Held under the patronage of H.H. Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, President of the Dubai Civil Aviation Authority, Chairman of Dubai Airports, Chairman and Chief Executive of Emirates Airline and Group

Aviation keeps noise levels down as passenger volumes creep upwards

With more flight paths slowly picking up again, how can aviation make their operations quieter without sacrificing their necessary recovery?

Noise management is a crucial yet often overlooked factor in the aviation industry’s ongoing efforts to become more sustainable. With COVID-19 creating the quietest skies seen in a generation, now is the time for airlines and airports to consider how to best pursue a better long-term strategy for managing noise levels in its operations. 

Across the world, various bodies are working alongside airports, airlines, government authorities and communities living near airports to find better strategies for creating quieter daily flight operations. One such body is the UK’s Independent Commission on Civil Aviation Noise (ICCAN), established in 2019 to: “…act as an independent, impartial voice on civil aviation noise and how it affects communities”. Organisations like ICCAN have pointed out that while the impact of COVID-19 has been devastating for aviation worldwide, it does present something of a unique opportunity for all stakeholders to take stock and formulate plans for keeping our skies quieter as the industry picks itself back up.

Practically speaking, this won’t be a quick fix or a short adjustment. Guidance and suggestions from bodies like ICCAN involve the integration of sustainability into the long-term operations and growth strategies of airports and airlines, all the while ensuring that the public are consulted and informed. 

Noise Management Measures Gaining Ground

Retiring older, noisier planes from active fleets: The enforced downturn in flight volumes has made the retiring of older fleet assets an easier, and in many cases entirely necessary step for airlines to take. Airlines from Virgin to KLM, American Airlines, Qantas and many more worldwide have accelerated their plans to phase out their older planes. While this is undoubtedly a challenging process, it will have the benefit of taking very noisy models out of the picture to be replaced with newer planes capable of flying with a far smaller ‘noise footprint’.

Improved Air Traffic Management approaches: Deciding when and how flights land and take off is essential for effective noise management, making ATM a vital part of the equation. Through the integration of advanced technologies, ATM can support the reduction of noise pollution by establishing flight patterns that disperse or stagger the noise impact to densely populated areas, while enabling pilots to undertake noise reduction procedures safely, such as reduced thrust take-off, displaced landing thresholds and continuous descent operations.

Land-use planning and future growth strategies: Noise from existing flights landing and taking off isn’t the only consideration for communities living near to airports. As demand returns to 2019 levels, plans for airport expansions that have been shelved during the pandemic will doubtlessly be dusted off again. In all such cases, airports are being urged to undertake sustainable, community-sensitive planning for all expansion activities. By intelligently zoning areas while utilising the latest in urban planning technologies and sustainable strategies, airports can come up with optimal ways to grow their capacity while keeping noise pollution levels to a minimum.

Community engagement and communication: In every case regarding future decisions that will impact noise levels of an airport, operators are being urged by ICCAN and similar bodies to make community engagement a core part of their strategy. They advise canvassing opinion and encouraging frank, transparent discussions both on and offline to fully understand community concerns, ideas and needs as their development plans progress.

Keeping a lid on noise levels for a revitalised industry

The path towards ‘returning to normality’ cannot be one of growth at any cost. The consensus among government, community and aviation leaders is that we cannot simply try to replicate pre-COVID conditions for the industry; a more sustainable, economically and environmentally viable path needs to be forged. Building smarter, not just bigger, is the call of the hour, with more technologically advanced planes, ATM setups and airport development plans leading the way towards quieter skies for everyone. 

This article was created in association with Airport Show taking place in Dubai on 26-28 October 2020. 

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