Heathrow’s noise claims unravel

Blog:  Heathrow Airport’s noise claims unravelling fast

Heathrow’s claim that the overall noise climate will improve if a third runway is built is unravelling fast.  It always did leave people shaking their heads in disbelief.  But two recent independent reports show that it does not stand up to serious scrutiny.

The most devastating critique comes from a report from Atkins, the well-established engineering consultancy firm, commissioned by the Mayor of London:

 http://www.tfl.gov.uk/cdn/static/cms/documents/mayoroflondon-inner-thames-estuary-fs-reponse.pdf.  Although Boris Johnson is not a neutral observer in airport matters, the report undermines many of Heathrow’s claims.  In particular it reveals that Heathrow’s assertion that things will become significantly quieter is based on the assumption that the new runway is only a third full.  Heathrow argues that a third runway will reduce the number of people impacted by noise 48%.  But Atkins shows a fully utilized runway will impact over 1 million people….up from 725,000 today.

Atkins also challenges Heathrow’s much-vaunted claims about the impact of quieter planes.  Akins argues that the noise reduction in 2026 (when a new runway would expect to open) will be ‘relatively insignificant’ even if 90% of the current fleet is replaced by ‘new generation’ aircraft, as Heathrow claims it will be.  Atkins believes that claim is over-optimistic given the fact that the life span of an aircraft can be 25 to 30 years.  The other major report published recently, from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) – http://www.caa.co.uk/docs/33/CAP%201165%20Managing%20Aviation%20Noise%202.pdf – 

is equally doubtful if these new planes will be in place.  It says that, even when new aircraft types are available, “refleeting [converting the whole fleet to quieter planes] is a lengthy and expensive process for airlines, with significant resource impacts.”  It goes on to point out that hundreds of the aircraft types would need to be removed by 2026 if Heathrow Airport were to meet its target.

The CAA also highlights another critical failure in Heathrow’s calculations:  it failure to factor in the annoyance caused by the ever-increasing number of planes using the airport.  The CAA is very clear.  Many of Heathrow’s claims and calculations are based on the last into noise annoyance was published the 1980s since when flight numbers have more than doubled.  And, with a third runway, they will increase again by over 50%.  The CAA is unequivocal: it would “support the need for a new aviation noise attitude survey.”  Surely that should be the starting point, given that it is the frequency of flights, not the noise of individual aircraft, that most bothers residents.

Even Heathrow’s plans for respite periods, on which it is setting so much store, don’t stand up to scrutiny.  Heathrow says it will guarantee “periods without over-flights for every community.”  However all is not what it seems. Currently, communities in West London enjoy a half day’s break from the noise when planes switch runways at 3pm.  With a third runway in place, this will be reduce to one third of the day.  It is also unclear if Heathrow is proposing to introduce respite periods for residents living further from the airport where the CAA report acknowledges there can be a real problem: “anti-noise groups report complaints about aircraft noise as much as 20 miles from the airport”.  Heathrow has still much to do to convince it can deliver on respite.

Even Heathrow’s proposals to bring in planes at a steeper angle are sniffed at by Atkins who say the impact on residents would be “relatively small”.

The clinical demolition of Heathrow’s noise case matters….a lot.  It knows that, unless it can detoxify the noise issue, there is little chance it will get permission for a new runway.  It had hoped its new noise proposals would be its trump card.  It now looks as if that card has been comprehensively trumped.

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