Heathrow Airport’s proposals to reduce noise, published today, are welcome –http://mediacentre.heathrowairport.com/Press-releases/Heathrow-publishes-commitments-on-noise-reduction-measures-57f.aspx. There is little doubt that, if they were implemented, they would cut noise for residents. Measures such as respite periods, steeper approaches, improved sound insulation and the plan to fine the noisier aircraft will improve the noise climate. Some of the proposals, of course, are dependent on the cooperation of other bodies before they could be implemented. Steeper approaches, for example, would require permission from Government and the agreement of Air Traffic Control. But the intent is there: Heathrow Airport is proposing concrete measures which will improve matters for residents.
Of course Heathrow understands that, unless it is shown to be dealing with noise, there is no possibility it will get approval for a new runway. And that is part of the motivation of it producing them now and releasing them at this time – within a month it will be submitting its eagerly awaited plans for a third runway to the Airports Commission.
HACAN has worked with Heathrow on a number of its proposals – in particular the plans for introducing respite periods. Whatever our differences on expansion (and on night flights), it is in the interests of our members for us to get improvements to the current noise climate at the airport. We want to be able to point to practical improvements on the ground.
However, our belief remains that these improvements are unlikely to survive the building of a third runway. The sheer number of planes would wipe out virtually all the benefits. With a third runway, the number of planes which could use Heathrow would rise from 480,000 to over 700,000. A fourth runway airport, such as the Policy Exchange is promoting (but which Heathrow believes is not necessary), would allow 960,000 aircraft to use the airport.
History suggests that it is the increase in flight numbers which causes the real noise problems for residents. The big deterioration in the noise climate – and the big rise in HACAN’s membership – coincided with the last significant rise in flight numbers between about 1991 and 2001. It was a time when individual planes became quieter but that was off-set by the sheer volume of aircraft flying overhead. The chances are that the same thing would happen if a third runway was built.
Incidentally, the impact of a dramatic increase in flight numbers is not reflected in the annual noise contours published by the Government. That is because the metric used to measure noise annoyance assumes annoyance levels will remain the same if the number of aircraft operations are doubled so long as the individual aircraft noise levels are reduced. Not reflected in the reality on the ground.