Introductory statement on the Air Traffic Events round table

Dr. Manfred Peter  24.03.2023

The current regulations on night flights at Vienna Airport were drawn up in the course of the mediation process. Almost 17 years have passed since then. It is not only air traffic that has developed enormously in terms of aircraft movements and passenger numbers during this time, but also the scientific findings on the effects of excessive noise exposure on health. The enormous dip that the coronavirus pandemic has certainly caused in the development of air traffic will be overcome in the next one to two years, as the current figures and forecasts show.

In its text 130/2019 ‘Environmentally friendly air transport’, the German Federal Environment Agency (FEA) states that the many environmental and health impacts caused primarily by greenhouse gas and air pollutant emissions and noise pose enormous ecological challenges for air transport. As a consequence of the assessment of these health hazards, the German UBA states that, from its point of view, aircraft noise exposure at night that reaches or exceeds an LNight of 40 dB(A) is noteworthy. This value is also recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Based on numerous studies and other investigations, the WHO published current guidelines on environmental noise in October 2018. In it, the WHO recommends that an LDEN value of 45 dB(A) and an Lnight value of 40 dB(A) should be observed to protect against aircraft noise. The German FEA supports these recommendations in order to protect the population from the negative effects of noise on human health.

In its ‘Route to environmentally friendly air traffic’ presented in this text 310/2019, the German FEA states that protection against disruptive and harmful noise is a central element for a healthy and environmentally friendly organisation of air traffic in the 21st century. From the point of view of noise impact research, average levels of 45 dB(A) during the day and 40 dB(A) at night should be aimed for. Furthermore, by 2050 at the latest – ideally much earlier – there should be no more regular flight operations between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. at airports close to urban centres.

Last week’s REPORT FROM THE COMMISSION TO THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND THE COUNCIL on the implementation of the Environmental Noise Directive in accordance with Article 11 of Directive 2002/49/EC also states that, according to the findings of the European Environment Agency (EEA), noise is the second most important factor in environmental illness after air pollution. Prolonged exposure to high levels of noise pollution can have serious health effects, the report continues.

This EU Commission report points out that the 2021 Zero Pollution Action Plan includes the specific target of reducing the number of people exposed to chronic traffic noise pollution by 30% by 2030 compared to 2017. Both the strategy for sustainable and intelligent mobility and the eighth environmental action program emphasize the need to further reduce noise pollution, which is largely caused by transport.

This report then addresses the WHO Noise Guideline 2018 and states that the evaluation of the expert reports used for the development of this guideline provided a sufficient basis for strong WHO recommendations for the reduction of noise to certain levels, depending on the noise source. The values of the WHO Noise Directive are presented below.

In December 2022, the European Commission published the first integrated report on the Zero Pollution Monitoring and Prospective Framework, which includes a prospective assessment on noise. The report states that the target set in the Zero Pollution Action Plan of reducing the proportion of people chronically affected by traffic noise by 30% by 2030 compared to 2017 will not be achieved without further measures.

Furthermore, it is predicted that even if the planned measures are implemented, the total number of people chronically affected by traffic noise will increase by 3% by 2030. However, the number of people chronically affected by traffic noise could be reduced by 19% by 2030 if extensive additional measures were taken at local level. Measures for other modes of transport could include quiet and smooth rails, quiet railway carriages and improved flight procedures and measures for night-time flight operations.

So much for the content from reputable sources such as the German Federal Environment Agency and the EU Commission.

Based on this, however, one can also ask whether the right to health is not a fundamental and human right to which all residents in the vicinity of the airport are entitled. And from here we can move on to the question of the freedom of its impairment and its expansion. Because only those who are free from exposure to aircraft noise that impairs their quality of life and jeopardises their health also have the freedom to lead a self-determined life free from avoidable external interference.

So there are more than enough reasons to tackle overcoming the status quo.