There's no getting away from the fact that aviation can be noisy. When aircraft land and take off, 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 promoting the use of 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 depart from and arrive into 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's areas of expertise:
- Noise monitoring;
- Noise contours;
- Noise effects;
- Noise model development and analysis;
- Assessment of the environmental impact of the use by aircraft of airspace; and
- Aircraft noise certification.
The CAA has four functions engaged in aviation noise matters:
1. Airspace change decision-making: environmental impacts
Our Airspace Regulation department manages the process and is responsible for determining whether the design of airspace (and some air traffic control procedures) can be changed (in accordance with international standards, relevant legislation and noise and other government policy). In doing so, the CAA must consider guidance from the Secretary of State on environmental objectives, which include guidance on aircraft noise impacts. Detailed information on our airspace change process is available on our airspace change pages.
Alongside changes to the design of airspace, there are a range of factors that can make a difference to the noise impact of aircraft from any particular airport but over which the CAA has no regulatory control. Examples include changing weather conditions, traffic levels (which impacts where aircraft fly and so are heard) and variations in the demand for different flight destinations.
2. Noise consultancy
Our Environmental Research and Consultancy Department (ERCD) is part of our International Group and operates a consultancy service to customers such as UK Government, airport operators, air navigation service providers and local authorities.
The main activity is monitoring and predicting noise exposure and impacts around UK airports, as well as contributing to research into the effects of aviation noise and how they can be reduced. ERCD offers advice to Government on the above matters to support the development of policy. ERCD also provides a commercial consultancy service to community, local government and industry bodies. The latter includes airspace change sponsors seeking to develop a noise impact evidence base for the purpose of developing an airspace change decision proposal.
3. Specialist noise advice
The Office of our Chief Technical Noise Advisor (CTNA) is part of our Corporate Strategy and Policy team. It undertakes specialist research and analytical tasks for government, advises the Secretary of State on the call-in criteria for airspace change decision, advises ERCD on technical matters (except on consultancy work for airspace change sponsors), advises our Airspace Regulation team on environmental matters, sign-off of the CAA’s environmental assessment for Level 1 airspace change proposal decisions and provides CAA’s response (on noise impact) as statutory consultee to some planning applications.
4. Aircraft noise certification
Please see our noise certification page for further information.
The CAA does not:
- Make decisions about the amount of noise that is considered damaging or annoying for people; nor
- Make decisions about particular plans for airports, such as expansions.
The Secretary of State has provided guidance to the CAA on its environmental duty when carrying out its airspace functions which includes making decisions on airspace change proposals.
The CAA has also produced academic reports over the years, particularly on the topic of noise modelling.
Funding for the CAA's noise work
Approximately 90% of the CAA’s income comes from fees charged to the aviation industry. Most of the CAA's work is funded in this way (including airspace and noise information), but noise modelling is funded differently.
Approximately three quarters of our noise consultancy and specialist noise advice is funded by the Government, which includes using the noise model we develop, maintain and operate on behalf of the Government to produce noise contours for the noise designated airports and provide them with technical support and expertise. We offer similar services to other airports, local authorities, community groups and the wider aviation industry, which fund the remainder of this work.
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 aircraft noise is to apply the ICAO rules through the European Union 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. Following the UK exiting the EU, these rules have since been migrated to UK law. The CAA’s Noise Certification function was established in 2021 to undertake the role which has correspondingly migrated from EASA to the CAA.
The EU has also put in place rules that harmonise how aviation noise is assessed and reported across Europe and to define a common framework for the introduction of airport noise related operating restrictions. Following the UK exiting the EU, these rules have since been migrated to UK law.
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 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 UK airports which are designated as such due their strategic importance. These airports are: 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 involved, or the local authority where the airport is located.
Noise is regulated to varying extents 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 adverse impact of aircraft noise in the UK, government policy has established that the Lowest Observed Adverse Effect Level (LOAEL) is 51 dB LAeq,16h for an average summer’s day and 45 dB LAeq,8hr for an average summer’s night.
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.
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.
If you wish to provide the CAA with feedback about aircraft noise, please complete form FCS1521 - Use of UK Airspace Report.
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