Heathrow is Europe’s noisiest airport, if judged by the numbers of people who are affected by noise pollution. Those on the flight path responded with dismay and anger after the Airport Commission recommended it be allowed to expand by building a third runway.
The Mayor, Boris Johnson, called the decision “catastrophic”. He has been a vocal critic of Heathrow expansion and championed the building of a new airport in the Thames estuary.
In its report today the commission accepts that Heathrow is a worse choice when it comes to noise, saying, “Although an expanded Gatwick would see more people affected by noise than today, its overall noise impacts would still be much less significant than those around Heathrow.”
A plane lands or takes off around every 45 seconds at Heathrow and it accommodates more flights on its two runway than any other equivalent airport.
Data gathered by the European Commission and the CAA shows that nearly three quarters of a million people are disturbed by noise around Heathrow to a level that may be damaging their well-being. That’s more than a quarter of all the people who are impacted by airport noise levels in the whole of Europe.
And Heathrow dwarfs any other UK airport it terms of its noise footprint with Gatwick affecting a fraction of the number.
The noise level is calculated using a measurement called the Lden level and more than 55 decibels Lden has been determined by the World Health Organisation to have damaging affects on health and well-being. These include stress, sleep problems, and high blood pressure but the WHO says child development can also be affected.
The Airport Commission says that the development of quieter aircraft will mean the number of people who suffer from the noise will fall by 2030 and suggests what it calls a “noise envelope” for Heathrow that places a cap on the numbers of people who are affected.
That may be little comfort for those living inside the “envelope” so the commission also says night flights should be banned and there should be an airport levy to pay for noise mitigation measures.
It says that spending on measures to reduce noise should be much higher than it has been historically and data gathered by the Civil Aviation Authority backs this up. In recent years Heathrow has spent €7.7 million annually, but Madrid and Paris Charles de Gaulle spend €11 million and Frankfurt and Amsterdam are spending €30 million.
The final decision to approve the Heathrow expansion now goes to the government. The commission report makes the case strongly that Heathrow delivers far more that Gatwick in terms of international connections and economic growth for the country. But in describing the Gatwick plan as “credible” it has given the government the wriggle room to ignore its recommendation.
Airports Commission Report