According to IATA’s twenty-year forecast, air passenger numbers and flight movements will soar in the next two decades. To handle this increase, airports will be forced to expand their capacity by extending platforms and terminals or building new runways, such as they did in Chicago O’Hare and Frankfurt Airport. Runway expansions are also in the cards for Vienna Airport and London Heathrow. Such developments require careful processes, debates and community hearings, which takes a lot of time.

A good relation between the airport communities and the operators is essential in order to guarantee the success of such projects. It is key for airport operators to engage with the communities in addressing their noise concerns. Residents should be actively involved in the process and think along with experts on possible solutions. That is the best way to generate support from the surrounding community.

Amsterdam-Schiphol, Frankfurt, Vienna and London Heathrow are examples of airports which organised events such as round table discussions between residents, operators and local authorities to educate and inform all those concerned about the plans at hand. By fuelling constructive and open exchange of information these tables were able to guarantee a successful engagement of the community.

Transparency and openness, however, are not enough. The information put forward must be fully accepted and trusted by all the receiving parties. Sometimes dialogue is thwarted by a lack of trust. This can easily happen when, for example, some of the communicated information appears to be incorrect or misunderstood.

Heathrow Airport dealt with such a problem in the Heathrow Community Noise Forum in 2015 and 2016. All trust in Heathrow’s monitoring and information systems disappeared when the community claimed to experience something very different than what the official Heathrow analysis of data was saying. Accurate evaluations on noise reductions or annoyance rely on data from these systems. Without it, it is not possible to conduct mutually agreed changes to flight operations.

It was then decided to take a step back in order to re-establish trust between the parties involved. The Community Noise Forum was granted the task to choose an independent and objective organisation to verify the debatable data from Heathrow’s monitoring and information systems. That is how The Netherlands Aerospace Centre (NLR) was appointed to support the forum members in the verification process, and to answer any questions raised during the undertaking.

In order to ensure full transparency and trust, NLR involved representatives of the Noise Forum in their work. Without the interference from Heathrow Airport, both NLR and the forum were able to conduct data verification together in full disclosure.

As a result of the NLR study, the focus is now back on where it should be, i.e. the discussions on how to reduce the impact of aircraft noise.

Community engagement per se can mean nothing without transparency and trust. Only a true and equal joint venture with all those involved can yield a prosperous airport development with a successful noise reduction policy.

Henk VeerbeekAbout the author: Henk is consultant and expert in the field of flight track and aircraft noise monitoring. He gained extensive knowledge in this field over the last 30 years. Currently he participates in several projects focussing on community. Feel free to contact Henk if you are interested to hear how NLR can assist you to optimise the stakeholder discussion near your airport. You can contact Henk at or +31 88 5114374