UK aviation - can more policy mean less noise?

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Those of you with an interest in matters of UK aviation policy will be aware that a lot has been going on over recent years. Since the Airports Commission delivered its final report we have seen a raft of new policies emerge. The Department for Transport has drafted, consulted, redrafted and re-consulted the National Policy Statement for a 3rd runway at Heathrow, consulted on a new aviation strategy, a new airspace policy and has undertaken its periodic consultation on night flight restrictions at the designated airports. At the same time, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has also consulted on related matters including a new airspace design process and guidance, and aviation noise impacts.

UK aviation is clearly undergoing a large-scale change in policy and practice, mainly driven by the outcomes of the Airports Commission's work and the need to enable a new runway in the South-East. Policy is focusing on building the UK aviation industry, an especially important point following the vote to leave the EU, whilst managing growth in a sustainable manner.

Sustainability is a key theme, with the new aviation policy focused towards the management of aviation impacts and noise, which has become increasingly high profile. So we have seen the planned creation of an Independent Commission on Civil Aviation Noise (ICCAN), changes to aviation noise compensation, as well as the airspace change process such as for the need for transparent options analysis, new noise metrics and appraisal guidance as well as clarifying new call-in powers for the Secretary of State (SoS) on airspace changes of national significance.

Here at Helios we are deeply involved in the aviation noise debate both in the UK as well as around the world. Of particular interest to us in the recent policy pronouncements is the creation of ICCAN, foreseen for Spring 2018. This is a development that has been called for by communities and is watched with great interest by the industry both at home and abroad. ICCAN is intended to be an advisory body, linked into the airspace change process and any potential SoS call-in. They will have a clear role in furthering the current state of knowledge of the impacts of aviation noise on health. An area which is badly in need of better guidance to feed into planning activities.

Whilst many of the key attributes of ICCAN remain to be resolved, either by the organisation itself, or by Government through the terms of reference, it is clear that great efforts have been taken to ensure its independence. This has been a critical feature raised by the various community groups campaigning on noise matters. It will be interesting to see how this community perception of independence can be achieved in practice whilst also ensuring ICCAN has access to sufficient expertise to conduct its work. Anyone who genuinely understands the technicalities of aviation noise will typically already have some background in the industry either through work for an airport, the CAA or else as a consultant to these organisations. Similarly, true independence means that ICCAN must take an evidence-based approach which inevitably means that on occasion it will not side with community groups on contentious noise matters. What happens to the perception of independence at this point? Will ICCAN then just be labelled as part of 'the industry' itself?

We look forward to seeing how this specific aspect of the recent policy proposals pans out in practice. There are sure to be further developments and it is good to see that 98 years after the publication of the first Air Navigation Order, UK aviation policy is still developing and throwing up interesting challenges.

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Matt Brookes
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