Noise management strategies

The regulatory environment has evolved over the last three years with the entry into force of Regulation (EU) 598/2014 on the establishment of rules and procedures with regard to the introduction of noise-related operating restrictions at Union airports within a Balanced Approach [8]. This regulation, and the EU Environmental Noise Directive [6], promote effective management techniques to manage noise pollution around airports and are complementary to the implementation of national and local initiatives.

As part of the Regulation 598/2014, EASA has been asked to implement two new roles on aircraft noise data collection. The first role is to verify and publish aircraft noise and performance data for use in calculating airport noise contours and assessing the noise situation. This provides a robust and common set of data that further enhances and harmonises the modelling approach within Europe. It builds upon the database [65] that has been maintained and hosted by EUROCONTROL. In addition, EASA is to collect aircraft noise certificates from operators using European airports. This central database will be made available to competent authorities, air navigation service providers and airport operators for operational purposes. It provides a process at a European level whereby this information can be shared between all appropriate stakeholders in a much more efficient manner.

The principle of a ’balanced approach‘ [66] to aircraft noise management at airports involves assessing (modelling) and monitoring (measuring) the situation, defining a baseline, future objectives and an associated noise action plan. The balanced approach consists of the following core elements (Figure 5.1):

  1. Reduction of noise at source through research studies, technology programmes and standard setting.
  2. Land-use planning and management policies to prevent incompatible development into noise-sensitive areas. This action unites planning (zoning, easement), mitigation (building codes, insulation, real estate disclosure) and financial aspects (tax incentives, charges).
  3. The practical application of noise abatement operational procedures [67], to the extent possible without affecting safety. These procedures enable the reduction or the redistribution of the noise around the airport and the full use of modern aircraft capabilities.
  4. Operating restrictions on aircraft defined as any noise-related restriction that limits access to or reduces the operational capacity of an airport, for instance noise quotas or flight restrictions. This is used only after consideration of other elements of the balanced approach.

It is recognised that involvement of all stakeholders in the discussions on a balanced approach to noise management is a critical factor in mitigating aircraft noise and the annoyance to communities near airports. Regulation 598/2014 requires that technical cooperation be established between the airport operators, aircraft operators, ground handlers and air navigation service providers to examine measures to mitigate noise. In addition, local resident representatives, and relevant local authorities, are to be consulted and technical information on noise mitigation measures provided to them.

Such stakeholder consultation and collaboration is often referred to as ‘Collaborative Environmental Management’ (CEM) and is adopted to suit local needs and capabilities. The CEM working arrangement provides a platform for discussion between core operational stakeholders, such as airports, airlines, air navigation service providers; and as appropriate, local authorities and local communities. This facilitates the identification of synergies, quantification of impacts including trade-offs (e.g. noise and fuel burn), and the understanding of potential constraints within the aviation system in order to reach compromises from an operational perspective, which all stakeholders can collaborate in implementing. EUROCONTROL updated its CEM Specification in 2018 [68], and 25 respondents to the ACI EUROPE survey stated that they have implemented a CEM-type collaborative approach since 2014.

Operational stakeholders may place greater emphasis in certain elements of the balanced aproach than others, depending on the airport objectives with regard to noise abatement and the cost effectiveness of potential mitigation measures. 84% of survey respondents indicated that local and/or national authorities defined land-use planning noise zones around the airport, and that the airport is involved in land-use planning processes. In addition, 65% of survey respondents have implemented sound insulation schemes for local communities. To reduce noise impacts, 90% have implemented noise abatement operational procedures with 43% employing all of the following: enhanced departure procedures, arrival procedures, ground-based procedures, preferential runway procedures and procedures for engine test run-ups.

Whilst recognising that operating restrictions should be used only after consideration of other elements of the balanced approach, 79% of the airports surveyed indicated that they employ various approaches including restrictions on noisier aircraft (78% of respondents), night flight restrictions (75%), runway restrictions (48%), noise budgets (18%) and movement caps (18%) amongst others.

Aircraft noise performance at European airports

Aircraft that were only compliant with ICAO Annex 16, Volume I, Chapter 2 noise certification limits were no longer permitted to operate in Europe from 1 April 2002 [69]. Following the implementation of the balanced approach in 2002 [8], operating restrictions are now considered at an airport level rather than a regional level. The Balanced Approach Regulation (EU) 598/2014 defines an ‘operating restriction’ as a noise-related action that limits access to or reduces the operational capacity of an airport. This includes the banning of operations by so-called ‘marginally compliant’ aircraft that are defined as having a cumulative margin14 of less than 10 EPNdB15 to the ICAO Annex 16, Volume I, Chapter 3 noise certification limits. Figure 5.2 illustrates the share of EU28+EFTA aircraft operations split into three categories based on their margin to the Chapter 3 limits.

The ICAO Resolution A39-1 Appendix E [70], which was adopted in 2016, urges States not to permit the introduction of any operating restrictions aimed at aircraft that comply with the noise standards in Chapter 4 and Chapter 14 and any further stringency levels adopted by the ICAO Council. Currently less than 5% of EU28+EFTA aircraft operations do not comply with these standards.

14 ‘Cumulative margin’ is the figure expressed in EPNdB obtained by adding the individual margins (i.e. the differences between the certified noise level and the maximum permitted noise level) at each of the three reference noise measurement points in Chapter 3.
15 The definition of a marginally compliant aircraft is currently 8 EPNdB and will increase to 10 EPNdB on 14 June 2020. This is equivalent to the Chapter 4 noise certification limits.

Environmental charges

Some airports levy environmental charges, either separate or integrated into other ones (e.g. landing charges), in order to incentivise the use of quieter or lower-emission aircraft by airlines or fund local mitigation measures (Figure 5.3).

A recent evaluation of Directive 2009/12/EC on Airport Charges [71], together with an analysis of publicly available information, revealed that approximately 60% of the busiest EU28+EFTA airports have implemented environmental charges. In line with ICAO guidance, these charges are focused on local noise and/or air quality (NOX) impacts and not global climate change impacts (CO2), and are dependent on numerous factors including the aircraft and engine type, the certified noise and emission levels and time of the day. The overall proportion of environmental charges relative to total airport charges is increasing, but remains small as of 2016 (approximately 4% for long haul and 1% for short haul flights). As airport charges represent 15-20% of low-cost carrier costs and 4-8% of network carrier costs, the evaluation report concluded that it is questionable whether those charging schemes influence the fleet operating at the airports.

Although there are significant differences in the structure of the environmental charging systems across Europe, the evaluation of the Airport Charges Directive concluded that it had provided a common framework for a transparent consultation on the charging setting process, remedies, non-discrimination and the establishment of independent supervisory authorities.

Environmental impact mitigation measures

Airports have been active in improving their environmental performance in various areas. This section provides an overview of some of these actions based on the 51 airport responses to the ACI EUROPE survey in 2018, which represent 60% of total EU28+EFTA passenger numbers.

Vehicle fleet

86% of the respondents reported that their vehicle fleet included electric vehicles, 47% have hybrid models and 35% have vehicles that run on sustainable alternative fuel. In addition, 18% of airports indicated that they provide incentives for taxis to also use these types of ‘green’ vehicles.


61% of survey respondents indicated that renewable energy is produced on site (Figure 5.4) while 40% have established an energy management system certified according to the ISO 50001 standard. 89% of these airports indicated that the renewable energy produced on site covers 1-20% of their energy needs, 3% stated the energy covers 21-40% of their needs, 5% stated the energy covers 41-60% of their needs and 3% stated the energy covers more than 61% of their needs. In addition, 65% of airports purchase electricity from renewable sources.

Airport infrastructure

The provision of Fixed Electrical Ground Power (FEGP) and Pre-Conditioned Air (PCA) to aircraft at the airport gate reduces emissions by allowing the pilot to obtain electricity direct from the local grid and use the airport’s air conditioning system to control the temperature on board. The aircraft Auxiliary Power Unit, which uses normal jet fuel, can then be kept switched off until just before the aircraft is ready to depart when it is needed to start the main engines. 82% of respondents provide FEGP to aircraft on-stand and 58% of respondents provided PCA.

Airport surface access

A large part of the indirect emissions at airports originate from surface access transport (e.g. the road access to the airport). The development of improved public transport systems to reduce the use of individual vehicles, and improve local air quality, is one of the key challenges for airports and the local authorities. While 98% of airports indicated that public transport was available, a majority of airports also reported that less than 20% of their employees actually use it to travel to work. In a separate analysis, on average, 36% of passengers travelled to airports by public transport in 2018, compared to 43% in 201616.

Environmental Management Systems

82% of surveyed airports, representing 53% of total EU28+EFTA passengers, were certified against an international standard to effectively monitor and manage their environmental performance (e.g. EU EMAS, ISO 14001) or energy management (ISO 50001).

16 2016 and 2019 data was based on airport reports representing 56% and 64% of European traffic respectively

Stakeholder actions

Airports Council International Europe (ACI EUROPE)

ACI EUROPE represents over 500 airports in 45 European countries, which accounts for over 90% of commercial air traffic in the region. It works to promote professional excellence and best practice amongst its members, including in the area of environmental protection.

Aircraft noise is another significant environmental challenge and airports play a crucial role in facilitating coordination between all relevant stakeholders to identify the most suitable noise mitigation measures based on the specific local circumstances and residents’ needs. Airports can also play an important role in the implementation of these measures, for example by establishing or contributing to sound insulation schemes, which can involve investments of millions of euros. In addition to reducing aircraft noise, transparent and regular communication with residents has its own added value, enhancing trust and potentially reducing annoyance. The Dialogue Forum at Vienna Airport, which involves communities in noise-related decision-making, is one of the most successful examples of such engagement.

Airport Regions Conference (ARC)

ARC is an association of local and regional authorities with an international airport on their territories. It has over 30 members, representing nearly 70 million European citizens. More than half of European air traffic goes through an ARC airport. ARC Members are dedicated to balancing the economic benefits generated by the airport with their environmental

Benchmarking noise policies: improving airport noise management and going beyond the balanced approach

ARC has developed a methodology to help decision-makers assess the implementation of noise policies at airports, taking into account both acoustical and non-acoustical factors. By comparing the implementation of mitigation measures that go beyond just the balanced approach, it is possible to ‘map’ the situation at an airport. Such mapping does not rank one airport against another, but allows for identification of actions that could be further developed.

For example, below is a comparison of noise policies at two different airports. Using this methodology, one can identify where there are areas and opportunities for improvement.

Some lessons from this benchmarking exercise:

  • The balanced approach does not cover all the available tools for noise management.
  • No situation is ever entirely comparable to another, and this tool supports decision-makers in identifying what can still be done.
  • A comprehensive noise policy requires the cooperation of all stakeholders using an appropriate governance structure.
  • No airport area is using all available tools, so there is always room for improvement.

Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs)

Environmental NGOs19 in Europe are actively involved in policy-making discussions to address the increasing environmental impacts of aviation. They communicate wider civil society views on concerns and positions associated with noise, air pollution, climate change and social justice.

Union Européenne Contre les Nuisances Aériennes (UECNA)

UECNA was created in 1968 and is a pan-European NGO representing citizens impacted from the nuisance of noise and air pollution associated with aviation. UECNA represents its members in expert work groups, mainly at the European level, and keeps them informed of new developments.

Aviation is growing and this trend will continue in the coming years. The consequences of noise and pollution on the health of populations overflown by aircraft are often not internalised within market prices. An awareness of these environmental challenges by all stakeholders, at the European, national and local level, is essential in order to identify and implement plans that will significantly reduce these impacts.

UECNA works continuously with this objective in mind. A constructive comparison process is an important element of progress that UECNA promotes. Through systematic benchmarking and positive comparisons of the solutions put in place at various airports, best practise solutions can be shared in order support general measures to reduce noise and air pollution. UECNA works closely with the European Aircraft Noise Measurement System (EANS) in this area.

Case Study: European Aircraft Noise Measurement System

The public can sometimes find it difficult to obtain information on aircraft noise in their area (e.g. noise levels, flight tracks). As a result, one such community near Frankfurt Airport decided to monitor aircraft noise itself. This led to the founding of the European Aircraft Noise Measurement System (EANS) as an NGO in 2002. Today, the EANS offers free online information about aircraft noise covering 54 airports with 697 noise monitoring stations in 8 European countries. The EANS system is financed by citizens and municipalities through membership fees and donations, and managed by Eidgenössische Materialprüfungsanstalt (EMPA) in Switzerland. It provides expert advice to technical working groups, and works closely with UECNA.

24 hours of flights at Frankfurt Airport on 13 July 2018

19 This includes Transport & Environment, Aviation Environment Federation, Carbon Market Watch and UECNA who are members of the International Coalition for Sustainable Aviation. There is also a range of national NGOs such as RAC (France), Bund (Germany) active in the aviation area as well as many local action groups.