19th January 2016

Aircraft noise is bad for your health

SSE welcomes the new report into Aircraft Noise and Public Health produced by the Aviation Environment Federation (AEF) and launched last week in the House of Commons. The launch event was chaired by Dr Tania Mathias MP, accompanied by Professor Stephen Stansfeld of Queen Mary College, London and Tim Johnson, Director of the AEF.

As long ago as 1999 the World Health Organisation (WHO) Charter on Transport, the Environment and Health, recommended that community wellbeing be put first in transport and infrastructure policies. The WHO Charter was ratified by the UK Government but scant attention has been paid to its recommendations despite an estimated 600,000 people in the UK being affected by night-time aircraft noise. The report provides clear evidence that detrimental effects on health already exist in the vicinity of all major airports and under their flight paths.

An increase in the number of flights at Stansted would add to this additional burden for local residents, particularly the vulnerable including the elderly and school children. There is now considerable evidence that adults disturbed by aircraft noise suffer sleep loss, fatigue and accidents from concentration failure, particularly whilst doing complex tasks. Furthermore, interruptions in teaching every 60-90 seconds from low-flying aircraft (jet pause), has a major detrimental effect on classroom activity in schools. In this context Professor Stansfeld drew attention to the multi-national RANCH study which showed that primary school children living in the vicinity of airports suffered from impaired cognitive development.

There is also now increasing evidence that noise from aviation may adversely affect the cardiovascular system. Poor sleep is likely to cause endocrine and metabolic disturbances which may affect cardiovascular health. The AEF report highlights the ‘HYENA’ Studies (hypertension and exposure to noise near airports) which showed increases in blood pressure as well as an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, including coronary heart disease and stroke. These studies were able to take account of such compounding factors as age and lifestyle (including smoking). More recently it has been shown that night-time aircraft noise impairs the function of some of the cells lining the blood vessels and may cause complications among those already vulnerable from established cardiovascular disease. The WHO intends to produce new community noise guidelines later this year.

The AEF report recommends a number of steps to achieve long-term targets including the need for health impact assessments to be carried out before any major airport development is given the go-ahead. Such assessments need to be completely independent to ensure that commercial interests do not override environmental and health considerations.

SSE’s advisor on aviation health issues, Professor Jangu Banatvala CBE, commented: “This new report highlights the importance of health impacts in aviation planning but it is essential that the Departments of Transport, Environment and Education all have an input. The Department of Health should also be playing a key role but as yet its voice has scarcely been heard.”



The report is available to download via the AEF website.


Martin Peachey, SSE Noise Adviser – T 01279 870374; M 07803 603999; mfpeachey1@gmail.com
Professor J E Banatvala, SSE Adviser on health issues – SSE Campaign Office, T 01279 870558; info@stanstedairportwatch.com

Campaigning to ensure Stansted Airport's authorised operations stay below harmful limits