The sound and the fury: measuring perception of noise

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The absence of a common language of reporting, communication and negotiation in relation to aircraft noise is a key obstacle to effective noise management that will become critical as aviation growth outstrips technical and operational gains.

According to a new Omega study that undertook a preliminary, systematic evaluation of the British public's understanding of conventional and supplementary noise metrics, there is as yet no consensus as to the best means of illustrating aircraft noise exposure.

The study found that what is measured and modelled is the physical phenomenon of exposure to aircraft sound rather than the human response - that is, the disturbance that so often expresses itself as opposition to airport development.

Max KJ/Flight International
 © Flight International/Max Kingsley-Jones

Dr Paul Hooper of Manchester Metropolitan University explains: "What we have is a suite of metrics that measure one thing and yet an entirely different management response to a different issue."

"Traditional noise metrics attempt to capture a noise 'dose' equivalent to a continuous noise level, entirely reasonable and quite fair in giving a picture of overall exposure. But applying that irons out actual events such as deviation from tracks, times and frequency of flights, that really irritate people.

"Noise footprints have become smaller as aircraft improve, but it is essentially about disaggregating this picture and extracting alternative metrics that the public can take away and understand," says Hooper.

An attempt to improve noise management to engage with the physiological, psychological and sociological determinants of disturbance could even overcome the general dissatisfaction and indeed mistrust of aggregated indictors.

The public is far more interested in site-specific information that relates to their own personal exposure, rather than the more complex overview of an airport's whole noise environment that is conventionally used by planners and decision-makers.

"If what you present to people rings true with their experience you immediately open a dialogue. Yes, it is a bold airport authority that engages with their community in such a way and it can open up a whole can of worms too, but this study goes some way in examining whether there is value in engaging in another way," he says.