• There's no getting away from the fact that aviation can be noisy. When aircraft land and take off - and, depending on the aircraft and its altitude, as they fly overhead - they produce a considerable amount of noise.

    The highest levels of noise are experienced close to the busiest airports, with noise from Heathrow at a level classified as 'significantly annoying' and impacting more people than any other airport in Europe.

    Information on various aspects of aviation noise can be found through the menu on the left.

    The challenge for civil aviation: increasing capacity, reducing noise

    Government and the aviation industry have worked to try and reduce the impact of noise by creating quieter aircraft; restricting the times airports can operate and the routes that can be used; and in some cases, capping the total number of flights that can take place from an airport.

    With people's desire to fly consistently growing, there's a real challenge ahead: how can aviation grow without worsening the impact of aviation noise?

    Noise and the CAA

    The CAA has three key roles around aviation noise:

    • Deciding whether or not the design of contracted airspace can be changed (in accordance with government, law and noise policy). We are currently reviewing and consulting on our airspace change decision process. Detailed information is available on our airspace change pages.
    • Monitoring noise around UK airports and publishing information about noise levels and impact. We do this for a range of customers including the UK Government, airport operators, airspace change proposers and local authorities.
    • Collaborating on and reviewing research into the effects of noise and how they can be reduced, and offering advice to Government on these effects.

    The CAA does not:

    • Make decisions about the amount of noise that is considered damaging or annoying for people;
    • Make decisions about particular plans for airports, such as expansions.

    The CAA's airspace role

    The noise impact of aircraft can be affected by changes to how airspace is used.

    As the UK's independent specialist aviation regulator, the CAA has responsibility for regulating airspace over the UK. This includes the new and established air traffic routes and areas which commercial aircraft use to fly into and out of airports, and the airspace used by military and General Aviation flights.

    An organisation proposing a change to the design of UK airspace must follow the CAA's airspace change process. The CAA has a duty to consider consider a range of factors set out by government in deciding whether or not to approve the change. One set of factors is the environmental objectives set for the CAA by the Secretary of Stateincluding consideration of noise impacts.

    The CAA is introducing a new airspace change process for such proposals, which is currently being consulted on in our consultation on airspace change.

    Alongside changes to the design of airspace, there are a range of factors that can make a difference to the noise impact of aircraft but which are not subject to any formal approval process. Examples might include changing weather conditions or variations in the demand for different flight destinations.

    The CAA does not have regulatory control over these factors, but is currently consulting on how the aviation industry might best communicate their effects on aircraft noise to the public as part of the consultation above. More information on these factors is available on our Factors affecting aviation noise page.

    The CAA's areas of expertise

    • Noise monitoring and regulation
    • Noise contours
    • Noise effects
    • Noise model development and analysis
    • Environmental assessment of airspace

    Noise publications

    The CAA in general and ERCD in particular have produced a number of reports over the years, particularly on the topic of noise modelling.

    See our full list of reports

    Funding for the CAA's noise work

    Approximately 90% of the CAA’s income comes from fees charged to the aviation industry (e.g. licences). Most of our work is funded in this way (including airspace and noise information), but noise modelling operates differently.

    Approximately three quarters of our noise modelling work is funded by the Government, which uses our noise model to produce noise contours for major airports and provides them with technical support and expertise. We offer similar services to local authorities and the aviation industry, which accounts for the remainder of our income.

    Frequently asked questions

  • In general, if you have a complaint about aircraft noise, you should direct to it the airport where you think the aircraft was operating from. They have a duty to investigate your complaint and respond to you. Often, unusually loud noise can be a result of a flight not operating as planned: the airport may be able to tell you if that was the case, and why.

    Decisions around when an airport is allowed to be open for flights, whether aircraft can operate at night, and how many aircraft are allowed to fly on any given day are often set out as part of the planning process approving the airport's construction or expansion. In most cases, this process is run by the local authority where the airport is located. They may be able to provide more information about the conditions imposed on it.

    For Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted Airports, decisions such as these are overseen by the Department for Transport.

    Military aircraft are covered by different rules to civil ones. If you wish to complain about military aircraft noise you need to contact the Ministry of Defence (MOD) .

    Aircraft noise is not currently a statutory nuisance in the UK. It is not covered by the Environmental Protection Act 1990 or the Noise Act 1996. This means that local authorities do not have the legal power to take action on matters of aircraft noise, and nor does the CAA have the legal power to prevent aircraft flying over a particular location or at a particular time for environmental reasons.

    In the United Kingdom, government policy on the control of aircraft noise is the responsibility of the Department for Transport (DfT). However, apart from at three airports - Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted, where DfT retains direct responsibility for regulating aviation noise - the overall policy is that noise issues are best handled at a local level by the airport and the relevant local authority, engaging with people who are affected by noise.

    That means decisions about whether aircraft can operate at night, and how many aircraft are allowed to fly on any given day, etc are generally made by local authorities when they give permission for an airport to be built or expanded.

    The CAA has the final say on where are aircraft are allowed to fly - and has a legal obligation to consider noise impact as well as safety and the efficiency of airspace when deciding whether a proposed route is acceptable.

    Internationally, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) is a United Nations body that is responsible for setting out the noise certification limits and test procedures that all new aircraft designs are required to comply with. These include maximum limits on how noisy aircraft can be.

    The EU's main role in regard to noise is to apply the ICAO rules through the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and to decide whether certain types of aircraft are allowed to operate within Europe on the basis of their certified noise levels. European Directives introduced in 1992 and 2002 banned some of the noisiest types of aircraft from operating here. The EU has also put in place rules that harmonise how aviation noise is measured across Europe and to define a common framework for the introduction of airport noise related operating restrictions.

    In the Government's Aviation Policy Framework, it states the aim "to limit, and where possible, reduce the number of people in the UK significantly affected by aircraft noise."

    It is working towards this in a range of different ways, including:

    • through planning decisions - there are different planning policies in England, Scotland and Wales, but all broadly aim to include limiting the impact of noise in any new development
    • by working with the aviation industry to encourage the development of quieter aircraft and support airport operators in enforcing noise policies
    • through the CAA's work to licence airports and airlines, apply EU law on aircraft and manage airspace - all of which can help limit and reduce the impact of aircraft noise.

    Central Government is also directly responsible for managing noise at the three of the UK's largest and busiest airports: Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted.

    Any plans for airport expansion will have to go through a public consultation process. You can find out more from the airport concerned, or the local authority where the airport is located.

    Noise is regulated to some extent at all UK airports. This can include noise limits and restrictions on operations. The specific restrictions will differ from airport to airport, reflecting the types of aircraft that operate there, how busy the airport is and what flight paths are.

    Although maximum noise limits are set for occupational noise exposure, there is no limit defined for environmental noise, including aviation noise. However, in order to assess the significance of aircraft noise in the UK, it is generally assumed that if the average noise level in an area from 7.00am to 11.00pm is more than 57dBA L eq , it will be "significantly annoying" to the community that live and work there. The EU has established a corresponding policy threshold of 55 dB L den , resulting in two different measures being used to inform policy at present.

    This doesn't mean that noise above these levels will not be allowed. But it does mean that noise will be an important factor in planning decisions within that area (for example, about airport expansion), and that there may be support available for noise mitigation (such as double-glazing).

    Providing the aircraft is operating in accordance with the Rules of the Air Regulations and any air traffic control clearance which they may have been given, there are no restrictions on the amount of time that it can spend over a particular area.
    Yes (with some exceptions). The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) recommends technical standards to limit noise from certain aircraft
    No. Whilst it is possible to restrict the operating hours of an airport/aerodrome through the planning process, there are no such time restrictions in place for the use of UK airspace; effectively, it can be used legitimately, 24 hours a day.
  • Contact us

    Dr Darren Rhodes, Head of Noise Analysis

    Civil Aviation Authority, Room K404/5, CAA House, 45-49 Kingsway, London WC2B 6TE

    Tel: +44(0)20 7453 6089

    Fax: +44(0)20 7453 6097

    E-mail: darren.rhodes@caa.co.uk