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Going beyond the dB

Sustainable and effective noise management goes beyond noise reduction and genuinely engages with the local community to build trust.

Effective noise management requires evaluation of complex, incomplete and often conflicting information.

The aviation industry has invested significant sums of money reducing the noise levels of aircraft, finding less noisy ways to operate, improving airport layouts, and implementing schemes to insulate schools and homes. This traditional approach has resulted in shrinking noise exposure contours and fewer people exposed to noise.

Despite the evident noise reduction, adverse community reaction has increased and noise remains a significant factor in restricting airport development. This is a conundrum for the aviation industry.

EU research suggests that, at most, acoustic factors determine only one-third of the annoyance response, and around one-third to a half is determined by non-acoustic factors such as trust. A sustainable and effective noise management strategy must address not only measures to reduce noise exposure, but also non-acoustic factors. A change in approach is required.

A balanced strategy that addresses options to reduce noise is essential and underpins everything. At Heathrow, we have been instrumental in the development and delivery of their noise reduction strategy for the current airport and also expansion proposals. We have assessed and advised on the benefits of a range of mitigation options including displaced thresholds, segmented approaches, steeper approaches, new route structures, the adoption of latest aircraft technology, new charging structures to encourage adoption of best practice, noise insulation schemes for residential and schools and all aspects related to their noise action plan.

A framework to address community value

Achieving sustainable growth requires airports and policy makers to address non-acoustic factors. We have helped guide Heathrow and other airports (through ACI) to recognise the role and importance of non-acoustic factors and developed a framework to guide integration of non-acoustic factors into an airport’s noise management strategy.

Understanding what the local community value is the starting point. It requires open and transparent communication, consultation and inclusion of the local community in decision-making, and a “have a go” philosophy where all options are considered regardless of the scale of the benefit. This does not yield tangible results that can be reported to the Board (eg. a reduction in numbers of people inside contours) but will show in the tone of the conversation and the nature of the debate. It will take time and is an investment in the future.

At Heathrow, we developed and delivered an effective noise insulation scheme assessment service. This addressed the individual and not only delivered real noise reduction, but also increased perceived satisfaction with the insulation scheme and the airport. We regularly assist with community engagement activities, explaining complex noise topics such as changes in exposures due to trials, measurement and modelling techniques in a meaningful way to communities. We are leading an industry and community working group to foster better understanding of respite.

Airport noise is a social and political risk for constraining growth, requiring a renewed focus towards a ‘social license to grow’. Noise management that goes beyond noise reduction is an investment in the future.

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