Virgin Atlantic becomes the first airline to adopt a noise management strategy and reduction targets
(photo: Virgin Atlantic)
Tue 3 Dec 2013 – Goals by airlines to reduce carbon emissions are not uncommon but Virgin Atlantic has become the first to set targets to reduce the noise impact of its aircraft fleet. In its Noise Management Strategy, the carrier sets out five pledges it will commit to in order to reach a 75 per cent reduction in noise energy, equivalent to a 6dB noise output, per flight by 2020. New aircraft replacements such as the Airbus A330-300 and Boeing 787-9 together with the continued implementation of operating procedures will be the main focus of the noise reduction policy. Since the airline started in 1984, with two Boeing 747-200 aircraft, a two thirds reduction in noise energy per aircraft (5dB) has been achieved. The noise policy and strategy have been validated and peer reviewed by consultancy Noise Communication Solutions.
Virgin Atlantic also calls for the appointment of an independent ombudsman to be established in the UK to report on aviation noise output. It proposes that airlines should be accountable to this ombudsman, who could recommend the introduction of further noise measures and who would report on noise in a way that was fully transparent to local communities. With the Airports Commission, chaired by Sir Howard Davies, about to publish its interim report on UK airport expansion, the issue of aircraft noise impact on communities will be a major factor in future decision-making.
“The challenge for us all in the aviation community is how we can play our part in minimising aircraft noise output, whilst continuing to deliver the social and economic benefits that air travel provides – both to local communities and the UK as a whole,” said Craig Kreeger, Virgin Atlantic Chief Executive, on announcing the strategy.
“The industry has taken enormous strides and aircraft are dramatically quieter than those manufactured half a century ago. But we fully recognise the impact of aviation noise on communities and know that more must be done to reduce this further.”
A key element of the strategy is the continued replacement of aircraft types such as the four-engined Airbus A340 with new Airbus A330-300 aircraft and the introduction from 2014 of Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners, which has a 60 per cent smaller noise footprint than older aircraft of a similar size. Other commitments include continuing to develop, implement and, where possible, increase the use of aircraft noise reducing procedures such as continuous descent approaches and continuous climb operations.
The airline says it will carry on working with the airports from which it operates on mitigating local noise impacts and help ensure only appropriate developments take place around those airports. “It is important that the land-use planning system does not permit the development of noise sensitive building in areas closest to airports,” it adds.
Other objectives include reducing noise restricted night flights and minimising the impact of scheduled night flight operations on local communities, as well as the continued development of engagement with those communities.
To calculate the noise output of its aircraft, Virgin Atlantic has adopted a methodology used by the UK industry group Sustainable Aviation in the development its Noise Road-Map (see article). This analysis uses the aircraft certified noise level on the EASA database for each Virgin Atlantic aircraft and engine type, along with taking into account each aircraft movement arriving or departing from UK airports.
The airline has committed to undertaking a review of the strategy at least every five years, during which period it will update and reassess how it performs against the targets set.
“Our Noise Management Strategy illustrates how aviation growth is not incompatible with noise reduction,” said Kreeger. “In the coming years, despite an increase in traffic, we will continue to make demonstrable reductions in noise from our aircraft and Sustainable Aviation’s Noise Road-Map shows that noise from UK aviation will not increase in proportion to the projected growth in air traffic.
“We hope roadmaps such as these will be taken into account by the Davies Commission and other key decision-makers as they look at options for the future of UK aviation.”
The strategy was endorsed by Noise Communication Solutions (NCS) as “a trailblazing, robust piece of work” and demonstrated the importance of noise management for the industry.
“We welcomed the opportunity to review Virgin Atlantic’s document and were able to give them independent expert advice and opinions on their noise targets, strategies and future initiatives,” said NCS Managing Director, Vicki Hughes. “We have several more peer reviews of significant noise management strategies by airports that we will be able to talk about in the New Year.”
In the coming weeks, Virgin Atlantic says it will be meeting MPs, industry groups and, particularly, interest groups on both sides of the aviation debate to present the work, which runs alongside the airline’s ‘Change is in the Air’ sustainability programme.