No 1: The Potential of Night Trains

One of the most exciting things in recent has been the return of night trains across Europe. Many of them had disappeared. It was thought they could not compete with budget, short-haul flights. But they are back and popular. And there will be more of them starting up over the next few years.

https://interrailplanner.com/blog/exciting-new-train-routes-in-europe-for-2024-and-beyond/

People will travel longer distances by train at night because it suits them to spend longer on the train. The EU believes that during the day 500 km is maximum distance rail travel could be a more attractive option than plane. https://ec.europa.eu/regional_policy/sources/work/2023-rail-vs-air_en.pdf

But that changes at night. Back on Track Europe has found:

For the majority of short (500 – 1,500 km) and medium haul (1,500 – 3,500 km) flights, night trains are the best alternative, because most people are not willing to spend 6 hours or more of their daytime on a train. The advantage of night trains is the possibility to sleep while travelling and cover a distance of up to 2,000 km, or even up to 3,000 km when combined with high speed rail.

Of course the trains need to be modern and comfortable. Many of the new operators, including private operators, are brining in new trains. They also need to be affordable and simple to book.

Rail would become more competitive if the tax exemptions, like no tax on aviation, were removed. But the potential for the growth in night trains in real. You can read more about it here:  https://back-on-track.eu/general-position-paper/

15 April 2024

No 2: The Case Against Night Flights

Some of the biggest protests in Europe and beyond have been about night flights. They can ruin a night’s sleep and, as Eleftheria Emfietzi, the UECNA Secretary, writes in this article, can cause health problems: https://www.uecna.eu/the-health-impacts-caused-by-night-flights/

In recent years a number of European airports have either banned night flights or restricted the hours when they can operate.  You will some of the key airports which have bans or restrictions here: https://www.uecna.eu/night-flight-bans-or-restrictions-at-european-airports/

But there are still many airports that have night flights. Are they needed?

There are three types of night flights: freight, short-haul, and inter-continental. More than 40% of freight flights take place at night: https://www.eurocontrol.int/sites/default/files/publication/files/tat5-night-freight-report.pdf

Most freight does not need to arrive at night.  A report from the International Logistics Quality Institute as far back as 2004 found that just 10% of short-distance express freight is time-critical.  And there is no evidence that most of the freight on long-distance night flights is time-critical.

22 April 2024

No 3:  Aircraft Noise is a Health Issue

Aircraft noise can be very annoying. More than that. It disturbs us. Across the world millions of people have had their quality of life ruined by aircraft noise. But it also affects our health. A long but very readable paper has just been published which shows the impact noise can have on people’s health.

The paper, Too much noise can harm far more than our ears, by Lindsey Konkel Neabore, shows that noise is a major environmental source of health problems. In some places, it ranks second only to air pollution.

Most obviously, noise affects our hearing. About one in every eight kids and teens have permanent hearing damage from being exposed to too much noise, says the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Noise can affect our learning. Over the past few decades, studies have shown that children in noisy classrooms find it harder to focus. They also can have a harder time reading, remembering things or doing well on tests.

But, because noise can cause us stress, it affects our health. Dr Omar Hahad, quoted in the report, studies how noise-triggered stress can cause harm. He works at the medical center at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, in Germany. “Mental stress is a risk factor for many diseases,” he points out. That includes anxiety, depression and headaches. It also includes heart disease and even digestive problems.

The World Health Organisation in its latest guidelines published in 2018 found that people become annoyed by aircraft noise at lower levels than previously thought.

UECNA teamed up with Stay Grounded to produce a paper which summarised the health impacts of noise.

A new European Parliament will be elected in June. UECNA will be lobbying it to take noise seriously and to take action to reduce it.

29 April 2024

No 4: Drones will Change the Sound of our Skies

There will soon be a new noise in our skies. In a few years it is expected that hundreds of drones will be flying over our heads. And we will hear them. They will be nothing as loud as aircraft but they will create a new, unfamiliar noise. And of course they will be flying low. I believe it is essential to test people’s reaction to drone noise before they are allowed to fly in any great numbers above our heads.

Drones can do a useful job. They can transport goods, including life-saving medicines, across difficult terrain. This can be of particular benefit in emerging economies where good rail or road infrastructure may not be in place. They have many other useful functions as well.

But these uses of drones will not be great money-spinners. The real money will only be made when companies can make regular deliveries to people’s homes. There is a drone company operating in a small town in Ireland. The most popular things they deliver are coffee and guinness.

EASA, the European Union Air Safety Agency, has drawn up regulations to cover drones for the European Union but they are not strong on noise: https://www.easa.europa.eu/en/the-agency/faqs/drones-uas#category-other-requirements.

And the European Union is keen to downplay the noise of drones. Last year I attended a conference on drones staged by the EU. The emphasis was on the economic benefits of drones. Virtually nothing was said about noise.

Of course drones will bring economic benefits. Any new technology does. The use of drone technology is likely to improve productivity as it will enable many tasks to be carried out more efficiently and effectively.  It is also likely to result in an overall increase in employment (though some jobs will be lost – for example, jobs in drone delivery will mean job losses in surface level transport).

In its rush to seize the economic benefits of drones, the EU is running away from the noise problems they will create. The simply don’t know what the noise will be like of hundreds of drones buzzing about in the shy. And they don’t seem to be interested.

To make matters worse, drones will be introduced when roads in many cities will be becoming quieter with the introduction of electric cars, lower speed limits, quieter road surfaces and a move towards public transport, walking and cycling. Drone noise will therefore become more noticeable, more dominant. Any attempts to measure drone noise against current levels of traffic noise, as EASA has tried to do, are unlikely to capture accurately future levels of noise disturbance.

We need a public debate on drones. We need the governments of Europe to take noise from drones seriously. In UECNA we will continue to put pressure on them.

6 May 2024

No 5:  Election Manifestos for the European Parliament Election in June

The political groupings publish manifestos which all parties within that grouping sign up to.

I read the party manifestos (two don’t seem to have been published yet) looking for mentions of noise.

Of those published, only the Greens mention noise. The Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats do mention quality of life (which includes noise)

Rail: the Greens and the European Left have policies to invest in rail. 

Aviation Taxation: the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats propose to increase it

The chart below shows the projected seats for each grouping. Although the mainstream conservatives (EPP) and the mainstream socialists will remain the main parties, parties of the left and right are expected to increase their seats.

EEP – The European People’s Party
The main grouping in the Parliament. Centre-right. Climate policies but no mention of noise.

(S & D) –  Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats
Second biggest grouping in the Parliament Centre-left. Policies on climate but no mention of noise. Do talk, though, about quality of life: ‘We will keep delivering on an ambitious Cohesion Policy across Europe to improve quality of life in cities, rural areas and remote regions.’

ALDE – Alliance of Liberals and Democrats
Emphasise freedom and free market solutions; policies on climate but no mention of noise

European Left
Traditional far-left solutions; policies on climate; nothing on noise but do say this: ‘Dismantle the SUV economy through regulations that ensure carbon-neutral, efficient, and road user-friendly car production. Impose equal taxes on aircraft and car fuels, eliminating CO2 exemptions. Ban private flights, prioritise trains for journeys under two and a half hours, revive night trains, and expand networks as needed. Enforce reduction and oversight of cruises.’

The European Free Alliance (EFA) – alliance of parties representing stateless nations, regions and minorities.
Keen on decentralization of power within the EU and more power for the regions. Policies on climate but don’t mention noise.

European Greens
As to be expected, a huge amount on climate. Just one mention of noise: ‘The green transition is not abstract, it means new rail lines, new factories, new opportunities for you and your community.’

‘We want people to be able to get around easily and cheaply on sustainable public transport. Mobility is crucial to everyone, every day. It connects people, communities, and businesses, while traveling to see friends and family or for leisure should be one of life’s pleasures. Today, transport systems are stacked in favour of the wealthy and against people and the planet. Working-class neighbourhoods suffer most from air and noise pollution and poorly connected rural and suburban communities often have no choice other than the car. High-emission transport is perversely subsidized, and private jets are pushing emissions ever higher. We will introduce a European Climate Ticket framework, so that every part of Europe offers an affordable public transport pass easily used across different modes of public transport.’

‘We need to massively increase investment in and coordination of rail transport to literally connect Europe as part of our Infrastructure Union. Rail infrastructure in many European regions is in a state of disrepair and there is no high-speed rail coverage whatsoever in much of Central and Eastern Europe. The EU must therefore prioritize investment in the modernization and convergence of under-served regions. To promote sustainable long-distance travel, we will invest in night train infrastructure and create a European Ticketing Platform to make booking cross-border journeys on sustainable transport straightforward. Rural areas and poorly connected regions will be prioritized in transport investments, including car-sharing initiatives, ferries and rail freight. We will make sure that fairer prices show the real cost of polluting transport, taxing air travel and fuel properly where efficient climate-friendly alternatives cannot be put in place. We will reduce demand for flights, introducing a frequent flyer levy, with exceptions for island regions, and banning short-haul where alternatives are available. We will fight to introduce a ban on private jets. We defend a just transition for all transport workers and will protect workers and passengers through road safety measures and an EU-wide speed limit.’

Renew Europe – Manifesto not yet published
Liberal, pro-European political group

European Conservatives and Reformists
Preserving National Identity: Reforming the European Union and Safeguarding Member State Sovereignty

Adopt a different approach to tackling climate: ‘The global challenge of climate change and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions can only be tackled globally and in a market economy. We propose an opposite approach on the Green Deal to that promoted by the EU in the last five years. We will advocate a more balanced, localised climate strategy that does not forget ordinary people and prioritises socio-economic well-being.’

Nothing on noise.

Identity and Democracy couldn’t find a detailed manifesto
Focus on national identity, protecting borders and immigration (includes Marine Le Pen of France’s National Rally, Matteo Salvini of Italy’s League and Geert Wilders of the Dutch Freedom Party).

13 May 2024

No 6:  New type of flight paths being introduced

Over the next few years there will be changes to flight paths at most airports in Europe.  This is because flight paths across the world are being modernized.  Air traffic controllers are moving from a ground-based system to a satellite system to guide planes. The new system will allow planes to be guided more accurately.  It will mean narrower, more concentrated flight paths.  Routes will be more direct.  The system is known as Performance Based Navigation (PBN).

The new system will mean:

  • Airlines save money on fuel;
  • Journey times become more reliable;
  • The capacity of airports increases since there should be fewer delays and because there can be more departure routes;
  • The amount of CO2 emitted per plane decreases.

 

What will be the impact for local communities?

It depends how the flight paths are organized.  There are a number of options:

The new flight paths could be concentrated over a few communities.  This would mean that these people got all the flights.

Or the flight paths could be rotated to give communities a break from the noise. This is known as respite.  This would mean that more people in total would get aircraft noise but most communities would get a break from noise each day. But the rotation could mean that some places will get planes for the first time.

Many communities will also benefit from planes being higher.  At the moment at some airports planes need to be kept lower than they need be to avoid aircraft from nearby airports.  This is likely to happen much less under PBN as aircraft will have their own dedicated route.

What has happened so far?

Over 100 airports across the world have introduced PBN.

In America the authorities have gone for concentrated all-day flying over the same communities.  No respite.  Some of these have been communities which were not previously overflow.  There has been a lot of opposition, including lawsuits.

In contrast, Heathrow consulted the public on what they wanted from their flight paths.  Only a small number of people favoured all-day flying over the same communities; the majority favoured respite; with new areas avoided if at all possible.  Heathrow then set about designing the new routes based on those preferences.  The work was paused because of the pandemic but has now resumed.

20 May 2024

No. 7: Do we get more disturbed by aircraft noise than the official figures show?

Many residents simply to not accept that the way aircraft noise is measured properly reflects the noise they hear.

UECNA will be doing a webinar on the subject, with international speakers, on 3rd June. Details: see our homepage.

There are a number of controversial areas:

1. The averaging out of noise

Aircraft noise is usually averaged out. Sometimes it is averaged out over a 16 hour day (what is known in Europe as the LAeq metric). Sometimes it is averaged out over a 12 hour day and then combined with a 4 hour evening and an 8 hour night (the Lden metric) – America uses something similar called DNL.

Many in the aviation industry argue these averaging out metrics accurately reflect how people hear noise. Many residents disagree. They point out they include the quiet periods of the day and also the days when there may be no planes. At the very least, they argue, that the N metric, which measures the number of planes flying overhead, should be used as well.

2. The level when people become annoyed

There are lots of different opinions. The World Health Organisation argued in its 2018 Noise Guidelines argues that people start to get annoyed when the noise averages out at 45 decibels; the UK Government puts it 51 decibels; the EU at 55 decibels; and America at a very high 65 decibels.

The most significant thing is the trend. Research published over the last decade is very clear. People get annoyed by much lower levels of aircraft noise that previously thought. It now accepted that you can live many kilometers from an airport and still be annoyed by the noise. The American figure contradicts the evidence.

3. Low frequency noise

There is an argument that none of the metrics used measure the low-frequency noise from aircraft. Low frequency noise is a different type of noise. There is a lot of low frequency noise in, for example, a sound system. As well has hearing it, the body can ‘feel’ it. Aircraft noise has a lot of low frequency. There are good arguments to say that all the above metrics don’t fully capture the low-frequency noise because they use ‘A’ weighting. ‘C, ‘D’ or ‘Z’ weighting are a lot better at capturing low-frequency noise. In 1999 the World Health Organisation acknowledged the importance of low frequency noise:

Special attention should also be given to: noise sources in an environment with low background sound levels; combinations of noise and vibrations; and to noises with low-frequency components.

Guidelines for Community Noise, Exec Summary 3.10 – World Health Organisation [WHO]

Conclusion

The pressure on governments and the aviation industry to use more realistic metrics to measure noise disturbance is beginning to bring results. But it is still far from perfect. We need to keep up that pressure.

There is a more detailed paper on metrics on our website: https://www.uecna.eu/key-issues/noise-health/how-aircraft-noise-is-measured/

27 May 2024