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Noise reduction the focus as Airports Commission milestone reached

The aviation regulator has urged a focus on noise mitigation and compensation measures as the deadline passed for comments on where an extra runway should be built in the South East.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) made the plea in its response to the final consultation run by the Airport Commission.

The Sir Howard Davies-led Commission now has until the summer to report to the government on where it believes the extra air travel capacity should be created.

Three options have been shortlisted – a third runway at Heathrow; a second runway at Gatwick; and an independent proposal to double the length of the existing northern runway at Heathrow.

CAA chief executive Andrew Haines said: “It cannot be right that we expect to be able to build more runway capacity without the industry making big improvements to how it minimises its impact on its neighbours.

“The solution is partly operational – such as using the quietest aircraft available in the most efficient way – but industry improving the way it works with local communities is also crucial.” 

Haines said reducing impact on communities was “key” to the debate over airport expansion.

“Communities cannot be expected to put up with airport expansion without much better engagement and compensation and more of a say in a development that will have a major impact on their local area,” he said.

“It’s hard to see how the additional runway capacity that will benefit consumers and industry for generations to come will ever be built unless this issue is comprehensively tackled.”

The CAA called for the following measures to tackle the environmental impacts of aviation expansion:

  • Minimising noise by using the quietest aircraft in the quietest fashion – making the most of advancing technology and making more efficient use of airspace
  • Significantly increasing spending on noise mitigation and compensation for local communities – reversing the current situation where spending is lower than at major airports in Europe and the US
  • Establishing an airport community engagement forum for local communities, aviation industry and policy-makers – to ensure communities have a say in decisions, and creating an opportunity for genuine collaboration between all parties on compensation and noise management
  • Being more transparent about the impacts of changes to ensure communities have a clear picture of how new capacity will affect them

The bodies behind all three shortlisted proposals attempted to position themselves as the benefactors of the CAA’s comments.

Heathrow director of sustainability Matt Gorman said: “Heathrow agrees that local residents should be properly compensated when impacted by airport expansion. That’s why this week we announced a £450M increase to our noise insulation offer so that 160,000 local homes will be eligible for insulation.

“This scheme, worth £700M in total and entirely privately funded, goes above and beyond UK policy requirements, expands on Heathrow’s previous proposals, and is comparable to those offered by other European hub airports.

“Most importantly, this new offer comes as a direct result of local consultations, and the input of the over 13,000 people who had a say on our plans.”

A Gatwick spokesperson said: “We agree that residents must be properly compensated, which is why Gatwick has already committed to pay the Council Tax of people most affected by noise if a new runway is built. We would encourage Heathrow to do the same.”

Jock Lowe, the former Concorde pilot behind the Heathrow Hub proposal to lengthen the airport’s northern runway, said: “We tackle the issue of noise head on by drawing on measures employed internationally and by proposing an end to night quota flights arriving before 6am.”

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