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Action needed on aircraft noise

Updated: Jul 27, 2019

In concentrated pockets in London people are now living with severe levels of noise disruption. This is not acceptable, and urgent, decisive action is needed across the board to alleviate it.


For some overflown Londoners the situation has worsened, with City Airport adopting performance based navigation (PBN) – an operation practice that concentrates arriving flights into narrower corridors.


The experience of people living with the daily nightmare of overhead noise are deeply worrying, as being unable to concentrate, relax or even sleep because of noise disruption has significant health impacts.


A recent report on aircraft noise produced by the London Assembly’s Environment Committee, which I chair, concluded that:

  • The Government and the Civil Aviation Authority should regulate noise disturbance more stringently.

  • This should include the use of lower thresholds for disturbance (taking into account WHO guidelines and the need for residents to keep windows open) and mapping the combined effect of all London’s airports, especially Heathrow and City.

  • Flight paths should be rotated to give respite for those living under concentrated flight paths.

  • Flight paths should be designed to minimise noise impacts: stacking, low-level overflying, and overlapping flight paths should be minimised.

  • All airports should provide predictable periods of respite for residents living under concentrated flight paths.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has issued guidance confirming that aircraft noise above 45 decibels on average is associated with ill-health, including cardiovascular disease and increases in hypertension.


Our current Government guidance is much less stringent, using a ‘disturbance’ threshold of 54 decibels – it was really disappointing that the recent Aviation Strategy Green Paper does not remedy this.


The impact of aircraft noise is also particularly damaging to children’s education, negatively affecting reading comprehension and memory skills.


The RANCH project, an international study that examined the effects of noise exposure, looked at reading comprehension in 2,010 children aged between 9 and 10 from 89 schools around Amsterdam Schiphol, Madrid Barajas, and London Heathrow airports. They found that a 5 decibel increase in noise exposure is associated with a two-month delay in learning for primary school children in the UK.[1]


And yet Heathrow Airport still proposes to build a new runway to increase flights from around 475,000 to around 740,000 a year. This will have a devastating impacet. The House of Commons Transport Select Committee concluded that more than 323,000 people will be newly affected by noise pollution if expansion at Heathrow goes ahead.[2]


Around 460 schools neighbouring Heathrow already hear aircraft noise above 54 decibels, higher than the onset threshold of the effect on children’s memory and learning. Some have resorted to building pods in the playground for children to shelter in to minimise noise exposure – but playgrounds should be for playing, for kids to stretch their legs, not to have to dash into hiding every few minutes.

A third runway would mean a minimum of 24 more schools suffering from aircraft noise that busts the maximum levels recommended by the World Health Organisation.

The latest noise guidance (Survey of Noise Attitudes, 2014) shows our sensitivity to noise has increased, but this wasn’t reflected in the Government’s Airports National Policy Statement.


The Government refuses to set what it determines an ‘acceptable’ increase in noise level, and can therefore avoid being held to account for the damage they are and will inflict on overflown Londoners.


The drive towards filling airspace capacity must be checked. For too many people, including children, aircraft noise is a major intrusion into their everyday lives. It is not an acceptable price to pay for air travel. It isn’t right and must be challenged.


Caroline Russell

London Assembly Member

Green Party


[1] Clarke et al (2005) “Exposure-Effect Relations between Aircraft and Road Traffic Noise Exposure at School and Reading Comprehension” https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/b9cc/64b991c3f981bf9e57dcfdd58e68953d41d6.pdf


[2] TSC (2018) Inquiry into the Airports NPS, Figure 43, p.133 https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmtrans/548/548.pdf

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