to significantly reduce the noise it creates.
3. The aim of the Commission’s proposals – to make full use of capacity at Europe’s airports – is in conflict with the needs of residents. It is the very large number of aircraft already usingEurope’s airports that causes the real problem for most residents. We recommend an annual cap is placed on the total number of flights permitted to use each ofEurope’s airports. This should be combined with an accelerated and large-scale transfer of short-haul flights within Europe to high speed trains. Such a transition would result in sufficient slots being freed up to accommodate any growth of aviation demand for many years.
4. Night flights are a particular problem for local communities. The regulations should require airports and airlines to justify the reason why they need to have night flights. Night flights should only be allowed if the airport and the airlines are able to prove that they are essential. They need to be able to show, for example, that the flights cannot arrive to leave during the day.
5. The Commission’s proposal on slots is a missed opportunity to control the number of aircraft using Europe’s airports. Slot auctioning would provide such an opportunity. It would be a mechanism member states could use to limit the number of aircraft using an airport. It would also raise a considerable amount of money for the member states.
6. The Commission’s proposal that it wants to see decisions about noise taken in a transparent way, with residents properly informed, is welcomed in principle, but it is too vague. The population surrounding airports and under flight paths need to be given the status of “interested” parties in a retained and strengthened Directive 2002/30/EC in order to guarantee them a voice in decisions related to noise. In particular, residents should have a right to be involved in decisions about changes to flight paths, operational procedures and an increase in the number of flights using a particular flight path.