Airport growth has always been dependent on multiple factors. Yet, over the last few years we have seen the weight of these factors change. Where it used to be that economic factors were largely the main reason for growth, today the emphasis lies more on liveability conditions in the surrounding areas, with noise being the main attribute. So, if you want to grow as an airport, you have to reduce the noise on and around it.
Where does this change in emphasis comes from? One explanation might be that after several financial crises during the last couple of decades, economic growth was for a lot of governments essential. Airports tend to be a large economic driver for a country: import and export, job creation and tourism for instance. Yet, with most economies growing steadily the last years, other factors became more important, especially for citizens around airports. Liveability seems to become the most important. People started realising the noise produced by airplanes and airports is affecting them. So, when plans of growth were presented, an increasing number of complaints was addressed to their (local) governments with a general message that that their wellbeing should have more importance in deciding to let an airport grow. This trend is constraining for the growth opportunities of airports.
Everybody relies on each other
In order to meet those growth restrictions, the airport industry is becoming more dependent on each stakeholder within the flight process. Since aircraft generate the larger part of the noise around airports, airports rely on airlines for the use of quieter aircraft. Airlines themselves depend on the manufacturers for building aircraft that produce less noise. In order to stimulate airlines to use quieter aircraft, airports can implement (financial) incentives to airlines, to stimulate that.
For the distribution of aircraft noise in the surroundings airports depend on the air traffic management. Airports themselves can only stimulate the introduction of noise friendly use of the infrastructure and airspace around the airport. For instance, by optimising flight procedures using Performance Based Navigation. These optimised flight procedures can help to avoid flying over urban areas and therefore will reduce the noise impact for the inhabitants.
Innovation is key
At the airport there are also other things that can be done in order to reduce noise. Electrifying ground equipment would be one. By investing in electric Ground Power Units instead of using the older fuelled ones – or letting aircraft run on the APU – the noise levels and emissions will reduce. The same goes for starting procedures and taxiing. At Schiphol Airport, tests are underway with towing planes to the runway, instead of letting them taxi on their engines. Besides lowering fuel use and emissions, it also reduces the ground noise.
Predictions are that the aviation industry will keep continue to grow – although the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic are not clear yet. With governments using noise limits as one of the main constraints for further growth, the airports and all their stakeholders have to find new ways to reduce noise. Innovation is key to that. From the manufacturers all the way to the airports, they all have to contribute with new ideas and concepts. The old days are gone and new ways must be found to guarantee the future for the airport and its users.
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