Impact of noise guidelines for the European region

Noise is one of the top environmental risks to health, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), and a growing concern. The just-released Environmental Noise Guidelines for the European Region include environmental noise guidelines for transportation noise sources, the impact of which could be considerable for the aviation industry. The Guidelines offer source-specific public health recommendations on long-term exposure, including aircraft noise.

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Stricter guidelines

In 2010, the European Commission asked the WHO to study the health risks of noise and provide recommendations for, among other things, transportation by road, rail and air. To develop their Noise Guidelines, the WHO followed a rigorous process involving multiple stakeholders and noise experts, including ours. Their findings indicate aircraft noise above 45 dB Lden (and 40 dB Lnight) is a potential health risk. The WHO also strongly recommends policy-makers implement suitable measures to reduce noise exposure above those levels.

This WHO norm is more stringent than current EU policy. If adopted as prescribed, the impact on how airports and regulators are currently trying to reduce noise exposure and noise nuisance around airports will be substantial. Implementation will require extensive effort from all stakeholders.

Work to be done

Aircraft noise nuisance is a particularly current topic in the Netherlands, as the Environmental Impact Assessment for Schiphol Airport is expected to be published soon. The balance between growth and the impact of aviation is increasingly a point of discussion between community groups, airports, policy-makers and other stakeholders.

Noise exposure guidelines in the Netherlands require measures to limit noise nuisance within 48 dB Lden (40 dB Lnight), already lower than prescribed in EU policy. In this respect, the Netherlands is ahead of other EU member states, especially those with norms up to 55 dB Lden.

Around Europe, current norms and regulations around permissible noise exposure levels and land-use planning vary widely. Strict land-use planning is a challenge for most larger airports and some have no schemes in place. Schiphol Airport targets a land-use planning area of over 10.000 houses. What the WHO recommendations will mean for individual airports depends on if, and how, they are adopted by governments at various levels.

Assessing individual conditions

Government policies for acceptable aircraft noise exposure levels are currently higher in many EU countries than the 45 dB Lden now recommended by the WHO. Those countries with higher noise exposure norms could face quite radical changes if these new guidelines become EU legislation, for example.

A large part of our work at To70 is helping airports, policy makers, and property developers understand and mitigate aircraft noise nuisance. Different noise mitigation measures have different effects on different noise exposure situations, so it is important to first understand the specific conditions at the individual airport. The primary focus for stakeholders right now is to be able to address the impact of these new recommendations, especially if implemented in EU legislation. They will need to pinpoint exactly what these more stringent guidelines would mean for their individual situation.

The WHO released its Environmental Noise Guidelines for the European Region on October 10th. You can download the executive summary here.


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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