Gatwick gets a study done, showing (surprise!) that another Heathrow runway would be very noisy …

Gatwick has produced yet another study, hoping to enhance its runway chances.  It looks at the amount of noise that a 3rd Heathrow runway would – undeniably – bring. Gatwick hopes to show that far more people would be affected by a Heathrow runway than by a Gatwick runway, which is true if  just the number of homes over-flown is considered. The study somewhat backfires on Gatwick, as it shows clearly just how much noise and environmental damage is done by an airport with two runways (which is what Gatwick is lobbying for).  Having found, from their own consultation locally there is very little support for a new runway, Gatwick has taken to getting surveys done of Londoners, who (surprise, surprise) would prefer not to have yet more noise misery from Heathrow. Gatwick appears to completely ignore the very real issue that aircraft noise, in rural or semi-rural areas with low ambient noise, needs to be considered differently. There are separate noise standards for rural places, with noise being regarded as intrusive about 10dB lower. This is predictably just a very self-serving study, ignoring any inconvenient facts for Gatwick.


Gatwick’s report “Gatwick Airport’s Assessment of Heathrow North-West Runway: Air Noise” – July 2014 


Gatwick Airport’s PR says: “Londoners say environment is key to airport expansion debate, as new report highlights Heathrow’s noise impact”

3 November 2014  (Gatwick Airport press release)

  • New poll shows environmental impact as important as economic benefits of a new runway
  • Londoners continue to choose Gatwick over Heathrow for expansion
  • Research shows 487 schools would be affected by Heathrow expansion – more than 10 times number affected by two runway Gatwick

As the Airports Commission prepares to launch its public consultation on airport expansion, [maybe starting next week ?? … it has been delayed…] a new YouGov poll [carried out in September] has revealed that a majority of Londoners say the impact on the local environment is as important as the economic benefits a new runway would bring.

More than half of Londoners (55%) polled said that aircraft noise and fumes are among the most important factors to consider when choosing which airport to expand, equivalent to the number (56%) who said economic benefits were important.

The results highlight the careful balance between economic benefit and environmental impact that any decision over airport expansion must strike.

An expanded Gatwick would generate £90 billion of economic benefit at an environmental cost that can be afforded, because:

  • Gatwick has never breached UK or EU air quality guidelines because it is located in a largely rural, sparsely populated area, and also has one of the cleanest aircraft fleets in Europe. This means Gatwick would still operate within legal air quality limits with a second runway
  • The number of people most impacted by noise at Gatwick with a second runway would be just 5 per cent (37,000) of the people affected at Heathrow today (725,000) – an airport that impacts more people than all major European airports combined [Gatwick figure is 42,800 in Gatwick’s own document – page 31/39 Table 8 – and 48,000 if around 5,000 new homes being built in Crawley are included].

The results come as Gatwick publishes a new report on the noise impacts a third runway at Heathrow would have on schools, hospitals and places of worship across London and the South East. Gatwick commissioned the report to assess the noise impact of Heathrow’s third runway plans compared to Gatwick’s own proposal for a second runway.

The report outlines that:

  • By 2040, a total of 819 schools, hospitals and places of worship would be adversely affected by noise if Heathrow were to expand – nearly double the 421 affected today
  • Noise from Heathrow already affects 261 schools – a Heathrow third runway would nearly double the number affected to 487 schools by 2040
  • Gatwick’s separate analysis submitted to the Airports Commission has already concluded that if a second runway were built at Gatwick, noise would affect 33 schools in the local area by 2040 –ten times fewer than Heathrow’s expansion plans

Stewart Wingate, Gatwick CEO, said:

“Our expansion plans strike the right balance between delivering the extra airport capacity the UK needs, while taking the right steps to protect the environment.

“We have always recognised that expansion should not come at an unacceptable cost to the environment. We have an industry-leading environmental record and, unlike Heathrow, have met air quality standards for more than a decade.

“We would still operate within these standards with a second runway and we would also pay £1,000 annually to residents most affected by noise, something Heathrow cannot begin to do because so many people live under its flight path.

“An expanded Gatwick would deliver more competition, more flights and lower fares at an environmental cost the UK can afford.”

The YouGov poll also shows that nearly half of Londoners (46%) continue to think Gatwick should be expanded when given a straight choice between airports, compared to 37% who selected Heathrow.

More than half of Londoners (53%) also said that disruption to the M25 was an important issue to them – the motorway would be tunnelled under if Heathrow built a new runway.

Similarly, more than half (52%) said that congestion charging airport was an important issue.

If it built a new runway, it is predicted that Heathrow could only begin to meet air quality standards if there was no more airport-related road traffic than there is today. This is why Heathrow has been forced into proposing a pollution-limiting congestion charge which could see people paying £40 just to drop friends and family off at the airport.

Notes to Editors

The research was commissioned by Gatwick and carried out by YouGov – full results are available on YouGov’s website.

Total sample size was 1,007 adults across the 32 boroughs of Greater London. Fieldwork was undertaken between 17th and 21st October. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of London adults (aged 18+).

Unfortunately Gatwick do not appear to have yet issued the Appendices which outline what flight route assumptions they have used – but reading the text of the report indicates that they have not bothered with the multiple options (reducing total noise, reducing noise affecting those newly overflown and maximising respite) that the Heathrow report tempts us with and it seems doubtful that they have attempted to model the curved landing approaches etc.


Different noise perception in areas affected by Heathrow, and those affected by Gatwick – due to quiet, rural or semi-rural locations

Whereas in an urban area, with constant low level noise from vehicles and other human activity, the background noise may be at 50 decibels or more, routinely. Compared to a country area, with only natural wildlife sounds, the background level there might be only, say, 30 decibels. Therefore when there is aircraft noise overhead, it is perceived as far more noisy and intrusive, when the difference from the background noise is greater.
In a noisy city, with cars and trucks, emergency vehicles, air conditioning units, music, car radios etc, a plane flying overhead adding to the noise may hardly be noticed.
It is very different in a small village, or in a semi-rural area – where every plane is more noticeable. Therefore, it has long been acknowledged that the sound level at which disturbance or annoyance is caused is different between rural and urban locations, and the level of disturbance has to be assessed differently.
If noise levels that are 10 decibels are considered, taking account of the more rural surroundings of Gatwick, in order to do a fair comparison with the noise at Heathrow, the figures given by Gatwick are dramatically underestimated.
ISO standards for community noise rural and urban
For details, and more information on this, see