Noise pollution linked to air traffic
Among all means of transport, the aircraft is the loudest. The noise that it generates is therefore felt as a disturbance greater than the one resulting from rail and road traffic, even when the noise level is the same.
There are different ways to mitigate noise problems related to air traffic: construction of quieter aircraft, limiting the number of flights or the time slots during which they are permitted, dispersion of air corridors, insulation of homes, etc.
Depending on the type of measure, different authorities - federal, regional or local - shall be competent at the policy level and for the implementation of measures.
Standardisation of new aircraft and decommissioning of old aircraft
Air transport is, first of all, an international matter, given that aircraft travel worldwide. Aircraft are subject to international rules, not only in terms of safety, but also in terms of limitation of noise pollution. Defined by the ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organisation), a United Nations agency, these rules are ratified by the European authorities.
Governments and the aviation industry are striving to continuously improve the noise level of individual aeroplanes by introducing ever more stringent standards with regard to their noise emissions. Since planes are used for many years, it is difficult to rapidly introduce quieter models and effectively reduce noise pollution related to air traffic. The aeroplanes built in the 70s, in compliance with the sound standards (ICAO standards, Chapter II) of the time remained in service for almost thirty years. It was only in 2002 that the decommissioning of Chapter II aeroplanes was completed in many countries, including in Europe. Since the early 70s noise emission standards were made twice as stringent (since 1978, the new aeroplanes are subject to the Chapter III standards, which in turn was replaced in 2006 by the Chapter IV standards that sets a noise level further lower by 10 dB). But the European authorities have not defined a time frame for decommissioning the existing aircraft that are compliant with the noise emission standards of the previous phase (Chapter III standards).
From 2017, the new aeroplanes must comply with the Chapter XIV standards, which is 7 dB lower than the Chapter IV standards.
Limiting the operation of marginally compliant aeroplanes within the European Union
Because the decommissioning of the older and noisier aircraft is a laborious process, the Member States of the European Union have been permitted to limit their use in other ways. New rules and procedures (Directive 2002/30/EC on the establishment of rules and procedures for the introduction of noise-related operating restrictions in airports) were established in this regard in 2002 within the European Union, in the wake of the ICAO guidelines. This Directive allows the Member States to impose operating restrictions at individual airports, specifically pertaining to marginally compliant aeroplanes (less than 5 dB compared to the previous ICAO sound standards, Chapter III standards), provided that the Member States implement a "balanced approach". This approach calls for identifying noise pollution problems at airports and in their vicinity, and then analysing the various options to reduce the noise emissions:
• containing the noise generated by the source (quieter aircraft);
• land use measures taken with regard to the airport land and management of its use;
• operational procedures for noise control;
• operating restrictions.
These four measures must be combined in order to achieve the best cost-effectiveness.
From 2016 onwards, the definition of marginally compliant aeroplanes shall impose even stricter requirements because, during the transitional period planned until 2020, the aeroplanes in question must be 8 dB quieter than under the old standards (Chapter III ICAO standards). At the end of this transitional period, they must be further quieter by 2 dB.
Compliance with the ICAO standards is strictly supervised by independent certification bodies that are designated for this purpose by the authority. Within the European Union, the EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency) is the competent certification body.
The certification process consists of two phases. During the first phase, the certification body (EASA within the European Union) issues a type certificate for each new aircraft model. During the second phase, individual aeroplanes are certified by the Member State where they will be commissioned. In Belgium, the Civil Aviation Authority (Direction générale Transport aérien) of the FPS Mobility is in charge. It checks whether the aeroplane is compliant with the type certificate. And it issues a noise emission certificate, a document that declares the aeroplane to be compliant with the noise standards and that any aircraft owner must add to the on-board documents.
At the regional level: measurements for each airport
Directive 2002/49/EC on the assessment and management of environmental noise requires the Member States to draw up noise maps for the major airports within their territory, including major airports such as Brussels National and Charleroi. Based on these noise maps, the Member States shall also develop an action plan with regard to noise for each of their major airports. Airports are subject not only to European regulations, but also to regional regulations, since they must ask for an environmental permit from the regional authority. This environmental permit may impose special conditions affecting the number of movements and the noise resulting from these movements. Regions may also limit the level of the noise immission, this is the noise that air traffic generates around airports.
The Brussels-Capital Region has no airport on its territory since the Brussels National airport is located at Zaventem, in Flemish Brabant. However, when the noise level of an aircraft exceeds the regional standards for noise emissions, the airline owning the aeroplane may be penalised, even if it meets all the operating conditions (Ministerial Decree of 03 May 2004 and amending laws) and follows the imposed flight procedures. In order to voice concerns about the air traffic related noise, write to the Environment Police department of Brussels Environment / Leefmilieu Brussel through an on-line form or to the mediation department of the Brussels National Airport. Brussels Environment / Leefmilieu Brussel can also be requested to pay a premiumfor the installation of soundproof windows and doors. You can find more information about it on the www.environnement-bruxelles.be / www.leefmilieubrussel.be website.
The Wallonia authorities have set up a special body which, among other things, is responsible for taking environmental measurements, near the regional airports of Liege and Charleroi. This is the Société Wallonne des Aéroports (SOWAER). This service informs the residents about the noise levels recorded by the sound level meter network installed around the airport sites. It also takes some measurements for the local residents (purchase of homes, sound insulation works, premiums, etc.). For more information, go to the website www.sowaer.be or call 0800/25747 for the Liege airport and 0800/90111 for the Gosselies airport (Charleroi). An independent authority has also been created to control noise pollution at airports. Individuals can also approach it. This is the Airport pollution control authority in the Wallonia Region (Autorité de contrôle des nuisances aéroportuaires en Région wallonne - www.acnaw.be).
In Flanders, the Brussels National, Ostend-Bruges, Antwerp-Deurne and Kortrijk-Wevelgem international airports are the major airports. Any question related to noise pollution at airports located in Flanders may be addressed to the "Hinder en Risicobeheer" division of the "Leefmilieu, Natuur en Energie” department of the Flemish authorities by sending a mail to email@example.com (www.milieuhinder.be).
Brussels National Airport, a special case
The Federal government, specifically the Civil Aviation Authority (Direction générale Transport aérien) of the FPS Mobility and Transport, is responsible for the management and operation of the Brussels National Airport (Zaventem).
The airport is surrounded by three measurement networks, since the Flemish Region and the Brussels-Capital Region along with the airport operator each have their own measuring points. These three bodies are working together to evaluate all the data collected in this context.
Persons who would like to complain about the noise from the airport may contact the mediation department. This independent department was created on the proposal of the Minister for Mobility and Transport. It reports annually to the aforementioned minister.
Within the Civil Aviation Authority (Aviation Inspection Department)(Direction générale Transport aérien, Service Inspection aéronautique), a specific unit was created to monitor the regulatory framework of the Brussels National Airport. This specific unit monitors compliance with the regulations (noise quotas, periods during which planes are allowed to take off, flight procedures, noise abatement procedures). You can find more information about it on the FPS Mobility and Transport website.