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Aviation noise must be discussed in a frank and open manner

Posted: 2 October 2019 | | No comments yet

ICCAN Head Commissioner, Robert Light, speaks of his ambition to ensure aviation noise is an important consideration within the industry’s future growth plans.

aviation noise

The UK aviation industry has a busy horizon ahead of it. Performance-based navigation technology, airspace modernisation and the infrastructure needed to meet passenger forecasts mean that the industry will undergo significant change as it pursues considerable growth targets.

As the Head Commissioner for the recently-formed Independent Commission on Civil Aviation Noise (ICCAN), my ambition is to raise aviation noise up the agenda and make it an important consideration in any future growth plans.

The Independent Commission on Civil Aviation Noise (ICCAN)

Established in January 2019, ICCAN is a non-statutory body that will provide independent, impartial advice to government, regulators and the aviation industry. We are bringing a fresh perspective to the issue of aviation noise, as part of developing new evidence-based advice. The debate around aviation noise is not new however, so we made sure we spent our first months getting up to speed, travelling up and down the country and engaging with many stakeholders.

We had useful conversations with airports, airlines and community groups, as well as academics, trade associations and regulators. They offered us insights that have helped to develop our thinking and identify distinct areas where we can make a difference.

ICCAN’s geographical reach

We haven’t restricted ourselves to the United Kingdom in our attempt to understand the issues and conversations being held about noise and its impacts. We have spoken to aviation industry experts in Australia, Germany, the Netherlands and Republic of Ireland, and have gone to Frankfurt, Schiphol and Dublin airports, to better understand their noise management methods and processes.

Hearing what has been implemented across the continent, and globally, will only benefit us as we look to influence change in the UK.   

Tackling the problem of aviation noise

Our engagement revealed the complexity of aviation noise as an issue, where competing noise metrics, contested noise contour maps and confusing operating patterns only serve to compound this. It also showed us that the debate has left a legacy of distrust between community groups and the airports that impact their daily lives. This distrust often means that with some of the ambitious initiatives that airports, airlines and the industry are taking on, noise mitigation can go unnoticed.

ICCAN tackles aviation noise

Robert Light and Commissioner Colin Noble airside at East Midlands Airport watching a DHL delivery being unloaded, understanding further aspects of aviation noise

The insights we’ve gained have helped to form our first Corporate Strategy, which sets out our aim to improve public confidence and trust in the management of aviation noise, by building our expertise, credibility and profile across the UK. Our plans over the coming two years include recommending a way forward for noise annoyance and health​, reviewing existing enforcement and regulatory mechanisms and powers​, revising the current planning regime​ and publishing best practice guidance for airports on consulting and engaging with communities and stakeholders​.

There is a lively debate in the UK around the methodology and tools used to measure noise annoyance, especially compared with those used in Europe, and these can lead to contrasting findings.  

In August 2019, I chaired a panel session at a Heathrow Airport workshop on noise annoyance. The event was attended by international noise experts and representatives from Heathrow, as well as community representatives, the wider aviation industry, regulators and UK government.

The questions put to the panel raised some interesting issues, and it was incredibly useful to have such a broad range of stakeholders in one room.

People asked whether one single noise metric should be adopted across the continent so that research doesn’t differ from one study to the next. They wondered whether someone’s age or socio-demographics affects their level of annoyance. They also asked how noise can impact your health.

It was a fascinating session and was really encouraging to have these kinds of topics discussed in a frank and open manner in an attempt to add some clarity to the debate.

It is sometimes the case that complex issues are kicked into the long grass, to postpone difficult conversations. This workshop presented an opportunity to bring people together in the hope of addressing a number of those questions and concerns. By no means will it end the debate around noise annoyance, but it was a necessary step in the right direction.

Improving relationships, collaboration and noise in the future

Sometimes we should embrace difficult conversations if it improves the dialogue, and I believe this is where ICCAN can help, as an independent body without the burden of history on its shoulders.

We will do our best to ensure that communities have access to clear, simple and consistent information, that airports engage more widely with local residents and that noise is recognised as a health issue.

ICCAN hopes that improved relationships between airports and their neighbouring communities could lead to more meaningful conversations around noise, especially as aviation growth in the UK is developing through expansion plans and airspace change proposals.   

As we say in our strategy, we are determined to get to a place where people feel their concerns are listened to and where the impact of aviation noise is not talked about in complex terms but in an open and transparent manner.

To read ICCAN’s Corporate Strategy or for more information on the Commission, visit iccan.gov.uk

Biography

Robert Light was appointed as ICCAN Head Commissioner in late 2018. He also became Chair of the Consumer Council for Water in June 2019, having acted as a Board member and Northern Chair for the Consumer Council for Water from 2015.

Light served as Deputy Chair of the Environment Agency from 2012 to 2015 and a member of its Board for six years. He was a member of the Audit Commission Board from 2011 to 2015. He was Leader of Kirklees Council from 2006 to 2009 and the first Chair of the Leeds City Region, and has also been Deputy Chair of the Local Government Association.

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