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The fact that aircraft noise causes disturbance to people living close to airports was recognised as early as the 1920’s when, in the interest of developing civil aviation, Winston Churchill removed the citizen’s right under UK law to sue for nuisance.  After the arrival into service of the first jet airliner (the Comet) about 60 years ago, noise disturbance began to affect an increasing number of people to such an  extent that by 1959 mandatory noise limits and noise monitoring was imposed at London Heathrow  and  New York Idlewild Airports.

Over the following half century, significant improvements in aircraft noise technology were delivered by the aerospace industry and these, to a degree, offset the noise impact of the growth in air traffic. As a direct result of the phase out of older noisier aircraft and their replacement with significantly quieter types, the number of people ‘exposed’ to noise around many airports has declined over the past 20 years.

Although generally aircraft have got quieter, growth in aircraft size and traffic volume has resulted in an increasing number of noisy events and this is emerging as a new challenge at some airports. Forecasts, also suggest that the anticipated rate of fleet replacement and technological improvement will not keep pace with future traffic growth, especially at rapidly growing airports. In consequence, it is likely that the number of people exposed to aircraft noise disturbance throughout the world will increase over the next two to three decades.

Research suggests that changing expectation of quality of life amongst these people, growing democratisation, increasing home ownership and a number of other non acoustic factors will lead to increasing opposition to aircraft noise in the future. This is important because despite significant efforts by the industry, the lives of tens of millions of Europeans, and hundreds of millions of people across the World are adversely affected on a daily basis by aircraft noise.  At the same time a majority of European airports are subject to noise related capacity constraints, and these are expected to spread in the future (Thomas et al. 2003).  Sleep disturbance caused by night flying is of particular concern and this has given rise to night noise restrictions at airports across the World.  Research by CATE into the the effects of aircraft noise on sleep underpinned the current UK Government night flying policy

Over the past 50 years, air transport has played a very important role in social and economic development and many city regions are highly reliant upon their airports. The ability of those airports to grow in response to demand and therefore contribute to socio-economic development will, to a very significant degree be dependent upon the way in which they manage aircraft noise disturbance.

Conventionally, research into aircraft noise and regulatory drivers for technological improvement have confined themselves almost exclusively to reducing noise exposure. It is however becoming increasingly clear that communities and individuals respond very differently and exhibit differing levels of tolerance to noise depending upon a wide variety of social, economic and cultural factors (Hume et al. 2004). Equally, the way in which noise impacts upon communities will vary according to a variety of issues (such as weather conditions) that affect lifestyle.  These relationships need to be understood if effective noise control programmes are to be developed.

Global (ICAO), European Union and UK aircraft noise legislation and regulations are designed to:

  • promote the development and use of quieter aircraft;
  • encourage operational and infrastructure improvements;
  • establish land use planning regimes to prevent noise sensitive developments near airports; and
  • set noise limits and impose operational restrictions.

Given that the nature of aircraft operations, the number of people exposed to noise, perceived levels of community disturbance and other factors at each airport are unique, it is accepted that the that the most appropriate noise management solutions are found through consultation with all aviation stakeholders but in particular communities exposed to the noise.  The process of consultation does however require a clear understanding of how noise impacts upon people’s lives. Current measures of noise exposure (measured in terms of noise energy) have only limited value in the airport community dialogue. These pressures are leading to a renewed interest in the metrics and methods used to define, assess and manage aircraft noise.


Pure and Applied Research Studies

CATE staff have been actively involved in research and knowledge transfer in key areas associated with the aircraft noise challenge for organisations as diverse as:

Aeroports de Paris,  Assaeroporti – Roma, Belfast City Airport, Bristol Airport,  Delta Airlines, Department for Regional Development (Northern Ireland), Dublin Airport (Aer Rianta), EUROCONTOL (Brussels and Paris), European Commission, Manchester Airport Group, Manston Airport, Milan Malpensa, Liverpool Airport,  l’Office National des Aeroports Marocains (ONDA), Spanish Airports (AENA),   Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport (Australia), UK Department for Transport.


Projects have included:

  • Development of the noise and track monitoring system used by the Manchester Airport Group and other airports throughout the world to underpin their noise control programmes (in collaboration with Lochard pty of Australia)
  • Development of the noise management system and community relations programme in use at Manchester Airport (MAG)
  • Research into sleep disturbance arising from night flights. This research, commissions by the Department of Transport, was used to underpin current UK night flying policy and night flying restrictions at UK Airports. (UK CAA)
  • Improvements to airport operations designed to reduce noise exposure and disturbance (the Vantage and EFAS projects) (DTi funded)
  • Research into factors that affect attitudes to noise (2001–2003) – on behalf of Eurocontrol (Paris).  The 5A (Attitudes to Aircraft Annoyance Around Airports) project was designed to investigate the factors that influence attitudes to aircraft noise disturbance in different parts of Europe. Research was carried out in communities close to Manchester Airport (UK), Lyon Airport (France) and Bucharest Airport (Romania).
  • Social surveys and complaints analysis relating to noise disturbance at Belfast City Airport designed to underpin development of their noise control programme – funded by BCA.
  • CATE is a key partner in the EU funded X-Noise network of expert, taking the lead role in providing input on noise and community impacts, acting as rapporteur to the advisory committee and leading a Pan-European expertise mapping programme.
  • Good practice assessment of Heathrow Airport Community Relations (BAA)
  • Development of noise indicators to support airport community dialogue (OMEGA).
  • A Good practice Guide to the assessment and management of aircraft noise (2001-2004), for the Department for Regional Development in Northern Ireland. This report is used to support management controls at all NI airports.