– GEETHANJALI K.V., Legal Associate, CEERA, NLSIU
Sound can be described as a vibration or a series of vibrations which travel through a medium, mostly air, and which can be heard once they reach an individuals or a living entities ears. For a sound to become ‘noise’ it has to be loud or unpleasant or a tendency to cause disturbance to the said individual of a living entity. Noise however is subjective and people are said to have different thresholds when it comes to what sounds they are able to withstand. One can say that people are irritated by sounds and noise that origin from unpredictable sources than a predictable impersonal sound or noise. The Noise produced by an aircraft however can be categorized as unpredictable impersonal noise due to its intensity and uncertainty. This noise from an aircraft can originate as follows-
- Mechanical and engine noise – caused by the engine parts like the fan blades attaining supersonic speed;
- The aerodynamic noise – caused by the surface airflow on the aircraft, this is especially high intensity when the aircraft is flying low at a very high speed;
- Noise caused from the aircraft systems – caused by the cockpit and cabin pressure.
Taking the issue of noise and the control and mitigation of noise pollution various countries have come up with several legislations. In India in case of a noise nuisance, one can easily complain to the local police station and legally the offence can be charged under Chapter 14 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, more specifically under Sections 268 for causing public nuisance and under Section 133 and 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973.
Noise has been aptly included as an ‘air pollutant’ under the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981. As the definition suggests, the concentration level of this pollution needs to be kept in check to reduce the injurious effects to an individual or a living entity. To keep this in check there exists an Ambient Air Quality Standard that a country has set for itself. Ambient air quality standards specifies the limit of harmful pollutant allowed to be present in the environment and this limit is set by the Environment Ministry of each country through their specific Acts, Rules and Regulations. It is common for the Airports or Aerodromes and the areas around it to experience and also have maximum impact of the noise produced by the aircrafts making it prime location for harboring harmful effects of noise pollution; and a prime necessity to mitigate and control the same. India has several legislations related to Airports and Aircrafts. Section 9A of the Aircraft Act, 1934, is where the Central Government has power to prohibit or regulate the construction of buildings and planting of trees etc. within 20 kilometers from an ‘aerodrome reference point’ in consideration of the safety of the flights. Further, Part 11 of the Aircraft Rules, 1937, deals with licensing and management of Aerodromes and of its establishment. The aerodrome manual under Rule 81 of the said Aircraft Rules states, among other things, that particulars of the aerodrome site must contain plan of the aerodrome with the main facilities for its operation, its boundaries and its distance from the nearest city; and Rule 91 prohibits, around an aerodrome, slaughtering and flying of animals and depositing rubbish likely to attract birds which would hinder safe passage of flights. What is interesting to note here is that although the safety of the aerodrome, and safety of the airplanes and its passengers, by maintaining an acceptable and safe environment in and around the aerodrome is of prime importance, the absence of consideration of noise pollution and its effects and regulations related to the same in both the Aircraft Act, 1934 and the Aircraft Rules, 1937 is apparent.
Moving further in India the maintenance of ambient air quality standards are specified under the Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules, 2000. The Rules came into existence under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 and Environment (Protection) Rules, 1986 with an objective of regulating and controlling noise generating and producing sources so as to maintain the ambient air quality standards in respect of noise. The Rules however, is only indicative of ‘zones’ with decided limits of noise level and specifies the contravention of which would be liable for penalty under the provisions of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. Accordingly the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change had fixed the noise standards within an airports boundary to be covered under the ‘industrial area’ with a day time limit of noise pollution to not exceed 75 dB(A) and night time limit to be 70 dB(A) respectively. As per the Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules, 2000 day time would mean between 6AM and 10 PM and night time would be 10 PM to 6 AM. However, this limit excluded one crucial aspect of noise pollution in an airport and that was the noise during the landing and takeoff of an aircraft. This brings us to the present discussion of the airport noise standards that had not found an independent footing for itself in any of the regulations until 2018.
The Government of India, under the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC), on 18th June 2018 come up with a notification by exercising its power under Section 6 & 25 of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 to bring an amendment to include serial number 111 to the Schedule-I of the Environment (Protection) Rules, 1986. This notification indicated the ambient air quality standards with respect to noise in airport noise zone. The requirement for noise standards for aircrafts has been on the cards for the Government of India for quite some time and the tipping point for this amendment came in the form of a National Green Tribunal (NGT) order of 2017. It all started in 2009 when the residents of Vasant Kunj and Bijwasan in South Delhi had approached the Delhi High Court seeking a ban on flying of aircrafts to and from the Delhi airport (Indira Gandhi International Airport) over said areas, along with Masudpur and Rangpuri, as there was violation of Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules, 2000 as the noise level reached 74 – 84 dB. This case was transferred to the National Green Tribunal in 2013 followed by which Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, was to submit a report relating to construction of sound barriers around the airport. The Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), however, had submitted that all aircrafts which were operating from India were complying to the noise standards laid down by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) so as to operate globally; it was also submitted that in December 2014 there has been a Civil Aviation Requirement (CAR) issued by them on ‘noise management of aircraft operations at airports.’ Following this the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, and the Ministry of Civil Aviation filed their respective statements and reports by 2017 and mitigation measures had been taken to reduce noise levels; in the same year the National Green Tribunal applied the principle of sustainable development, precautionary principle and polluter pays principle and ordered the officials to comply with the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, report; to provide green belt around the airport; aircrafts to use reverse thrust to reduce noise while landing an aircraft.
In the mean time in May 2017, the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and Delhi International Airport Ltd (DIAL) and the Airport Authority of India (AAI) started ‘noise mapping’ of all airports across India to suggest suitable mitigation measures to minimize noise pollution. This included multiple rounds of discussions between the officials of Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC), the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) and Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB). Following this, in 2018, the present Notification came into being.
The present notification has set noise standards and limits for all airports across India however, defence aircrafts and noise during landing and taking off of aircrafts are exempted from complying with these limits and standards. The notification classifies the airports into-
- ‘busy airports’, where more than 50,000 aircrafts are said to be taking off and landing (movement) per year; and
- Other airports, where more than 15,000 to 50,000 aircrafts move per year.
The notification however, retains standards set regarding the classification of ‘daytime’ and ‘night-time’, 6 AM to 10 PM and 10 PM to 6 AM respectively, in the Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules, 2000; going further to specify that the noise levels during daytime to not exceed the limit of 70 and 65 dB(A) and during night-time to not exceed the limit of 65 and 60 dB(A). Interestingly this notification would not be applicable to established civil airports where less than 15,000 aircrafts move annually.
To put the limit setting for noise into perspective let us consider an experiment conducted in 1980 of the schoolchildren around Los Angeles airport which found that the kids were deficient in proofreading and had issues with challenging puzzles. The damage was said to be based mostly on the uncontrollability of noise rather on the intensity of it. The adaption strategies such as tuning out or ignoring noise and putting extra effort to focus and perform during noise is said to heighten sympathetic arousal, an indication of increased levels of stress hormone and an elevation in resting blood pressure. Chronic exposure to aircraft noise during early childhood is said to impair reading acquisition and reduced motivational capabilities. One can conclude from this that it isn’t suitable for day-care centres and schools to be opened and operational around airports. A comment in one of the reports of the World Health Organisations (WHO) 2018 bulletin on ‘Improving the health impacts of Airports’ states that there hasn’t been a comprehensive or a systematic effort to design a model for a “healthy airport” which is inclusive of wider environmental and community footprint. In the same year, on 10th October WHO Europe came up with an updated guideline for environmental noise. This report highlights growing evidence which links significant aircraft noise exposure to serious health conditions like heart attacks and strokes and further recommends stringent noise limits for aviation industry. It recommends reducing noise levels produced by aircraft below 45 dB Lden and identifies that aircraft noise above this level will have adverse health effects. The communities around the airport would, additionally, face noise-induced awakenings during sleep causing night-time annoyance and further impacting performance the following day leading to not just physiological but also psychological reactions and a drop in work efficiency of those affected. It was also identified by the WHO that children living in areas with higher aircraft noise levels have delayed reading ages, have poor attention levels and a high stress level. Acute noise exposures are said to activate autonomic and hormonal systems, leading to temporary changes like increased blood pressure, increased heart rate and vasoconstriction; on prolonged exposure some individuals may develop permanent effects like hypertension and ischemic heart conditions. Prolonged exposure by WHO standards are noise with 65-70 dB or more and it is significant, at this point, to note here that the notification in discussion has set the noise limit to not exceed beyond 70 dB and above 65 dB during day and night time respectively. Below is an illustration from one of the WHO brochures related to the discussion on safe hearing of sounds:
Source Credit: Make Listening Safe, World Health Organisation
In Western European countries the WHO has estimated that a minimum of 1 million healthy life years are lost each year due to environmental noise where cardiovascular disease, particularly high blood pressure, heart attacks and coronary heart disease, were the major cause for such deaths. Taking this into consideration the European wing of the World Health Organization has certain recommendations in this regard:
- For average noise exposure, it is strongly recommends reducing noise levels produced by aircraft below 45 dB Lden, as aircraft noise above this level is associated with adverse health effects.
- For night noise exposure, it strongly recommends reducing noise levels produced by aircraft during night time below 40 dB Lden, as aircraft noise above this level is associated with adverse effects on sleep.
- To reduce health effects, it recommends that policy-makers implement suitable measures to reduce noise exposure from aircraft in the population exposed to levels above the guideline values for average and night noise exposure. For specific interventions it recommends implementing suitable changes in infrastructure.
Moving further the notification in discussion also categorises airports that are ‘proposed’ but not yet constructed and specifies that the operators of such proposed airports would be accountable to:
- MoEFCC – to obtain Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and to submit report after conducting noise modelling;
- Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, Government of India (MHUA) and State Development Authority for noise zoning.
The notification also mentions that the State development authorities are to allow residential, commercial and commercial facilities around the airport if and only if they comply with noise reduction measures. The notification further specifies that the airport operators of both established and proposed airports are also accountable for the following:
- To prepare noise management plan in compliance with airport noise standards;
- Airport noise zone area are to be defined in consultation with Air Navigation Service Provider as per Master Plan of Airport and based on Ministry of Civil Aviation (Height Restrictions for Safeguarding of Aircraft Operations) Rules, 2015;
- These noise zones areas are to be approved by the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) and displayed on the website of airport operator;
- This activity is to be completed by June, 2020. (time limit set under the said notification).
- Carry out ‘noise mapping’ considering present and future aircraft movement and are to be displayed at the airport and its website as well as the webpage of the State/Union Territory Development Authority.
In the wake of introduction of this amendment, it is interesting to observe that Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Internatonal Airport (CSMIA), Mumbai, which is managed by the Mumbai International Airport Ltd (MIAL), has proactively undertaken noise management as early as 2013. MIAL also has a robust noise monitoring system in compliance with the DGCA and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) specifications where they have two stationary noise monitoring terminals installed under take-off and landing flight paths and a mobile unit on airfield to respond to noise pollution issues.
The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has a policy on aircraft noise called the Balanced Approach to Aircraft Noise Management and it was adopted by the ICAO Assembly in 2011 during its 33rd Session and this policy has subsequently been reaffirmed in all future Assembly Sessions of the ICAO. This policy comprises of spotting the exact noise issue at a particular airport, analysing various measures therein to reduce the noise by exploring different measures it has classified as four principles namely:
- Reduction of noise at source;
- Land-use planning and management;
- Noise abatement operational procedures;
- Operating restrictions.
The primary focus of the ICAO policy is to tackle the noise issues categorically and on subjective basis for an airport to indicate measures to achieve maximum environmental benefit, to be cost-effective and on an objective and measurable basis.
The ICAO also specifies measures and management strategies on the lines of precautionary and polluter pay principle in terms of providing directions as to the planning and development of an airport and imposing ‘charges’ for mitigation of noise pollution of the airport. The ICAO on provides for general guidelines to airports regarding the land use planning and managementand as per the Assembly Resolution A39-1, Appendix F, the States can follow the following guidelines:
- a) locate new airports at an appropriate place, such as away from noise-sensitive areas;
- b) take the appropriate measures so that land-use planning is taken fully into account at the initial stage of any new airport or of development at an existing airport;
- c) define zones around airports associated with different noise levels taking into account population levels and growth as well as forecasts of traffic growth and establish criteria for the appropriate use of such land, taking account of ICAO guidance;
- d) enact legislation, establish guidance or other appropriate means to achieve compliance with those criteria for land use; and
- e) ensure that reader-friendly information on aircraft operations and their environmental effects is available to communities near airports;
The ICAO had something called as the ‘Noise Charges’ which first came into being in 1981 and is part of the ICAO Policies on Charges for Airports and Air Navigation Services. However, the charges are to be levied at the discretion of the States and only at airports experiencing noise problems where alleviation or prevention measures have been carried out. The notification in discussion however, does not contain any specification related to the prosecution or liability of damages caused by noise pollution and who has to be responsible for the same.
Some airports in London, UK and Germany have applied the night flying restrictions to reduce noise exposure of its citizens at night. Netherlands is working towards green aircrafts to reduce not just noise pollution but air pollution and carbon footprint as well. There have also been several technological advances in engine design and engine location as well to reduce noise pollution. NASA had found that over-wing and mid- fuselage nacelle would be effective in reducing noise by 30-40 dB and 40-50 dB for a hybrid wing body essential for open rotors.
In this regard the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) of the United States Department of Transportation has continuously been coming out with circulars as early as 1997 regarding the noise levels for United States certified and foreign aircrafts. These circulars quantifies the aircraft noise levels and also notes progress in control and abatement of aircraft noise and mentions ICAOs standards for the sake of comparison; this provides common noise level reference for potential future reductions. What is interesting to note here is that in the US the regulation is imposed on the aircrafts itself and not on the airports per se to reduce noise levels. The United States categorises its aircrafts based on Stages where Stage 1 is the loudest and Stage 4 is the quieter aircraft. The FAA in the US also specifies the flight standards district office and the FAA ombudsman as the points for affected persons to register complaints regarding the aircraft noise levels.
The courts in the United States of America have time and again, through numerous judicial opinions and statements of legislative intent, have made it clear that an airport proprietor would be liable for the aircraft noise related damages claimed by the landowners around the aerodrome affected by it. The courts have supported the federal government’s claim of not being liable for the damages caused by noise, above the set standards, caused by the aircraft and similar immunity has been granted to the airplane manufactures.This makes it clear that the government per se is only responsible to set standards to be complied with by the airport proprietors and operators and the proprietors will be liable to remedy and compensate in case of violation of the said standards. Taking inspiration from this the judiciary in India has currently not taken a stand in this regarding probably because the proprietorship and management of airports or aerodromes in India are done through either a public enterprise or as a public-private partnership; one can only wait to observe in the future the stand of India in terms of who should be made liable in case contravention of this provision.
India as on March 2019 through the Ministry of Civil Aviation, Government of India, had came up with a ‘White Paper on National Green Aviation Policy.’ Two of the significant points mentioned under the noise management section in the white paper on aviation are as follows:
- All the requirements set out by DGCA shall be complied with for Aircraft noise management. Airlines shall strive to use of modern aircraft to promote less noisy and more fuel-efficient operations.
- Airlines will explore possibilities to avoid or minimize use of reverse thrust to reduce noise while landing.
One can hope that these standards are adhered to and complied with and is instrumental in mitigating and addressing the noise pollution in and around the airports in the country.
 Section 2(a) of The Air (prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981: “air pollutant” means any solid, liquid or gaseous substance 2[(including noise)] present in the atmosphere in such concentration as may be or tend to be injurious to human beings or other living creatures or plants or property or environment.
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 Decibel – a logarithmic unit used to measure sound level. Sounds at or below 70 dB are considered safe and a prolonged exposure of noise level at 85dBA or above is considered harmful.
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