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Europeans have become less tolerant to aircraft noise, reports new EU-funded research project

Greenaironline.com 20 Nov09

According to research just published in the journal Environment International, aircraft noise has become more annoying for European citizens in recent years. While annoyance with road traffic had remained constant, attitudes to aircraft noise have increased and the researchers from the EU-funded HYENA (Hypertension and Exposure to Noise near Airports) project have called for changes to the standard procedure used in Europe to predict aircraft noise annoyance. Between 2003 and 2005, nearly 5,000 people aged between 45 and 70 who lived near major airports in Amsterdam, Athens, Berlin, London, Milan and Stockholm were interviewed.

In the EU, ‘annoyance curves’ are used to predict the number of people who are annoyed by specific sources of noise – such as aircraft or road traffic – and illustrate the relationship between exposure and response to noise. Many of the studies that were used to develop these curves were developed over 25 years ago and newer investigations suggest that the perception of aircraft noise and attitudes to it have changed.

The health status, socio-economic background and lifestyle of those interviewed were examined, as well as behavioural, annoyance and personality factors, including sensitivity to noise.

The study suggests that annoyance with aircraft noise has increased over the years in the vicinity of the six airports. For example, citizens in both northern and central Europe became highly annoyed with aircraft noise at a level that is 5-7 dB(A) lower than predicted by the annoyance curves used by the European Commission.

Since the curves refer to older studies, the researchers suggest that the prediction curve for aircraft traffic noise should be modified.

The HYENA project is supported by the European Commission under the Fifth Framework Programme.

In 2002, the European ministers passed the EU Environmental Noise Directive that covers transportation and industrial noise in the environment and required that noise mapping and action plans be carried out by major civil airports.

Seven years on, UK airports finally ended public consultations on their proposed Noise Action Plans (NAP) last month and are required to submit draft NAPs to the relevant government departments by November 30.

The UK Institute of Acoustics, which examined 13 out of the 18 English airports’ draft NAPs during the consultation process, has recommended the Government should fund and publish a full and independent benchmarking exercise to show how well airports’ NAPs have met the defined objectives and criteria. “In doing this, we would hope that the airports would be encouraged to perform well and/or improve their performance by learning from other airports’ best practice,” it said.

“However, we can make some general comments on the published NAPs based on a preliminary analysis. The draft guidance on Airport Noise Actions Plans appears to have been largely followed, but there are some areas of missing data, for example on costs and night noise contour exposure data, and, inevitably, inconsistencies in reporting.”

Dr Paul Grimley, who campaigns on aircraft noise issues and has also studied all the draft NAPs issued so far, said that with the exception of the three main Scottish airports he found none had included any meaningful limits on noise, actions to address current noise problems or plans to prevent an increase. “There is a gaping chasm between the laudable top-level aims of the European Noise Directive and the draft NAPs issued by UK airport operators,” he told a meeting of the Aviation Environment Federation this week.


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