The benefits of airport growth are considerable and spread across regions but there are a number of adverse impacts associated with their operation that can be significant also and these tend to be borne by residents of communities living close to the airport and along its flightpaths. These impacts can generate significant opposition leading to constraints upon airport operations, failure to secure planning approval for infrastructure development and in the most extreme examples, can contribute to the closure of airports and their movement to green-field sites (e.g. Athens, Munich, Hong Kong). As indicated elsewhere on this website the disturbance caused by aircraft noise is a major Global challenge for aviation, impacts upon the quality of life of tens of millions of people across the World and has become the single most significant local environmental constraint to air transport growth.
The rapid growth of some airports is increasing the number of people exposed to airport operations, particularly marked when airports bring new runways into operation or restructure airspace, or approach and departure routes. This is made worse by the fact that increasing affluence is changing people expectation of quality of life and making them more sensitive to environmental degradation and at the same time increasing democratisation is making people more vocal and active in the opposition to airports.
The impact of that noise on people’s lives, the perceived level of disturbance and response of communities to that disturbance is, however unique to each airport, is influenced to a significant degree by personal perception and this creates a challenge for airports in terms of what they should measure. Noise impacts cannot be measured in decibels as they can affect a wide variety of activities relating to factors such as lifestyle. Research by CATE indicates that perceived disturbance is influenced by a variety of non-acoustic that heighten peoples sensitivity to aircraft noise and can relate to issues such as:
Clearly, whether these causes of disturbance and fear are valid or not, the airport needs to engage with external stakeholder to address and either remove the causes or reduce concerns. While it is possible to make use of noise and flight path monitoring systems and noise contour modelling to quantify noise exposure, airports need to communicate with their stakeholders in order to both identify the full range of impacts they have upon local communities and demonstrate their commitment to minimizing them. Engaging with external stakeholders and enabling them to contribute to airport development ensures that it can be made as acceptable to as many people as possible. This can also be significant in building trust, a critical factor in ensuring a productive dialogue as research indicates that the relationship between airports and their neighbours is, to a significant extent, influenced by the extent to which local people believe the airport is doing all in its power to address their concerns. Such action requires clear and open communication but this can be challenging as evidence suggests that that existing noise metrics are poorly understood and trusted by members of the public. Research by CATE suggests local residents better understand location specific information that allows them to differentiate between the loudness, timing and frequency of events, rather than the more aggregated metrics traditionally used to describe the noise climate.
Finally, since it will never be possible to completely eliminate aircraft noise, airport operators need to take further action to reduce community opposition. By directing the benefits of airport operations and growth (e.g. employment, or community investment initiatives) to areas subject to high levels of noise and by raising awareness of the benefits of airport growth amongst residents, some have been able to engender greater tolerance of noise.
CATE has been addressing these issues for many years, working organisations as diverse as the Civil Aviation Administration of China (Beijing), Eurocontrol (Paris), the UK Department for Transport and with airports such as Heathrow, Sydney, Manchester, East Midlands, Belfast City, with NGO and community groups such as the Aviation Environment Federation (www.aef.org ) and the HACAN Clearskies ( www.HACAN.org.uk ).