Aircraft Noise Damages Lives

Evidence shows loud and clear that aircraft noise can ruin health and impair learning according to a new report by the Aviation Environment Federation.

Launch at the Houses of Parliament hosted by Dr Tania Mathias MP

Launch at the Houses of Parliament hosted by Dr Tania Mathias MP

“Aircraft Noise and Public Health”, launched on 12th January, suggests that the wellbeing of more than one million people across the UK could be at risk.

The report applies to all communities in the UK affected by aircraft noise but it should be appreciated that the area most affected will be the South East, particularly those living near Heathrow. It has the highest number of flights and aircraft are routed over densely populated areas including the capital.

Key findings include:

People exposed to high levels of aircraft noise had a 24% higher chance of stroke, 21% higher chance of heart disease, and 14% higher chance of cardiovascular diseases compared to people exposed to low levels of aircraft noise.

A recent large study around Frankfurt Airport in Germany found that a 10 decibel increase in noise is associated with an 8.9% increase in the risk of depression.

Over 460 schools around Heathrow are exposed to aircraft noise levels that may impair learning and memory. (So far Heathrow has only provided insulation for 42 community buildings.)

In the UK close to 600,000 people are exposed to night-time aircraft noise levels far above World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendations.

The report was commissioned by anti-Heathrow expansion campaign group HACAN. Its chairman John Stewart said: “These findings are shocking but not surprising. Aircraft noise is having a major impact on people’s health.

John Stewart of HACAN

John Stewart of HACAN

“HACAN is calling on the government to postpone any decision on new runways until a full health assessment has been carried out on each proposal. Today HACAN is setting up the Heathrow Health Alliance to monitor progress.”

Officially Heathrow were listening: “We welcome the report launched today which will further add to our overall understanding and efforts to bring about the objective we share with AEF and others of making Heathrow quieter.”

The airport wants people to believe that measures like Adobe huts in school playgrounds, so children under flight paths can venture out of their classrooms, are an effective answer to ear-splitting noise.

Adobe huts and plastic grass – the outdoor experience for local schoolchildren

Adobe huts and plastic grass – the outdoor experience for local schoolchildren

But the Heathrow-funded pro-expansion lobbying company Back Heathrow often betrays the airport’s real attitude. Its response was to brush the report’s findings aside because it was put together by AEF, which campaigns about the environmental impacts of aviation, and was commissioned by HACAN (which is actually funded by subscriptions and donations from residents).

Rob Gray, who runs Back Heathrow, said that “Heathrow’s noise footprint has shrunk dramatically in recent years” but he didn’t explain that this is because of more concentrated flight paths as the number of flights has increased since the opening of Terminal Five. The current cap is 480,000 flights a year with Heathrow asking for a further 260,000 with a third runway.

He then said “…the airport’s operators should take note of any valid, independent proposals to reduce environmental impacts during what has become the most popular period of air travel in history.”

Rob Gray’s weasel words are actually saying that Heathrow won’t do anything to stop the damage caused by noise. The best residents can hope for is that some organisation (which must not be connected in any way to opposition to expansion) comes up with a proposal to reduce the impact of the noise the airport is generating. Heathrow might then “take note” but for as long as airlines can sell tickets, residents shouldn’t expect the airport to give a flying fig for their health or children’s education.

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