• Aviation noise can affect human health and wellbeing in a variety of ways. Here are some of the most common adverse health effects associated with aviation noise:

  • The most widespread and well documented subjective response to noise is annoyance; which can be defined as a feeling of resentment, displeasure, discomfort, dissatisfaction or offence which occurs when noise interferes with thoughts, feelings or activities. The annoyance of populations exposed to environmental noise varies not only with the sound itself (such as how loud it is, or its pitch), but also with social, psychological or economic factors.

    There has been considerable research into the effect of aircraft noise on cognitive performance in school children, due to the interruptive nature of high levels of aircraft noise. Research has suggested effects on reading comprehension and memory. Cognitive performance affects attention, perception, mood, learning and memory.

    Aircraft noise is intermittent in nature and exposure to it during the night may result in sleep disturbance. Noise-induced sleep disturbance refers to awakenings, changes to sleep structure such as changes to sleep stages, arousals in heart rate, and body movements. People can be aware of such disturbance, such as when they remember being awoken by noise, or the disturbance can go unnoticed at the time but may result in next-day fatigue.

    Aircraft noise at high levels can be considered a stressor on the body, and research has found an association between high levels of aircraft noise and an increased risk of developing Cardiovascular disease (CVD). It is thought that this occurs due to the way such stressors interact with the body, and the fact that the cardiovascular response to noise does not decrease, even though the individual may no longer consciously notice or react to the noise.  Cardiovascular disease includes all the diseases of the heart and circulation including coronary heart disease, angina, heart attack, congenital heart disease and stroke.

    Quality Adjusted Life Years (QALYs) are a means of measuring both the duration and quality of life, and are typically used to measure the health benefits of medical interventions or the detriment caused by negative health effects.

    A year of life lived at perfect health (or 'quality of life') is considered equal to one QALY, while a year lived in imperfect 'quality of life' would be considered to be less than a QALY. According to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE): “Quality of life is often measured [on a 0 to 1 scale] in terms of the person's ability to carry out the activities of daily life, and freedom from pain and mental disturbance.”

    • If a health condition causes a person to live one year fewer than they would have otherwise, and that year would have been lived at perfect health, that health condition has caused the loss of one QALY.
    • If a health condition reduces a person's quality of life from 1 to 0.5 for two years of their life, then that health condition would have also caused the loss of one QALY.
  • Research

    Research has been undertaken to assess the levels at which aircraft noise exposure can lead to the health effects described above, and the effects of varying levels of noise exposure. The CAA has summarised the findings below. Further information is available on how noise and its effects are defined and measured.

    The table below shows:

    • The levels of regular noise exposure at which effects become more likely
    • The number of Quality Adjusted Life Years (QALYs, see above) the average person loses as a result of these effects, depending on the level of noise to which they are exposed

    Taking cardiovascular disease as an example, the table shows that a person’s chances of developing cardiovascular disease rise at regular exposure to aircraft noise at 65 dB Leq,16hr and above. It also shows that populations exposed to 65 dB Leq,16hr typically lose 0.1 QALYs per person as a result of increased likelihood of developing cardiovascular disease. Populations exposed to 70 dB Leq,16hr lose 0.2 QALYs per person due to an increased likelihood of developing cardiovascular disease.

    Levels of noise exposure and increased chances of different adverse health effects, and average QALYs believed to be lost per person as a result of such health effects

        Noise Band
    Health Effect Noise metric used for health effect analysis 50 dB 55 dB 60 dB 65 dB 70 dB


    Cardiovascular – AMI

    Leq,16hr       (0.1) (0.2)
    Sleep disturbance Lnight (0.005) (0.007) (0.010) (0.013) (0.017)
    Cognitive impairment in children Leq,16hr   (0.1) (0.1) (0.2) (0.3)
    Hypertensive Stroke Leq,16hr (0.1)   (0.3) (0.4) (0.6) (0.8)
    Hypertensive dementia Leq,16hr (0.3) (0.5) (0.8) (1) (1.3)
    Annoyance Lden (0.1) (0.2) (0.3) (0.5) (0.7)

    Figures in each dB column indicate the number of QALYs lost per person as a result of the health effect in question in populations exposed to different levels of aviation noise. Sources:

    Further sources of information on aviation noise and human health

    Reports on the relationship between aviation noise and human health and wellbeing cover:

    • Aircraft Noise and Sleep Disturbance: A Review (K Jones, 2009) - ERCD report 0905: This review examines the physiological implications of noise induced sleep disturbance. It includes research finding that, when the level and duration of noise experienced is the same, aircraft noise is associated with more self-reported sleep disturbance than road traffic noise, and that road traffic noise is associated with more sleep disturbance than railway noise.
    • Aircraft Noise, Sleep Disturbance and Health Effects: A Review (K Jones, D Rhodes, 2013) - ERCD Report 1208: This literature review provides an overview of the main findings in environmental noise and health research, and includes the effects of sleep disturbance due to aircraft noise. It finds that above dB Lnight, noise is a significant concern to public health; levels above 55 dB Lnight result in increased risk of heart attacks; and levels above 45 dB Lnight result in increased risk of hypertension, and this can lead to hypertensive strokes and dementia.
    • Aircraft Noise, Sleep Disturbance and Health Effects (K Jones, 2014) - CAP 1164
      This paper reviews and takes account of several studies published after ERCD Report 1208 (above) including: two publications that use data around Heathrow airport to investigate cardiovascular impacts of aircraft noise; a meta-analysis of noise and exposure response curves for transportation noise and cardiovascular diseases by Babisch from the Federal Environment Agency in Germany; and a Harvard study that examined the cardiovascular impacts around 89 airports within the USA.
    • Survey of Noise Attitudes (SoNA) 2014: Aircraft (2017) - CAP 1506: This study examines evidence on attitudes to aviation noise around airports in England, including the effects of aviation noise on annoyance, wellbeing and health. If found that the level of noise exposure that leads to significant community annoyance has fallen from 57 dB LAeq 16h (in a previous survey) to 54 dB LAeq16h; evidence that people's average level of annoyance was associated with average summer day noise exposure, LAeq,16h; and evidence that non-acoustic factors such as noise sensitivity, approximated social grade, and expectations (both prior to moving to an area exposed to aircraft noise and in the future) influence reported aircraft noise annoyance.
    • Aircraft Noise and Annoyance: Recent findings (2018 publication due) K Jones. - CAP 1588: This report provides an overview of the recent research into the state of knowledge on the effects of aircraft noise and annoyance responses. It: concludes that there has been a change in annoyance responses, with people now more highly annoyed by aircraft noise than 30 years ago; describes and assesses the results of the German NORAH study, which examined noise responses following the opening of a new runway, and implementation of a night curfew; and mentions that several attempts are being made at trying to explain the variance within the annoyance response, using modelling to calculate the weight of non-acoustic factors.
    • Environmental Noise and Health: A Review (K Jones, 2010) - ERCD Report 0907: This review provides an overview of literature in the field of noise and health and suggests areas for future research. It focuses on transportation noise, particularly aircraft noise, and looks at the possible effects on health, including annoyance and psychological health, cardiovascular and physiological health, performance, and the effects of noise on children.
    • Aircraft noise and health effects: Recent findings (K Jones, 2016) - CAP 1278: The report examines the evidence to date relating to transportation noise, particularly aircraft noise and the resulting impacts on various health endpoints. Research assessed shows an association with aircraft and road noise and cardiovascular disease. There is emerging evidence to suggest that cardiovascular effects are more strongly linked with night time noise exposure than to day or total (24hr) noise exposure. Regarding aircraft noise and children's learning, further explorations of past studies have taken account of other factors that might account for observed differences, such as air pollution. It concluded that these did alter the associations previously found. The study's findings suggested that the association between aviation noise and cognitive performance in children does not appear as strong in older children as it does in younger children.
    • Aircraft Noise and Children's Learning (K Jones 2010) - ERCD Report 0908: This literature review looks at the relationship between aircraft noise and episodic memory, semantic memory, sustained attention and reading comprehension. The results are not completely in agreement, but there is evidence to suggest that long-term aircraft noise has a harmful effect on memory, sustained attention, reading comprehension and reading ability. Early studies highlighted that aircraft noise was also implicated in children from noisy areas having a higher degree of helplessness i.e. were more likely to give up on difficult tasks than those children in quieter areas. Reports often indicated that children exposed to long-term aircraft noise showed a higher degree of annoyance than those children from quieter areas. Evidence has been presented to suggest that children do not habituate to aircraft noise over time, and that an increase in noise can be correlated with a delay in reading comprehension compared to those children not exposed to high levels of aircraft noise.
    • Metrics for Aircraft Noise (K Jones, 2009) - ERCD Report 0904: The aim of this paper, originally produced for the Aircraft Noise Monitoring Advisory Committee (ANMAC), is to provide an overview of the current metrics used to measure aircraft noise. The review is a factual account of the methods used to measure noise internationally and outlines the main strengths and weaknesses of each metric.
    • Tranquillity: an overview (K Jones, 2012) - ERCD report 1207: This report aims to provide an overview of the current area and state of knowledge of tranquillity and tranquil spaces within the UK. It provides a summary of key research into tranquillity with special attention to aviation.