Although individual aircraft have become 75% less noisy over the last 30 years, the growing amount of air traffic means that many EU citizens are still exposed to high noise levels. In order to ensure the sustainability of aviation, measures targeting the noise impact will remain necessary at a number of important airports. However, noise-related measures constrain not only airport capacity at a particular airport but also the aviation system as a whole through knock-on effects. Therefore, decisions on noise measures and the desired level of noise protection must be balanced against the overall capacity implications.
That was why the European Community adopted a Directive in 2002 on the procedures concerning the introduction of noise-related operating restrictions. As restrictions also impact air carriers from non-EU countries, the Directive was compliant with international principles on noise management. The Directive was based upon the so called "Balanced Approach", agreed and recommended by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), the UN body in charge of civil aviation. The Balanced Approach comprises four principal elements. These are: making aeroplanes quieter by setting noise standards; managing the land around airports in a sustainable way; adapting operational procedures to reduce the noise impact on the ground; and, if required, introducing operating restrictions.
While this legislation certainly led over the last years to more harmonized procedures, the quality of decision-making still requires improvement in order to achieve the most cost-effective solution for each noise situation, on an airport by airport basis. That is why the Commission is reviewing the legislation.
New Commission proposals adopted in December 2011
The new procedures will be clearer and more transparent, so that decisions are evidence-based and offer optimal solutions for noise problems with regard to safety, capacity and cost.
The new proposals will:
- Allow authorities to phase out more easily the very noisiest aircraft which account for a disproportionate amount of noise nuisance. This means reviewing the outdated definition of noisy aircraft (the technical term is "marginally compliant aircraft" as these aircraft barely comply with the noise standard) to take account of developments in technology.
- Give the Commission a scrutiny role, ex ante, on new noise measures, with a view to ensuring a consistency of approach across Europe. The proposals are not about noise target setting, but about the procedures prior to decisions. The aim is to ensure that decisions on restrictions on noise are duly justified, are taken in a transparent way and are evidence-driven. This is, however, only a right of review for the Commission; it will not substitute the Member State's decision.
- Include practical steps to support the implementation of measures, including: the clarification of the links between noise measures and airport management; the improvement of noise mapping and administrative support to ensure the efficient use of the European airspace.