2017 won’t all be about a third runway at Heathrow. A new runway will feature heavily in a Government consultation paper – the National Policy Statement – expected to be published in late January. But by the end of the year the Government also expects to have consulted on a range of national issues, including noise and climate change, with a view to publishing an Aviation White Paper in 2018.
It will start with noise. Alongside its consultation on a third runway, the Department for Transport is looking to publish its draft Airspace Strategy. But this will be about more than airspace; it will cover all aspects of aviation noise.
Across the world airspace is being modernized. Nations are taking advantage of the fact that new computer technology can guide aircraft much more precisely in order to make more efficient use of airspace. It can save airlines time, money and fuel as well as reduce their CO2 emissions.
By 2024 all European nations – whether inside or outside the EU – will be expected to modernize their airspace.
The Airspace Strategy will set out these issues and the options around modernization – and particularly its impact on flight paths – open to the Government, airlines, airports and air traffic controllers.
A key issue for residents will be around the concentration of flight paths. The new precision technology makes concentration much more feasible. Air traffic controllers find it easier to manage and it has obvious benefits for airlines.
Until now the UK Government has tended to favour concentration of flight paths, with respite permitted as an option in certain cases. The concept of respite is likely to feature more heavily in the new strategy.
At an airport such as Heathrow concentrating all the flights over particular communities would create noise ghettos. It would simply be unacceptable and would create the sort of furore that has been seen at a number of American airports in recent years.
During the consultation period Heathrow Airport is expecting to publish the study it has commissioned on what meaningful respite would look like. It is the most comprehensive study of its kind ever undertaken.
However, the consultation will seek views on other aspects of aviation noise. For example, it will ask about the best way of measuring noise annoyance. It is likely to move away from reliance on the 57 LAeq decibel contour as the point at which community annoyance is said to set in and rely instead on a suite of metrics to measure noise annoyance. HACAN – and others – have been consistently campaigning for this for many years and indeed decades.
The consultation will also seek views on an Independent Aviation Noise Authority – a concept we have promoted for many years.
This consultation, leading to the White Paper, will set out aviation noise policy for many years to come. As campaigners, we have the awesome responsibility but also the great opportunity to influence the policy; to it include many of the measures we have been lobbying for over many years. The White Paper will not result in the immediate improve to the noise climate we all want to see but it does give us a once-in-a-generation chance to have a real input into the country’s aviation noise policy.