Laying the ground for a robust and transparent aviation noise attitudes survey

By Aviation Environment Federation (AEF) Director, Tim Johnson

An agreed evidence base to support decision making is a key requirement. While many of those living near airports or under flight paths fundamentally want less noise, they also want to feel confident that the way that noise is measured and recorded is both accurate and relevant, and paints an accurate picture of their experiences.

If you can’t agree on the problem, you are a long way from being able to find a satisfactory solution.

Assessments of public attitudes to aircraft noise similarly need to be seen as robust, fair and based on sound evidence, accurately describing people’s views of the impact of aircraft noise on health and well-being. Such studies help to set thresholds for ongoing noise measurement at airports, and for the assessment of airport expansion plans and flightpath change proposals.

The last such study, CAA’s “Survey of Noise Attitudes 2014: Aircraft” or SONA, arguably failed this test.  ICCAN’s Head Commissioner, Rob Light summed up the feelings of many when he wrote:

“It is fair to say that SoNA has been a divisive document. It doesn’t just divide community groups from the aviation industry, it divides opinion between academics, acousticians and health experts.” 

Given this lack of consensus, and the fact that seven years have now elapsed since SoNA’s publication (during which time we’ve seen growth and then a dramatic fall in air traffic, as well as the introduction of a plan to modernise airspace) a fresh look was overdue. ICCAN identified the need for a new, regular attitudinal survey using lessons learned from SoNA, and in 2020 it began work on the new survey design. An advisory board was established to engage with ICCAN’s consultants, NatCen, and to give feedback on the design work being undertaken. 

AEF was pleased to be included alongside several, geographically-diverse, community representatives. The report that ICCAN has published this week is the result of over twelve months work, with the advisory board having had the opportunity to input into each stage of the design elements, discussing both the expectations of communities and other stakeholders as well as the lessons from previous attitudinal studies, including SoNA.

We hope the advisory board’s involvement in the design recommendations has made a positive contribution, one that should help to lay the ground for a robust and transparent study.

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