Noise pollution from Bristol airport

| 23rd October 2019
Bristol airport
Engineering expert challenges Bristol International Airport’s noise pollution measurements and calls for expansion plans to be dropped.


Dr Laurence Vaughn, an engineering expert and director of noise mapping company Quiet Places, has criticised Bristol International Airport’s measurement of its environmental noise pollution.

Dr Vaughn has measured real-time decibel levels around the airport to be almost double that recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

He said: “Bristol International Airport is supposed to be operating within the planning condition of 57 decibels. With my measurements I’m getting peak levels of 75 decibels locally but according to the airport we are not even supposed to be affected by its noise.

“Last year a WHO report recommended aircraft noise levels reduce below 40 decibels as noise above this level is associated with adverse health effects.”

Environmental assessments

The Department of Health (DoH) recommends an independent Health Impact Assessment (HIA) be carried out before approval of any planning application for airport expansion to ensure the health of the local population is not put at risk by the commercial pursuit of economic benefits. 

However, as these environmental assessments are undertaken by airport operators there are concerns about a lack of transparency and objectivity. Bristol Airport undertook its own assessment.

Bristol International Airport, owned and run by the Canadian-based Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, is seeking permission to handle up to twelve million passengers annually by 2025, with a potential increase to 20 million. 

The expansion would mean 97, 373 aircraft movements in a 12-month calendar period: a flight almost every three minutes and an average of 9,500 extra vehicle movements every day.

Quiet Places aims to help property buyers assess local environmental noise levels, in much the same way as buyers calculate running costs of homes or businesses. 

Noise pollution

Dr Vaughn gathers information about air, road and rail traffic and using analytical software creates an accurate environmental noise level map. 

A recently published Government environmental requirements document called CAP 1616 and 1616A could allow changed airspace routes above the regional airport with potential detrimental effects on noise.

Dr Vaughn added: “The Government also evaluated the commercial and health costs of noise pollution so developers have to submit noise impact data. 

“In my opinion, Bristol International Airport is failing to recognise the impact of existing noise pollution on communities let alone changes they are proposing. Noise pollution has been shown to extend to Keynsham and Yatton, yet the Airport has only produced limited modelling of ground, air and traffic noise close to the airport.

“The Airport has failed to assess noise impact from additional 24,000+ flights required to service 12 million passengers. Aircraft noise will also alter bird breeding patterns, disturb wildlife and damage sensitive ecosystems.”

Airport expansion

If the airport expansion is given the green light, there will be a flight movement on average every 3.5 minutes, sixteen hours a day. An increase from 8 to 17 an hour. An estimated extra 5,453 dwellings – up to 20,000 people in North Somerset - will be affected by airport noise. There are set to be 4,000 night-flights between the hours of 23:30 and 06:00 with no seasonal restrictions.

Studies in Europe and UK demonstrate aircraft noise has substantial effects on cardiovascular disease including hypertension, ischaemic heart disease, heart failure and stroke. Night noise disturbs sleep and causes increased blood pressure as stress hormone levels rise.

Air pollution, with a marked increase in road traffic to the airport, is likely to act in conjunction with aircraft noise to induce pulmonary disease in children.

A German study revealed that a day-time average sound level of 60 decibels increased coronary heart disease by 61 percent in men and 80 percent in women. A night-time average sound level of 55 decibels increased the risk of heart attacks by 66 percent in men and 139 percent in women. 

The WHO states that the learning of children in primary schools near airports is adversely affected by noise.

Laurence added: “It cannot be right to give the go-ahead to the airport expansion when it is clearly going to affect the health of people region-wide.”

This Author 

Melanie Greenwood is a freelance journalist. 

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