Local Environmental Impact
Under the provisions of the Civil Aviation Act aircraft in flight are specifically exempted from trespass and nuisance controls, which denies any form of redress to those living near airports who are disturbed by noise. Government sanctioned measurements of noise near airports take an average sound level, measured in decibels (dB), over a 16 hour day, and are expressed as an LAeq figure. Officially, 57 dB LAeq is the threshold at which noise levels become disturbing, 63 dB LAeq represents moderate disturbance, whilst 69dB LAeq represents high disturbance. Technological improvements in aircraft design means that aircraft are becoming quieter. Taking Heathrow as an example, between 1990 and 2004 the area around the airport affected by noise levels of 57 db LAeq and above fell by 60 per cent, whilst the number of people similarly affected fell by 51 per cent. Campaign groups dispute the methodology used to measure noise, asserting that it is flawed in a number of ways. Amongst other issues they point to the World Health Organisation view that annoyance begins at 50 db LAeq whilst serious annoyance begins at 55 dB LAeq, and they assert that the LAeq measurement does not give sufficient weight to the increasing incidence of noise events. Their conclusion is that noise levels, and the number of people affected, have increased rather than decreased. This is borne out by the latest survey of attitudes to noise published in November 2007 which reports that, compared with over 20 years ago, more people today are annoyed by the same level of noise as measured by LAeq. Whilst this may be attributable to changing attitudes, the report concludes that the contribution of aircraft numbers to annoyance has increased, and that an alternative method of estimating levels of annoyance that takes this into account would appear to be more relevant than the LAeq measurement. The report has attracted criticism in peer reviews, and one such review, characterising the survey as inconclusive, counsels "... against using the detailed results and conclusions in the development of government policy."
Air quality around airports is another major issue and a 2006 study found that levels of nitrogen dioxide exceeds EU guidelines at more than two thirds of airports surveyed. Whilst aircraft contribute to the problem the study states that "…cars, buses and taxis ferrying passengers to and from these sites are dominant sources of pollution." Birmingham airport dismissed the findings, asserting that the results were skewed by M42 motorway traffic unrelated to the airport, whilst studies at Southampton Airport attribute 5.55 per cent of total pollutants to airport activities, the majority of the remainder being generated by non-airport related road traffic. The government recognises Heathrow as the only UK airport where national and European air quality limits are being exceeded.
A provision of the original Civil Aviation Act allows designated airports to be required to provide facilities for consultation with affected parties, where local environmental concerns can be raised, and some 51 airports have been so designated. A 2000 consultation by the government re-iterated its policy that generally, local issues arising from airport operations are best addressed locally. To support this the Civil Aviation Act was extended in 2006 to give all airports the authority to mandate measures to address noise and air quality issues beyond their boundaries, and to impose financial penalties on aircraft which fail or are unable to adhere to such measures. The Civil Aviation Act 2006 also extends the provisions of section 78 of the original act, augmenting the powers of the Secretary of State to intervene directly in operations at designated airports; currently Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted, "…for the purpose of avoiding, limiting or mitigating the effect of noise and vibration connected with aircraft landing or taking off." The largest airports also implement voluntary schemes to assist local communities in coping with the local impacts of airport operations. Birmingham International Airport, for example, has been operating a sound insulation scheme since 1978, in which 7,600 properties are eligible for sound proof glazing paid for by the airport. Schemes are also available to residents most affected by noise around Heathrow, designed to protect property prices ahead of any development of a third runway, assist with relocation costs for people who wish to move, and provide sound insulation for private and communal property currently affected by noise. In both cases local residents have also set up campaign groups; Birmingham Airport anti-Noise Group, and HACAN Clearskies at Heathrow, to represent themselves over local environmental issues arising from airport operations. Even the smallest of airports engaged in air transport operations; Gloucestershire Airport, has attracted organised opposition to its plans to extend the main runway there, and the umbrella group AirportWatch lists over 20 local airport campaign groups.
Read more about this topic: Environmental Impact Of Aviation In The United Kingdom, Environmental Impact
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