Future growth of the aviation sector (including necessary new infrastructure) and environmental sustainability are inextricably linked and mutually dependent.
Airports act as engines of social and economic growth and the direct and indirect benefits linked to their operation are considerable and in many cases airport growth is seen as a nationally or regionally vital strategic asset.
The number of flights in Europe has increased between 1990 and 2014 by about 80% and is steadily growing. However, there is a variety of adverse environmental and health impacts associated with the operation of airports that may be considered material especially for residents of communities in the vicinity of airports and the surrounding ecosystems.
The management of an airport’s interface and the relations with local people is of vital importance to each and every aviation stakeholder – and not just the airport operator.
Gaining wide community support for the benefits that growth would bring is essential in determining an airport’s future. It is in fact widely recognized that the perception of an airport’s surrounding communities can significantly affect an airport’s throughput, capacity-use, growth and operational efficiency and hence the positive sustainability impacts that a successful airport brings.
Some airport operators have actively engaged with surrounding communities over many years – and yet the attitude of the local community can still appear to be generally negative. For example, according to EEA’s NOISE Observation & Information Service for Europe, the overall exposure to airport noise in Europe is less than for other transport sources. However, the annoyance experienced by people exposed to noise from this source is greater than for any other.
It is in fact rather easy for an airport to develop a reactive and rather negative relationship with the surrounding communities, despite their best efforts:
- Denying there is an issue – or relying solely on ‘artificial’ noise metrics to prove low-impact
- Operating on a ‘them-and-us’ basis or relying on politically appointed intermediaries
- Building unrealistic public expectations and then losing trust because the solution slightly misses the over-ambitious promised mark
- Becoming the public apologist and shield between the public and the aviation community instead of sharing the public platform and presenting externally as a united entity
- Reactively dealing with complaints, making excuses, trying to sell a marginal offset of adverse impacts as a positive step.
- Not stepping outside the safety of the airport perimeter fence
The above approach, whilst understandable, tends towards a negative character – minimise, reduce, excuse, avoid, constrain, penalise, etc.
Adopting a more holistic and positive approach can strengthen an airport’s position as a good corporate citizen and neighbor and can prove to be mutually beneficial for both the airport and the local community.
Many successful airports have developed a more proactive approach to dealing effectively with community relations issues, which can include:
- Jointly establishing collaborative operational/commercial stakeholder processes to develop mitigation and to jointly engage with the wider public.
- Establishing a community partnership approach bringing local people inside the perimeter fence to see what is going on – and what limitations apply.
- In partnership with aviation and external stakeholders, establish outreach centres in local communities to enter a dialogue outside of the perimeter fence.
- Working with amenity groups and public authorities developing a joint approach to optimise the future development of the airport.
- Fund independent audits (to be supervised externally) to validate sustainability performance and public reporting
- Conducting social surveys to ensure that the true local attitude is understood by decision makers
- Funding the independent quantification of the positive contributions of the airport to sustainability and ensuring that local people are aware of these.
- Targeting the positive impacts on local people to the extent possible:
- Establish partnerships with academia, business and the airport supply chain to optimise local economic and employment benefits and to enhance the development of local skills
- Bringing the airport supply chain to local areas in need of economic development
- Community sponsorship and targeted employment
- Developing and maintaining public amenities on airport land
- Funding independently produced educational packs for local schools and colleges to support debate and awareness about aviation.
- Targeted offers and discounts for local people.
Of course, this is just a small list of the kind of more positive approaches that can help establish a fruitful relationship with external stakeholders. Naturally, adverse impact mitigation should also still proceed in parallel to this approach and it is important to honestly and publicly acknowledge its limitations. People can handle bad news, especially if they know that everything possible is being done.
Progress won’t happen over-night – especially if there is long standing community skepticism. This more balanced “sustainability” oriented approach is however far more effective than simply trying to manage negative impacts.
The enablers for successful engagement with the local communities include:
- Understanding the complex airport sustainability-operational-cost chains
- Good research into local community attitudes and perceptions
- Accurate information on measured, modelled and perceived impacts – both positive and negative
- Awareness of relevant good practice at other airports.
- The engagement of the airport operational and commercial community through cost-effective collaborative processes
- Ensuring that sustainability is part of the culture of every service partner on an airport’s site – each airport employee can help to minimise risk and can be an airport ambassador
- The trust and engagement of externally supportive entities such as regulators, planning authorities, business leadership entities, tourism businesses and supply chain businesses, etc.
- And perhaps most importantly, effective and open community communications channels and processes.
The aim is to establish a community perception of the airport as a mutually beneficial asset. One that is seen to be strategically valuable in delivering positive sustainability benefits locally; and, that can be trusted to do all it can to minimise negative airport impacts to the extent possible.
ENVISA has the skills and experience to make this a reality for your airport. We conduct independent, transparent and neutral assessments to support airports and communities in establishing relationships based on cooperation and open, fact-based communication and achieving their mutually beneficial goals.
 European Aviation Environmental Report, EASA, 2016 (https://www.easa.europa.eu/eaer/)
What you can’t measure, you can’t manage!
Although the advances in the industry (more efficient and less noisy aircraft, mitigation actions, land use planning etc..) aircraft noise is still the most significant reason for the opposition of local communities to the new operations and expansion of airports. If not managed properly, noise disturbance and annoyance can have serious implications for the future development projects of airports.
Various published studies have noted that aviation noise may have harmful impacts on the health and psychological well-being of the people living near airports. Sleep disturbance and annoyance are the most common adverse effects of aircraft noise. More serious implications include increased risk of cardiovascular disease and impacts on children’s cognition and learning.
Regulations to control aircraft noise issues, however, also influence airport operations, may constrain airport capacity and could adversely impact flight efficiency. This could lead to additional fuel use and atmospheric emissions, unfulfilled profit potential and reduced economic benefits. Noise constraints can also trigger accelerated development of alternative new airport infrastructure to accommodate displaced demand elsewhere. Thus, the pros and cons of the noise implications for the quality of life for local people versus wider economic prosperity need to be transparently studied and fully understood, in order to reach – and ultimately maintain – a sustainable balance between differing imperatives.
Complaints, claims for compensation and monetary damages from plaintiffs due to aircraft noise nuisance can results in long and costly lawsuits for the airport, delayed permission for growth, along with negative press and publicity regarding the airport’s community engagement, corporate social responsibility and environmental management.
Moreover, existing airport expansion or construction of additional runways are a hot topic for debates between airport authorities, planning authorities, tourism businesses, governments, environmentalists and residents. Sustainability consultations and mediation processes launched between these parties are often high-profile, politically divisive and require robust, fact based technical studies regarding the future environmental impacts of the planned airport development. These studies need to meet agreed standards and be independent so that all parties can trust their outcomes.
Finding a Balanced Solution to Noise Mitigation
The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has proposed the “Balanced Approach” comprising of four principal elements to mitigate aircraft noise impacts. These are:
- Noise reduction at source, i.e. making aeroplanes quieter
- Sustainable land use planning and management
- Noise abatement operational procedures
- Introducing operating restrictions
Selecting the optimum combination of options, however, requires noise modelling around airports for simulating current and future airport operations, plotting noise levels around airports and analysing the number and spatial distribution of the people affected.
Noise Impact Studies
For any type of expansion or operational project, an airport (big or small) needs to be prepared for potential debates between airport authorities and operational stakeholders, governments, lobbies and residents. In order to ensure the swift implementation of the planned project, fact-based technical studies not only help the consultations with the community and local government but also help to act in a smart way to develop the necessary mitigation actions.
Airports should know the implications in terms of noise impacts for scenarios involving:
- Traffic growth
- Airport expansion
- Operational options
- Regulatory requirements
- Land use management
To help airports pursue their growth in a sustainable way, community management and proper land use management must be implemented.
What are the key factors to manage noise?
Envisa recognises that the noise impact and environmental situation at each airport are unique and that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. We provide services to help airports manage noise issues by:
- Evaluating the current noise impacts (noise levels, population affected, etc.)
- Analysing the effect of airport expansion scenarios on noise impacts
- Understanding the operational framework, opportunities and constraints
- Assessing the present and future noise climate and reporting in meaningful language
- Quantifying the noise performance of of mitigation options
- Elaborating noise management plans
- Understanding and quantifying interdependencies including trade-offs
- Communicating on noise issues with local communities & public authorities
Envisa has a full noise and air quality modelling capability to complement its world class operational and mitigation advisory service.
Noise issues have long been the biggest environmental issue constraining airport growth. In 2011, 24 million Europeans were impacted by aircraft noise; this number should reach 30 million in 2025. It is known today that compared to other transport noise sources, aircraft noise is perceived as the most annoying (this is the so-called aircraft malus).
Historically, noise levels were measured in decibels and regulations are based on these physical values. But more and more evidence and studies highlight the importance of aircraft annoyance issues. Annoyance refers to “a feeling of displeasure associated with any agent or condition, known or believed by an individual or a group to adversely affect them” (definition of World Health Organization). The challenge of aviation stakeholders is to assess this annoyance, taking into account all necessary parameters. Studies are aiming to analyse the judgment process and explain differences between perceived and measured noise.
There are many on-going research projects trying to shed light on aviation noise exposure and its effects on the surrounding communities. In the ATAEGINA Clean Sky project, the Envisa team is investigating the noise impacts of new green flight procedures. Envisa will analyse how these new procedures might impact noise levels for people living in airport vicinity. Besides traditional noise indicators, one of the aims is to study the temporal aspects of noise.
In addition to modelling noise contours, the collected noise recordings will provide material for a laboratory study on noise perception realised by Envisa in partnership with the University of Cergy-Pontoise. The aim is to measure annoyance via its impact on the cognitive performances of test subjects. In the future, the results of this study could be used to develop a noise perception model based on acoustic factors.
Besides the involvement of Envisa in the carbon and energy fields, we also feel strongly concerned by aviation noise issues. Envisa is currently working on the development of datasets for the STAPES model (SysTem for AirPort noise Exposure Studies) jointly owned by Eurocontrol, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and the European Commission. STAPES is a multi-airport noise model capable of providing valuable input to airports and European / international policy-makers, such as ICAO’s Committee on Aviation Environmental Protection (CAEP). Presently, STAPES includes up-to-date information for 27 airports (mostly European).
In this context, Envisa has been awarded a contract to increase the spectrum of airports studied. Therefore, 25 additional airports decks (consisting of airport layout, aircraft movements, runway and procedures usage), have been consolidated.
Visualisation of runway with IMPACT
The deck creation process can be decomposed into two main parts. The first part consists in a geographical description of the airport (collection and transposition of the coordinates of remarkable points such as the reference point, thresholds, etc.). The second part is more focused on the exploitation data from which a representative day’s traffic is compiled in terms of schedule, aircraft types and engine fits and their ANP proxies, runway and SID or STAR used, etc.
The first part relied on the following tasks:
- Collection of Aeronautical Information Publication (AIP) which includes geographical coordinates, layout of runways, detailed map of the SIDs and STARS, and background info such as ambient conditions.
- Use of AIP maps to draw the tracks for the procedures and export the corresponding backbone and sub-tracks in the correct geographical coordinate’s reference system.
As regards the exploitation part, the tasks conducted include:
- Analyzis of the local data provided by the airports to established statistics of runways and tracks usage.
- Build the traffic distribution files (aircraft type, airport destination, timetable, runway and track usage) based on the traffic data provided by Eurocontrol (PRISME).
- Quality-check of each deck via desk verifications and the run of noise contours for each new deck in Eurocontrol’s IMPACT platform.
Creation of Tracks with IMN