An airport cracks down on the noisiest aircraft

This was the headline of a BBC News report of last Thursday, 30 May. The report included the information that Heathrow Airport is in a more populated area than the other London airports, Gatwick and Stansted. As such, there is an increasing pressure to minimise noise pollution for the benefit of people living around the airport.

The report states that as well as increasing fines on airlines whose aircraft repeatedly break maximum noise level limits, there will be a trial of new departure routes and steeper approaches. It is also intended later this year to begin a Fly Quiet programme.

Even the Heathrow Association for the Control of Aircraft Noise (HACAN) welcomed the programme, although saying that residents were still opposed to the prospect of expanding the airport.

Is there any likelihood of Geneva airport, which is also right in the middle of a populated area, adopting a similar programme? I suspect that the answer is probably no, for a number of reasons.

To the best of my knowledge, there are no maximum noise limits imposed by either the airport or the Swiss Federal Civil Aviation Office, OFAC. Swiss regulations merely specify an averaging out of aircraft noise over periods of one hour. Thus, there seems no way that any airline could be identified, and certainly not named, for repeated excessive noise.

Departure routes from Geneva are, in practice, quite varied. Although modern aircraft navigation systems are mostly capable of following precise routes, the plots of Geneva aircraft departure movements show a wide variation without any obvious attempt to avoid directly flying over particularly densely populated areas.

Equally, there seems not to have been any serious discussion of the benefits of alternative rates of descent or ascent. This is unfortunate, especially since, like Heathrow, other airports have also seen the benefits of precisely specifying trajectories and of steeper approaches.

In any case, it seems that the Swiss authority and Geneva airport have decided that no changes can be made to current practices until there is a new PSIA (Plan Sectoriel de l'Infrastructure Aéronautique). This PSIA, for Geneva, is unlikely to be available for some years.

So don't hold your breath on this subject.

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