MPs identify serious concerns about noise implications of Heathrow expansion
On the 18th December 2014, the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Heathrow and the Wider Economy launched its report ‘Noise from Heathrow Airport’ which sets out how the Government, Parliament and the Aviation Industry have seriously underestimated the impact of noise from Heathrow’s flight paths. The report considered the present and future noise impact of Heathrow’s flight paths, with the existing two runways, and with the proposed 3rd runway. It found a substantial list of gaps in HAL’s proposals and has produced a list of actions for the Government, Airport’s Commission and HAL that are necessary to tackle the existing problem and that are central to the consideration of any 3rd runway. These include the need for noise to be measured using the WHO formula; the need for full information about future flight paths, and respite periods, so residents are properly informed; proper estimates of numbers affected by noise in future, taking into account the anticipated growth in population in affected areas; and reduction in night flights. The APPG notes that HAL’s CEO has confirmed to the APPG that a successful 3rd runway would pave the way for a 4th runway.
NEW REPORT: MPs identify serious concerns about noise implications of Heathrow expansion
The Report: Heathrow-APPG-Noise-Report-18-Dec 2014
On the 18th December 2014, the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Heathrow and the Wider Economy launched its report ‘Noise from Heathrow Airport’ which sets out how the Government, Parliament and the Aviation Industry have seriously underestimated the impact of noise from Heathrow’s flight paths.
In 2015, the Airport Commission will announce its recommendation as to whether Heathrow, the largest noise polluter in Europe, should be expanded. This APPG inquiry considered the present and future noise impact of Heathrow’s flight paths, with the existing two runways, and with the third runway as proposed by Heathrow Airports Limited (HAL) to the Airports Commission.
The APPG report identifies a substantial list of gaps in HAL’s proposals and has produced a list of actions for the Government, Airport’s Commission and HAL that are necessary to tackle the existing problem and that are central to the consideration of any third runway.
1. Noise from Heathrow is still not being measured using the internationally accepted formula by the WHO, despite this being set out 15 years ago. Current noise measurements show high impact from Heathrow’s noise on local communities but measurement inadequacies lead to poor recognition of the impact. The report urges Government to begin measuring noise using the WHO formula and to provide future targets for reducing noise
reduction from Heathrow’s flight paths.
2. No information has been given about the new flight paths in the event of a third runway. Whole swathes of London will be affected for the first time by flight path noise, and residents have not been properly informed or consulted. HAL must confirm the planned flight paths for a potential third runway and the Airport’s Commission should not consider their proposal until they have done so.
3. The London Plan projects 37% population growth by 2050 and where this growth will be is central to how many people will be affected by Heathrow’s existing and the many new flight paths over London. Matching flight paths and estimated population density is highly uncertain with the potential for long-term blight over London.
4. The APG notes with concern that without a third runway, HAL has no plans to end flights between 11:00pm and 6:00am, which is when most disturbance is caused. Night flights account for less than 2% of Heathrow’s air traffic but cause a disproportionately large impact on local communities and their sleep.
5. HAL’s CEO confirmed to the APPG that a successful third runway would pave the way for a fourth runway.
6. HAL’s plans to use mixed mode runway operations will likely lead to a reduction in day time respite with some people affected by noise from all three runways.
7. HAL’s case that new technology will reduce the overall noise impact of Heathrow is based on assumptions that cannot be justified. HAL need to confirm the expected rate of aircraft noise reduction to 2025 and whether stronger incentives are needed to do this.8. The requirement of confirmation from the Airport’s Commission and the Government that all residents under existing and possible new flight paths will be consulted before the Commission gives its final recommendation in summer 2015.
Speaking about the findings of the report, the Group’s Chair, Zac Goldsmith MP said
“This inquiry looked only at one problem associated with Heathrow expansion, and has identified important gaps in the Heathrow proposals. Among other serious problems, it is completely unacceptable that we are discussing expansion of the airport without any clear information about who will be affected by the new flightpaths. Hundreds of thousands of
residents will be badly affected, and at this stage, they nothing about it. As a Cross-Party group of Parliamentarians we will be pressing for a firm response from the Government, Airport’s Commission and Heathrow itself.”
The Report: Heathrow-APPG-Noise-Report-18-Dec 2014
Members of the Group
1. Zac Goldsmith MP – Chair
2. John Randall MP – Vice Chair
3. Baroness Hamwee – Vice Chair
4. Jenny Tonge – Treasurer
5. John McDonnell MP – Secretary
6. Mary McLeod MP
7. Bob Blackman MP
8. Malcolm Rifkind MP
9. Lord Chris Holmes
10. Lord True
11. Angie Bray MP
12. John Cryer MP
13. Virendra Sharma MP
14. Andy Slaughter MP
15. Seema Malhotra MP
16. Lord Faulkner
17. Joan Walley MP
18. Kate Hoey MP
19. Baroness Jenny Jones
20. Caroline Lucas MP
21. Dan Byles MP
22. Sir Gerald Howarth MP
23. Lord Soley
The report’s Executive Summary:
The Report: Heathrow-APPG-Noise-Report-18-Dec 2014
World Health Organisation Guidelines & Noise Measurement Indicators
WHO Guideline noise levels are not measured despite existence of the Guidelines for 15
years. There has been a serious failure of policy in not translating the Guidelines into active
management of aircraft noise. There is no practical reason for not doing so.
Existing noise indicators show high impact of noise on local communities from Heathrow
flights but the measurement inadequacies lead to poor recognition of the impact.
The gap between WHO Guideline noise levels and levels measured using existing indicators can only be guessed at but it is likely to be significantly adverse.
Reducing the noise gap is likely to take time but can only begin to occur when WHO
Guideline measurements are introduced into policy and management of aircraft noise and
this should occur without further delay.
Comparison of Heathrow noise with other UK and European airports further confirms the
disproportionate impact of Heathrow.
Aircraft noise is exempt from a legal framework, such as applies for example to air pollution.
The Group concludes that this is inequitable and leads to an unfair balance between the
noise impact on local communities and the benefits of aviation in the wider economy.
A third runway under most assumptions increases the population exposed compared to
continuing with two runways. Undoubtedly the flight path changes impact the estimates
and since these have not been included in the published two runway case too much weight
should not be placed on the comparison. What is clear is that the population exposed to
Heathrow’s aircraft noise remains high through to 2050, well above the WHO Guideline
values and reduces only slowly over time.
In recent years, and with encouragement from the EU, supplementary noise indicators have
been devised to measure the several effects that noise has on people – for example, the
number and frequency of intermittent noise events of overhead aircraft. New indicators are
welcome and the Group makes further recommendations including replacement of the
existing LAEQ indicator. But these improvements should not overshadow the single main
issue that noise levels from Heathrow aircraft are far too high, however measured. This
comes back to the essential need to introduce the WHO Guidelines as the key standard
against which to measure and manage noise reduction.
Scope for Less Noisy Aircraft Fleet
Heathrow claim that the hundreds of thousands of additional flights from a potential third
runway would be quieter than the situation today. However the dramatic increase in the
number of flights into Heathrow in recent years means that although individual aircraft have
become quieter – Concorde retiring for example – the environment is one of continual
harmful noise energy.
Historically, technology significantly reduced the noise levels of aircraft but the rate of
change is a fraction of what it once was. There is now a trade-off in aircraft design between
the need to reduce noise and carbon dioxide emissions, leading to greater uncertainty
about noise reduction.
The design and timing of the introduction of new less noisy aircraft in twenty or more years
is uncertain. The Airports Commission seemingly shares our view that HAL has been over
optimistic in its forecasts, and has reduced the replacement rate in its appraisal of HAL’s
Population growth is a major factor determining the number of people exposed to aircraft
noise with estimates of London wide growth of 37% by 2050. HAL have produced estimates
of population exposed with and without population growth. For example, by 2030 the
difference could be 20%, other things being equal and excluding a third runway. The
absence of definitive flight path detail only adds to the uncertain impact of population
growth and its location.
Scope for Less Noisy Operational Procedures
HAL plans on making some operational changes even if a third runway isn’t built such as
altering the angle of descent of planes on arrival, which can reduce noise levels. The Group
welcomes this but there is insufficient information to determine the timing and overall net
effect of these changes being proposed. Some procedures are localised, others produce
adverse effects and some require investment in technical advances. It is unclear how the
proposal integrates with the re-design of London’s airspace currently underway by NATS.
The Group is concerned there may be over optimism and asks for a robust consultation to
be carried out on each proposal.
Flight Paths for a Three Runway Scenario
Adding a new runway to Heathrow will lead to 50% more flights and therefore the general
assumption is that more people will be affected by noise not only during the day, but also at
HAL have not released the definitive flight paths that would be used with a third runway and
until they do, the numbers of people affected cannot be fully estimated. What is quite clear
is that the population exposed to Heathrow’s aircraft noise remains high through to 2050,
well above the WHO Guideline values.
Regardless of whether or not a third runway is developed, it is likely that there will be a
major re-direction of Heathrow’s flight paths in the next decade or so, which would result in
huge areas of London and the Thames Valley being overflown that have never previously
been overflown on a regular basis.
Daytime Respite from Aircraft Noise
The third and southern runways would operate on mixed mode in an alternating pattern
resulting in use for approximately 12 hours a day and respite for approximately four hours a
day. The existing northern runway would retain eight hours of respite. Mixed mode
increases the overall runway capacity of the airport and in the past mixed mode has been
strongly resisted by the communities affected as has any reduction in respite. People,
depending on their location, often receive noise from more than one runway and some
could even receive noise from three runways which would interrupt respite. The sheer
number of planes makes this almost inevitable.
It was disappointing to learn that Heathrow has no plans to end night flights, even with a
third runway, and even though night flights account for less than two per cent of
Heathrow’s air traffic. Those of us with constituents who live under the flight paths are well
aware that night flights are the primary noise concern.
Reaching Capacity with Three Runways
Heathrow suffers from lack of resilience which is needed when operations do not go to plan
for example due to adverse weather. Lack of resilience has noise implications because it
tends to result in respite being interrupted and extra flights in the early morning shoulder
period and pressure to reduce the restrictions on night flights. HAL maintains that it has
built in sufficient resilience, but there remains concern that this may not be adequate and
independent confirmation is needed.
Fourth Runway and Future Predictions
HAL have confirmed that a business case is already underway for a fourth runway. All
calculations and assessments relating to expansion by one runway must take into account
the likelihood and practicalities of a fourth.
The full Report: Heathrow-APPG-Noise-Report-18-Dec 2014
The purpose of the APPG:
PURPOSE OF APPG
Members of both Houses of Parliament met on Tuesday June 10th in the House of Commons to formally establish a new All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Heathrow and the Wider Economy.
The APPG will exist to scrutinise the arguments around Heathrow expansion, and will publicly report on the findings.
The group will initially focus on three main topics; noise, surface transport and the economy.
Commenting, Zac Goldsmith MP (chair of the group) said:
‘This new group is truly cross-Party, and will be able to use the platform of Parliament to really drill into some of the claims made around Heathrow expansion. We look forward to inviting a wide range of experts to the coming Inquiry.”