Aircraft noise: The challenges for authorities

In this second of our three-part series on aircraft noise exposure around Europe’s largest airports, we explore some of the challenges for government authorities in balancing spatial planning and noise mitigation with the economic benefits that come from aviation industry growth. We take a closer look at aircraft noise nuisance and the measures to mitigate it.

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Balancing act

The European Union’s population and urban population ratios continue to rise, and more people are moving to suburban areas. Meanwhile, a growing demand for air travel is prompting many airports to expand operations and encroach on urbanised areas.

Balancing both interests is further complicated by the sizable benefits from aviation activities. The economic impact of the global aviation industry is estimated at 3.5% of worldwide gross domestic product, supporting nearly 63 million jobs and creating almost 10 million, not to mention the social benefits of connecting people and business.

The challenges

Naturally, there is tension between the benefits of an airport and the corresponding aircraft noise nuisance to growing populations. Governments have a crucial role in providing adequate solutions.  While the benefits are broad, the negative effects of aviation (aircraft noise and air pollution) are primarily concentrated around the airport.

Measuring Objectively

One difficulty of mitigating aircraft noise nuisance is that annoyance is subjective. Calculating the dose-effect relation can provide a more objective measurement. The relationship is determined from the percentages of residents within certain noise contours who are annoyed or highly annoyed. It can provide insight into the trendline of annoyance resulting from new dwellings or from growth and changes in airport traffic (fleet mix, flight paths, traffic volume, etc.).

Mitigating Nuisance and Complaints

When noise complaints are numerous, this often triggers calls for caps on night movements, limiting operating hours and other airport operations restrictions. Under ICAO’s Balanced Approach to Aircraft Noise Management incorporated into EU regulations, such restrictions may only be applied as a last resort.

Another effective measure is land-use planning, one of the pillars of the ICAO Balanced Approach. Governments can regulate where residential development is permitted, to minimise the population’s exposure to aircraft noise and air pollution. Noise insulation regulations are also an option for dwellings close to the airport.

Effective land-use planning

Our analysis of aircraft noise exposure revealed that, of all the European airports, Amsterdam Schiphol, London Heathrow and Paris Charles de Gaulle had accommodated the highest number of air traffic movements in 2017, yet none of these are in the top 3 of population exposure per aircraft movement.

Dutch law, for example, clearly limits development around the country’s airports. New dwellings may not be built within 56 dB(A) Lden. Within 70 dB(A) Lden, existing houses must be removed. Construction limitation policy regarding a 20-Ke spatial planning zone around Schiphol is currently being relaxed, however. New housing is allowed, provided that new residents sign a contract specifically stating they are aware of the aviation noise. The aim is to prevent future complaints, but this condition has been raising considerable debate.

Many large airports are in urbanised areas. The challenges for authorities in balancing airport operations growth with the preservation of high living standards are enormous. Land-use planning is an effective way to limit the number of people affected by aircraft noise.


In the first blog of this series, we presented our analysis of aircraft noise exposure around the largest airports in Europe. This revealed some important aspects to consider in dealing with the growing attention to negative effects of aviation on the environment. In the final blog, we will be comparing the effectiveness of noise mitigation measures at the various distances from an airport.

About To70. To70 is one of the world’s leading aviation consultancies, founded in the Netherlands with offices in Europe, Australia, Asia, and Latin America. To70 believes that society’s growing demand for transport and mobility can be met in a safe, efficient, environmentally friendly and economically viable manner. To achieve this, policy and business decisions have to be based on objective information. With our diverse team of specialists and generalists to70 provides pragmatic solutions and expert advice, based on high-quality data-driven analyses. For more information, please refer to


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