Airports Commission interim report recommends setting up an Independent Aviation Noise Authority
The Airports Commission’s Interim Statement on 17th December, advocating runways at Heathrow and Gatwick, also said it also recommended: “The creation of an Independent Aviation Noise Authority to provide expert and impartial advice about the noise impacts of aviation and facilitate the delivery of future improvements to airspace operations.” The Commission says that decisions made by the DfT or the CAA at present, and they are often seen not to be fair, and to be driven by political considerations and that the CAA is beholden to the industry that provides its funding. An independent body might over come this. The Commission says: “An independent, national authority with a credible and authoritative voice on noise issues could be of significant value. ….It could also act as a statutory consultee on other noise related issues, including involvement in planning inquiries which would have implications for populations affected by aircraft noise…..The authority could also play a role in the delivery of longer-term plans for additional airport capacity. ….should include responsibilities for advising the Secretary of State for Transport and the CAA in respect of appropriate noise compensation schemes.” The establishment of the Independent Aircraft Noise Authority would require primary legislation; setting it up will take time. Meanwhile there is work on noise to be done.
PDF, 4.41MB, 228 pages
The Airports Commission’s interim statement is at https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/271231/airports-commission-interim-report.pdf
The Commission recommends (among many other things):
“The creation of an Independent Aviation Noise Authority to provide expert and
impartial advice about the noise impacts of aviation and facilitate the delivery of
future improvements to airspace operations.”
Independent Aviation Noise Authority
The governance changes outlined above are necessary but not sufficient to deliver
the Optimisation Strategy. NPRs [Noise Preferential Routes – which were designed in the 1960s to avoid overflying built up areas where possible] have not changed for many decades, despite the significant population shifts that have taken place in the interim. Similarly, previous attempts to restructure London’s airspace have failed. This is not only a problem in terms of optimising the current system. It also suggests the scale of the challenge that exists in delivering the airspace change to support any longer-term options to provide new capacity.
A lack of trust between the aviation industry and local communities has played a
large role in creating this impasse. If this situation is to change, then it is vital that
any decisions made are recognised as impartial and evidence based, with the
needs of all parties appropriately balanced.
In many cases, where decisions are made in respect of aircraft noise, the ultimate
power rests either with the Secretary of State for Transport or the CAA. However
objective either party is in its behaviour, a perception will always persist that the
decisions of the former are driven by political considerations and that the latter is
beholden to the industry that provides its funding. These perceptions may be unfair,
but they persist.
An independent body with a statutory duty to provide advice and make
recommendations on an impartial basis, drawing on the latest evidence, could play
an important role.
The Commission’s Aviation Noise Discussion Paper sought views on establishing an
Independent Aviation Noise Authority. Respondents argued both for and against
this idea. Those against noted that many of the powers and responsibilities that
might be associated with the role already reside with one or other regulatory body,
including the CAA and the Secretary of State for Transport.
Other respondents saw merit in establishing an independent authority. They cited
mistrust amongst local communities in relation to the fairness and transparency of
current arrangements for reporting aircraft noise, and for the recording and handling
of complaints from members of the public. Separately, bodies involved in delivering
the FAS and LAMP noted the difficulties arising from the political clearances
required for changes to NPRs and noted that an independent body with a role in
providing advice could provide a means of overcoming them.
Independent bodies of this kind have been established in a number of countries.
In Australia, complaints and enquiries about aircraft noise and operations from any
airport in the country are submitted to the national body ‘Airservices Australia’,
which processes this data through its Noise Complaints and Information Service
(NCIS). NCIS reports are published quarterly, and the data is used to identify
systemic problems, and to provide guidance for government in developing
aviation policy. As a result of this interface, NCIS is well placed to:
●● explain aircraft movements and flight paths to the public (primarily through
WebTrak, an online system displaying information about where and how high
aircraft fly over metropolitan areas);
●● provide a one-stop shop for aviation noise information to the public, for example
airport curfew arrangements, air traffic control arrangements and information on
monitoring and noise abatement technologies;
●● work with other aviation industry stakeholders to resolve issues raised; and,
●● consider possible changes to air traffic management and advise if they are not
possible, or refer them for further investigation.
NCIS also undertakes systematic monitoring of aircraft noise, collecting data from
every aircraft travelling to or from the country’s eight largest airports. In the UK,
some of the larger airports have replicated some of these functions on a voluntary
The French Noise Regulator, ACNUSA, undertakes a similar noise monitoring
program. In addition, ACNUSA has the power to fine airlines which fail to comply
with noise regulations.
An independent, national authority with a credible and authoritative voice on noise
issues could be of significant value. It could provide comprehensive advice on
changes to NPRs, addressing some of the concerns described above in relation to
the political obstacles to the delivery of FAS and LAMP. It could also act as a
statutory consultee on other noise related issues, including involvement in planning
inquiries which would have implications for populations affected by aircraft noise.
Government and the regulator could be required to seek the authority’s views on
issues with implications for aircraft noise and, should either party decide not to act
upon its recommendations, they could be required to publish in full the reasons for
The authority could also play a role in the delivery of longer-term plans for additional
airport capacity. It could put a framework in place governing aircraft noise at sites
affected by expansion and monitor the delivery and operation of the infrastructure
and its associated airspace to ensure that it remained in compliance with this
In addition, an Independent Aviation Noise Authority could be well-placed to
undertake consistent and regular surveying of attitudes to aviation noise, including
its impacts on health and well-being. The response to the Commission’s discussion
paper, from all sides of the industry, showed that further research into these effects
is desirable and necessary. In particular, responses identified the need for regular
surveying of attitudes over time (annual or bi-annual data collection), rather than
sporadic and occasional surveying. The CAA noted that noise modelling has
improved to such an extent that noise and annoyance studies could now be plotted
with a greater degree of specificity than ever before.
The Authority could also have a broader role in leading research on aviation noise
issues, although the time taken to establish such a body should not be a reason for
Government or the industry to delay taking forward research more quickly where
that would be of value. The Commission notes that respondents to its noise paper
made some suggestions for further research priorities.
The Independent Aviation Noise Authority could also collect and publish information
on airports’ and airlines’ progress on noise issues, giving it the ability to ‘name and
shame’ the worst performers.
There is potential for airports to be subject to ‘double jeopardy’ should the Noise
Authority have direct licensing and enforcement powers. Accordingly, the primary
function of the Authority should be provision of accurate, impartial and published
advice to those with whom formal decision making and enforcement powers rest.
Where such parties departed from the advice provided, they could be required to
explain their reasons for doing so.
The Commission therefore recommends that an independent body be established
with a duty to provide statutory advice to the Government and CAA on issues
relating to aircraft noise. The Government and the CAA should be required to
publish their reasoning in any cases where their decisions diverge from the advice
provided by the body.
Specifically, the body could:
●● Provide statutory advice to the Secretary of State for Transport regarding
proposed changes to Noise Preferential Routes.
●● Provide statutory advice to the Secretary of State for Transport and the CAA in
respect of the proper structure for noise compensation schemes.
●● Provide statutory input to planning inquiries relating to airport infrastructure in
respect of the appropriate controls that should apply in respect of aircraft noise.
●● Work with the developers and operators of any new airport capacity, as well as
communities affected by the development to define a noise envelope to create a
balance between aviation growth and noise control.
●● Conduct research into the best means of monitoring and reporting aircraft noise,
as well as its association with annoyance and impacts upon human health and
their possible mitigation.
●● Publish comparative assessments of airlines’ performance in reducing their noise
●● Act as a statutory consultee in planning applications with respect to airport
infrastructure or housing developments which would have an effect upon the
population affected by airport noise.
●● Mediate by request between airports and their local communities in disputes
relating to noise monitoring, the functioning of airports’ advisory committees,
and airports’ compliance with their noise action plans and, where appropriate,
advising the CAA in respect of potential breaches of noise regulations.
The establishment of the Independent Aircraft Noise Authority would require primary
legislation. In the meantime, industry should not wait for the establishment of this
body before beginning the process of implementing the Optimisation Strategy or
progressing the delivery of the FAS. [The CAA led Future Airspace Strategy ].
In the second category of options, those relating to planning and compensation
against noise, the Commission received a range of proposals suggesting that noise
compensation arrangements should be reviewed alongside consideration of the
proposals for new runway capacity. Representations were also received indicating
that there were no effective land use policies applied to the areas around Heathrow,
Gatwick and Stansted, and that whilst the aviation industry was delivering quieter
aircraft and the size of the 57LAeq contour around airports affected by noise is
reducing, new domestic dwellings are continuing to be built therefore increasing the
size of the population within the noise affected area.
Both these issues are important. The role of the proposed Independent Aviation
Noise Authority should include responsibilities for advising the Secretary of State for
Transport and the CAA in respect of appropriate noise compensation schemes.
This body would also have a statutory role in providing input to planning inquiries
relating to new housing developments in the vicinity of existing airports. The
Commission expects to consider these issues further in the next phase of its work.