Noise, flight paths and health

Aircraft noise and public health: the evidence is loud and clear

Date:  January 2016

Author:  Aviation Environment Federation (AEF)

Length:  57 pages

Summary:  The report has identified that the Government’s aircraft noise policies are risking the health of over one million people and an urgent policy rethink is needed ahead of runway decisions in 2016. Aircraft noise is associated with increased risk of increased blood pressure, and higher risk of heart attack, heart disease and stroke. Health is also detrimentally affected through sleep disturbance and annoyance. Aircraft noise impedes the memory and learning ability of school children. The UK’s aircraft noise policy has not been updated in line with this mounting evidence base, with some noise policies based on studies dating back to the early 1980s. The Government’s lack of response to emerging evidence on noise may be costing the UK £540 million each year.The noise problem is particularly acute at Heathrow, including many affected schools, but there are serious problems at many other airports too. The health burden is not just experienced close to airports, with high levels of noise miles from the runway. The current policy on flight paths does not consider the impact of sudden changes, or the health impacts of newly affected communities. The report calls for the Government to act now to reduce the health burden from aircraft noise. Long-term noise targets are needed to protect health, and all noise policies should be reviewed in the light of these targets. A new runway should only be permitted if the noise burdens are reduced.

Link: Full report



House of Commons Standard Note:  “Aviation: noise pollution”

Date: June 2014

Author:  Louise Butcher, House of Commons

Summary:     The House of Commons Library has put out a “Standard Note” on “Aviation: Noise pollution.” This recognises that “aviation noise is a source of constant annoyance to those who live under airport flight paths and for those subject to lower levels of disturbance caused by low flying smaller aircraft and helicopters. This form of noise pollution is explicitly excluded from general noise nuisance legislation.” It sets out the general scale of the problem and how this is measured and mapped.  It goes on to say: “Arguably the easiest way to reduce noise impacts from aviation is to close or at least restrict the growth of airports.” It recognises that there is a fundamental conflict between increasing aviation capacity and limiting or reducing noise impacts; greater numbers of flights outweighs slight improvements in noise per plane. While Sustainable Aviation (funded by the aviation industry) hopes aviation can grow with no increase in noise (!?) the note says: “the Aviation Environment Federation, an NGO supported by environmental groups, argued that expansion schemes should meet stringent noise criteria in order to be approved.”




Penn Medicine researchers show how lost sleep might lead to lost brain neurons

March 24, 2014

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine have found evidence that not getting enough sleep does actual harm to the brain. Instead of the usual solution of inadequate sleep, of trying to catch up on the hours when time permits, the Penn Medicine research indicates that chronic sleep loss may be more serious than previously thought and may even lead to irreversible physical damage to and loss of brain cells. It seems extended wakefulness is linked to injury to, and loss of, neurons that are essential for alertness and optimal cognition, the locus coeruleus (LC) neurons. There is a change in a protein linked to mitochondrial energy production in the cells. The research is published in the prestigious Journal of Neuroscience. The research so far is in mice, and involved normal rest, short wakefulness, or extended wakefulness. In humans there is some earlier evidence that attention span and several other aspects of cognition may not normalize even with 3 days of recovery sleep, after sleep deprivation, raising the question of lasting injury in the brain. Researchers say more work needs to be done to establish whether a similar phenomenon occurs in humans and to determine what durations of wakefulness place individuals at risk of neural injury.     Click here to view full story…

The Journal of Neuroscience    March 19, 2014 • Volume 34 Number 12 •    4418  “Extended Wakefulness: Compromised Metabolics in and Degeneration of Locus”

Ceruleus Neurons



Title: “Aircraft noise and cardiovascular disease near Heathrow airport in London: small area study”

Date: October 2013

Author:  Researchers from Imperial College and King’s College, London – published in the BMJ (British Medical Journal)

Summary:  The research compared on day- and night-time aircraft noise with hospital admissions and mortality rates among a population of 3.6 million people living near Heathrow airport. Their study covered 12 London boroughs and 9 districts outside London where aircraft noise exceeds 50 decibels. The study’s conclusion says the results suggest that high levels of aircraft noise are associated with an increased risk of stroke, coronary heart disease, and cardiovascular disease. As well as the possibility of causal associations, alternative explanations should be considered.  Further work to understand better the possible health effects of aircraft noise is needed, including studies clarifying the relative importance of night time compared with daytime noise, as this may affect policy response.

Link: Research on Heathrow Airport noise from BMJ Oct 2013  and



Title:  Residential exposure to aircraft noise and hospital admissions for cardiovascular diseases: multi-airport retrospective study

Date: October 2013

Author:  Researchers from Harvard School of Public Health, Boston. Published in the BMJ.

Summary:  The study’s conclusion says:  We found that aircraft noise, particularly characterized by the 90th centile of noise exposure among census blocks within zip codes, is statistically significantly associated with higher relative rate of hospitalization for cardiovascular disease among older people residing near airports. This relation remained after controlling for individual data, zip code level socioeconomic status and demographics, air pollution, and roadway proximity variables. Our results provide evidence of a statistically significant association between exposure to aircraft noise and cardiovascular health, particularly at higher exposure levels.


Title:  “A Summer of Noise – a snap-shot of the impact of aircraft noise on Londoners… in their own words”

Date: September 2013

Author:  HACAN

Summary:  A collection of some of the despairing emails that Hacan has received, over the summer. There are always more complaints about aircraft noise in summer than in winter, as people spend more time outside. There is also more stress caused by night flight noise, as on warm nights, people want to sleep with the windows open. The sad, despairing and angry emails show noise is a real issue for very many people, and night noise from aircraft remains a big concern. It also emerges that in very hot weather it is slightly more difficult for planes to take off (the air is a bit less dense, so the engine has to work harder) and this means that some areas get more noise. It is also clear that the cluster of complaints from particular areas may reflect the fact that some flight paths seem to be becoming more concentrated.

Link “A Summer of Noise – a snap-shot of the impact of aircraft noise on Londoners… in their own words”

Title:  Effect of night-time aircraft noise exposure on endothelial function and stress hormone release in healthy adults

Date: June 2013

Author: Department of Cardiology at the University Medical Center Mainz, Germany

Summary:    In healthy adults, acute night-time aircraft noise exposure dose-dependently impairs endothelial function and stimulates adrenaline release. Noise-induced ED (endothelial dysfunction) may be in part due to increased production in reactive oxygen species and may thus be one mechanism contributing to the observed association of chronic noise exposure with cardiovascular disease. … In a group of young and healthy volunteers, we found evidence for significant impairment of endothelial function after only one night of aircraft noise exposure with 60 noise events. ….Since the present studies demonstrate adverse effects of endothelial function and stress hormones in healthy adults, the implications for patients with known cardiovascular disease will need to be tested in further studies.

Link:  In European Heart Journal



German research finds fine particle air pollution and noise pollution both increase cardiovascular risk

May 21, 2013

Both fine-particle air pollution and noise pollution may increase a person’s risk of developing cardiovascular disease, according to German researchers who have conducted a large population study, in which both factors were considered simultaneously. Other studies have looked at fine particle air pollution, while others have looked at noise pollution but this one looked at both at the same time. It found each form of pollution was independently associated with subclinical atherosclerosis. In the past some air pollution studies have been dismissed because critics said it was probably the noise pollution that caused the harm, and vice versa. The German study looked at 4,238 study participants (mean age 60 years). To determine the association of the two variables with cardiovascular risk, the researchers looked at thoracic aortic calcification (TAC), a measure of subclinical atherosclerosis. The researchers also found that nighttime traffic noise pollution increased subclinical atherosclerosis burden slightly.

Click here to view full story…


Effects of insufficient sleep on circadian rhythmicity and expression amplitude of the human blood transcriptome

 January 23, 2013 

PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA)

Insufficient sleep and circadian rhythm disruption are associated with negative health outcomes, but the mechanisms involved remain largely unexplored.   We show that one week of insufficient sleep alters gene expression in human blood cells, reduces the amplitude of circadian rhythms in gene expression, and intensifies the effects of subsequent acute total sleep loss on gene expression.

The affected genes are involved in chromatin remodeling, regulation of gene expression, and immune and stress responses. The data imply molecular mechanisms mediating the effects of sleep loss on health and highlight the interrelationships between sleep homeostasis, circadian rhythmicity, and metabolism.

Abstract at



Title: “Nightmare of Night Flights”

Date: Feb 2013

Author: HACAN

Length: 4 pages

Summary:  All the new evidence points in the same direction:  there is a clear link between disturbance from aircraft noise at night and health.  Government policy needs to be made based on new research that demonstrates the noise and health links.  This publication gives brief outlines of some of the main studies, and why people want an 8 hour quiet period. This would mean no night flights between 11pm and 6am.

Link:  Nightmare of Night Flights


Title:  “Healthy Transport = Healthy Lives”

Date:  July 2012

Author: BMA (British Medical Association)

Length:  121 pages

Summary:   “The aim of this report is to demonstrate the positive effect that integrating health into transport policy will have. It proposes areas for action that prioritise health for all relevant transport sectors. This report is intended for transport, energy, sustainability and climate change policy makers with strategic or operational responsibility for public health and health promotion in the UK, and will be of interest to health professionals and the public.

Link:  Healthy transport = Healthy lives (PDF 798k)


Title:  “Aircraft Noise: Time for a rethink”

Date:       January 2011
Author:    AirportWatch
Length:    8 pages
Summary:   Although aircraft have become less noisy over the past three decades, this gain has been overwhelmed by a huge increase in the number of planes in the skies. The Government’s new aviation policy, which it will begin to draw up in 2011, provides the opportunity to rethink and update policy to take account of this new reality.
Link:    Noise briefing document “Time for a rethink”

Ban on night flights at Heathrow Airport – A quick scan Social Cost Benefit Analysis

Date: 27th January 2011
Author:  CE Delft
Length:  47 pages
Summary: The report shows that banning night flights would almost certainly give a large net economic benefit. The study looked at the economic costs and benefits using an approach called Social Cost Benefit Analysis, which places economic values on costs and benefits even where there are no financial transactions or markets involved. The biggest benefit by far in banning night flights is the economic cost of noise.   The study found that having no takeoffs or landings between 11.30pm and 6am could have a socio-economic benefit of about £860 million a year.
Link:  Ban on Night Flights at Heathrow Airport

Title:   Good practice guide on noise exposure and potential health effects

Date:    November 2010
Author:  European Environment Agency
Length:   2.3 MB
Summary:  The report supports the findings of the ANASE Study and shows that people are disturbed by much lower levels of aircraft noise than has been previously admitted. For example, at a noise level of 55 dB, 27% are highly annoyed by aircraft noise, but only 3% are highly annoyed by rail noise and 6% by road noise.

Title: “No Longer a West London Problem”

Date:     Autumn 2010
Author:  John Stewart, HACAN
Length:  4 pages
Summary:  There is a real problem of aircraft noise for some people living over 25 miles from the Heathrow.  The new European report (link above) shows people are disturbed by much lower levels of aircraft noise than has been previously admitted.. HACAN says this backs up what its supporters have been saying for years.
Link:    Aircraft Noise: No longer a West London Problem


Title:  “Review of the airport draft Noise Action Plans”

Date:  February 2010
Author:  Aviation Environment Federation  (AEF)
Length:   15 pages
Summary:   Research by AEF for AirportWatch has found that airport ‘noise action plans’ will fail to tackle impacts on local communities. European laws now require airports to draw up action plans to tackle their noise pollution. But these plans are written by the airports themselves, and just re-state what they already have to do to comply with, local planning requirements. Not one plan meets all the requirements of the EC law, and airports have failed even to comply with the weak demands of the EU’s legislation.
Link:   New Style, Old Story: a review of UK airport noise action plans 

Title: Night noise guidelines for Europe

Date:  October 2009
Author:  WHO/Europe
Length:   162 pages  (1.7MB)   ISBN 978 92 890 4173 7
Summary:   Environmental noise is a threat to public health, having negative effects on human health and well-being. This book reviews the health effects of exposure to night-time noise, examines dose–effect relations, and presents interim and ultimate guideline values for exposure. Outstanding scientists reviewed the scientific evidence in the WHO European Region and used it to draw up the guideline values. The guidelines were peer-reviewed and discussed to reach a consensus among the experts and stakeholders. This book offers guidance to policy-makers in reducing the effects of night-time noise, thus helping to improve the health of the people in the Region.

Link:   English – Night noise guidelines for Europe 


Title:  Ranch study – Aircraft and road traffic noise and children’s cognition and health: a cross-national study

Date:  2005
Author:  Ranch study in the Lancet
Length:   8 pages
Summary:   Exposure to environmental stressors can impair children’s health and their cognitive development. The effects of air pollution, lead, and chemicals have been studied, but there has been less emphasis on the effects of noise. The aim of the study, therefore, was to assess the effect of exposure to aircraft and road traffic noise on cognitive performance and health in children.

Title:   HYENA (HYpertension and Exposure to Noise near Airports study

Date:   March 2008
Author:  A group of university medical research departments
Length:  5 pages
Summary:  Results indicate excess risks of hypertension related to long-term noise exposure, primarily for night-time aircraft noise and daily average road traffic noise
Link:  HYENA (HYpertension and Exposure to Noise near Airports study.pdf 

 HYENA (HYpertension and Exposure to Noise near Airports) study  (Aug 2009)

             (only the abstract is available free of charge)

Title:  ANASE (Attitudes to Noise from Aviation Sources in England) – extracts only.

Date:   October 2007
Author:  MVA Consultancy
Length:    Original document is 144 pages, extracts are 5 pages
Summary:  As the sound level indicator LAeq increases, the annoyance levels of respondents also increase. For a given LAeq there is a range of reported annoyance indicating that annoyance is not determined solely by the amount of aircraft sound as measured by LAeq. People are more annoyed by aircraft noise now than they used to be, and at lower levels. This study, done for the DfT, has been shelved and not acted upon.

Title:  “Flying to Distraction”

 Date:   2003
Author:  Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE)
Summary:  A leaflet summarising the findings of Aviation, Noise and the Countryside. Includes maps for 2000 and 2030 showing how the Government’s forecasts for air travel would impact on the tranquillity of the countryside and communities.
Link:   Flying to Distraction     pdf



Journal of the American Medical Association December 2011

Main Air Pollutants and Myocardial Infarction

A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis

Also briefings on aircraft noise and health:

Noise and Health:

•  Health impacts of aircraft noise  (July 2011)   10 pages
      – briefing for the DfT aviation policy scoping consultation
•   Good practice guide on noise exposure and potential health effects
                European Environment Agency   Nov 2010
•  Public health impact of large airports     (Dutch Government – 1999)
•  HYENA (HYpertension and Exposure to Noise near Airports) study  (Aug 2009)
             (only the abstract is available free of charge)
•  HYENA HYENA (HYpertension and Exposure to Noise near Airports study.pdf     (March 2008)
             CONCLUSIONS:  Results indicate excess risks of hypertension
             related to long-term noise exposure, primarily for night-time
             aircraft noise and daily average road traffic noise.
•  EHP Noise Study – Exposure to Aircraft Noise and Saliva Cortisol in Six European Countries July 2009.pdf
•  German Study: Airport Noise Increases Risk of Strokes 
            (2010).  Preliminary findings only.



PCS report May 2013 Protecting Jobs protecting the planet