Putting people’s health at the heart of our work

By ICCAN Head Commissioner, Rob Light

Earlier this year, ICCAN published a route map for the future of aviation noise management, which set out recommendations for the government on how improvements could be made that would evolve the framework of regulation currently in place, and support a sustainable recovery for the aviation industry.  

We are continuing to prioritise work that will improve the way aviation noise is managed in the short-to-medium term and our second Corporate Strategy sets out how we will do this over the next three years.  

I’d like now to provide an update on two important areas of our work that focus on the vital issue of people’s health, specifically further examining the relationship between aviation noise and health and wellbeing, and the impact aviation noise has on annoyance.  

The impact of aviation noise on people’s health is a complex area, and based on the current evidence, there is a need to develop further strong and robust research that can be used to help inform policy.  

Last month, we published a progress update setting out the prioritisation process we have undertaken to help expand and improve the existing evidence base around health and wellbeing.  

To help us get to this stage and outline our future priorities we have engaged extensively with stakeholders including community groups and individuals affected by noise, experts in noise-health research, government officials with an interest in aviation noise and health impacts, as well as other aviation industry representatives.  

Their input and exchange of views has been crucial and has given us a clear direction for our next steps, which will include finalising ICCAN’s priorities around aviation noise, health and wellbeing, and constructing a roadmap of future research areas. 

Engagement has also been at the centre of our work on annoyance as for the past 18 months we’ve been working closely with stakeholders to design a new survey of aviation noise. The Government bases aviation noise policy on survey data last collected seven years ago through the Survey of Noise Attitudes 2014 (SoNA) but in this intervening period, the SoNA survey has come under criticism.  

ICCAN’s review of SoNA 2014 found that while it had sought to follow best practice there was room for improvement in future attitudinal surveys. It is highly likely that attitudes to noise have changed drastically in this time, either through operational changes or due to noise reduction felt as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. By the time aviation returns to pre-pandemic levels, SoNA could well be over a decade old so it is our belief that a new survey is long overdue.  

This week, ICCAN has published its recommendations on what this new attitudinal survey will look like.  

Importantly, to help us shape and design this new survey, which will provide robust, up-to-date evidence, we appointed an advisory board with the purpose of giving advice on the direction, priorities and issues we would face.   

Working with the ICCAN team, and external research agency National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) who we commissioned to help conduct the study, the advisory board consisted of community members, industry representatives, academics, government and regulatory representatives, and acoustics experts.  

Their input has been invaluable as it has not only challenged us but helped ensure we are proposing the most appropriate design to help inform future policy.   

One of the advisory board members, Tim Johnson, director of the Aviation Environment Federation, has blogged about his experiences and this type of stakeholder-led approach which has fed directly into our work on a new attitudinal survey.   

Since our inception, we have always tried to put communication at the heart of ICCAN’s work, ensuring that we listen to a myriad of views, thereby giving us a better understanding of people’s views and providing us with a more balanced approach.  

By placing engagement at the heart of these projects we have benefited from the great insight and knowledge that those with strong interest and experience can provide.  

These two publications mark a huge step forward for ICCAN as they not only represent the first pieces of work from our second Corporate Strategy, but they also underpin two vital areas where research and further evidence can help to shape future aviation policy, improving the lives of the many people impacted by aviation noise across the UK in the process.  

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The Independent Commission on Civil Aviation noise ceased operating on 30 September 2021.

You can read the Government’s statement on ICCAN’s closure and Head Commissioner Rob Light’s letter to the Minister to learn more.

Any further questions about ICCAN’s work or aviation noise should be directed to the Department for Transport.