The study, conducted as part of deciding where to build the UK's next airport, indicates that the next one should be in a less populated area.
Stansted airport handles almost 50 times as many passengers as Heathrow for every person affected by aircraft noise, a new discusion paper from the Airports Commission has found.
The study [embedded below], which will form part of the Commission’s analysis of where to build new runways in the UK, finds that more people are affected by noise at Heathrow than at any other major European airport.
Moreover, Heathrow handles far few passengers and aircraft movements than any other British airport for every local resident disturbed by aircraft noise.
Tellingly, the study demonstrates that if noise was the only factor taken into consideration, it would be much less disruptive to build a new runway at Stansted, Gatwick or Luton than Heathrow.
The Commission’s 67-page report uses the traditional measure of evaluating noise exposure – a level of 57 decibels over a 16-hour period from 7am to 11pm.
On this measure, it finds that Stansted handles 12,467 passengers for every person affected by noise – 47.8 times more than the 261 passengers handled by Heathrow. For Gatwick the figure is 9,233 passengers, while Luton handles 3,927 and Manchester 638.
Stansted also caters for 108.8 aircraft movements for every person affected by aircraft noise versus just 1.8 at Heathrow. The results are based on 2006 figures.
The Commission said the “new metrics are attempts to describe the noise efficiency of the airports”, adding: “This analysis throws up some interesting discussion points. Of the UK’s larger airports, all of Luton, Gatwick, Stansted and Manchester position better under the revised metrics than they do under a simple population survey comparison.
“It could be argued, therefore, that these airports are relatively more noise efficient than other UK airports.”
Simply looking at the population affected, Heathrow unsurprisingly comes out worst given the number of people living close to the busy hub that handled almost 70m passengers last year.
At at level of 57 decibels, the Commission report finds that 258,500 people suffer from noise pollution versus 3,700 at Gatwick, 1,900 at Stansted and 2,400 at Luton. Manchester is Britain’s second noisiest airport, in terms of local residents affected, at 35,200 people.
Lowering the decibel count to 55, the study finds that Heathrow is by far the most noise polluting of Europe’s major airports, with 725,500 people affected versus 238,700 at Frankfurt, 170,000 at Paris Charles de Gaulle and 43,700 at Amersterdam’s Schiphol.
A spokesman for the Commission stressed that the study was “only a discussion paper and is not meant to hint at any decision”. It plans to publish a short-list of possible sites for a new runway by the end of the year with a decision in 2015 – after the next election.
John Strickland, an aviation consultant at JLS Consulting, stressed: “Noise is going to be an important component in any decision but the Commission has got to walk a tightrope between environmental factors and economic ones – where to put capacity to boost economic growth and job creation. Heathrow is also in transition towards quieter aircraft with the A380 and new engines on the [Boeing] 787.”
A spokesman for Heathrow said: “We know noise is an issue for people under the flight path which is why we encourage airlines to fly only their quietest aircraft into Heathrow by charging airlines more for noisier aircraft and have schemes to insulate local properties.”
He added the airport had recently published a new document “A Quieter Heathrow”, which sets out our commitments on noise reduction such as publicly ranking airlines according to their noise performance and increasing fines for those that breach the rules.”
He said this would “continue the progress which has seen the number of people affected by noise at Heathrow fall from around 2m in the mid-70s to around 250,000 today”.
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Photo credit: A British Airways passenger jet takes off from Heathrow Airport in west London. Stefan Wermuth / Reuters