Noise protection around Frankfurt Airport

Frankfurt Airport is Germany’s largest, Europe’s third largest and worldwide the ninth largest airport as well as being a hub and logistics centre for passenger and cargo transport. Up to 1,500 planes take off and land there daily. The noise pollution for the residents of nearby settlements, particularly those located directly under the flight path, is extremely high.

Today Frankfurt Airport has a total of four runways. The most recent runway (the North-West one) was put into operation in 2011 after lengthy discussions and a mediation process. The Airport and Region Forum (Forum Flughafen und Region, FFR) was established at the same time. This forum continues the work of the previous Regional Dialogue Forum (RDF), brings together representatives of the aviation industry, municipalities, relevant authorities, practitioners and researchers and aims above all to implement active noise abatement measures.

When speaking of noise abatement measures, a distinction is usually made between active and passive measures. Active measures are those which aim to avoid and reduce noise directly at its source or which pursue a better distribution of noise pollution. In contrast, passive noise abatement measures protect people by means of structural noise abatement measures. In accordance with the German Act for Protection against Aircraft Noise, areas defined as severely affected are entitled to certain passive measures: it is not permitted, for example, for hospitals, nursing homes, convalescent homes or similar facilities to be located in noise protection zones. Owners of land in the most noise-polluted areas (Day Protection Zone 1) are entitled to reimbursement of the costs of structural sound insulation measures.

Active noise abatement: Flight routes, noise breaks, aircraft-based technical measures

In the context of Frankfurt Airport the research and consultancy activities of Oeko-Institut concern all aspects of the Airport and Region Forum. From the beginning of the airport’s expansion to the present day, Oeko-Institut has been providing expert support. Most notably, the institute is accompanying the Expert Group on Active Noise Abatement (ExpASS), one of the three pillars of the Forum, and its working groups and has co-developed the first package of active noise abatement measures. Recommendations were derived from this package of measures for active noise abatement measures for day and night, which were implemented in part and the effectiveness of which was analyzed subsequent to implementation. These implemented measures include:

  • Optimization of the approach and departure procedures (CDO: Continuous Decent Operations & CCO: Continuous Climb Operations): During times when there are fewer aircrafts in the airspace and the weather conditions allow it, the descent should be continuous and therefore quieter. The take-off should be changed so that a greater height is reached over a shorter distance.
  • The segmented approach: As often as possible, densely populated areas such as Mainz or Offenbach should be deliberately avoided during the approach to Frankfurt Airport.
  • The aircraft fleet is successively equipped with noise reduction technologies (e.g. with vortex generators to reduce noise on the Lufthansa Airbus 320) and noisy aircraft in particular are removed from the fleet (e.g. Lufthansa’s Boeing 737 fleet).

Frankfurt Airport: Monitoring of active noise abatement measures. A first assessment of the Airport and Region Forum. Article in Oeko-Institut’s e-paper eco@work from September 2012 (in German)

“Results of the monitoring of the first package of measures for active noise abatement at Frankfurt Airport and an outlook of the work ahead. Presentation for the members of the Convention of the FFR and the Aircraft Noise Commission on 28/06/2012 in Kelsterbach” (in German)

In the course of its activities for the FFR, Oeko-Institut has also actively accompanied and shaped the testing process for noise breaks and processed the results for the relevant parties.

How effectively does the law protect against noise?

In addition to its activities on active measures, Oeko-Institut is also analyzing legal regulations on noise abatement measures. The researchers have, for example, determined in an expert report for the Aircraft Noise Abatement Association of Rhein-Main that the introduction of a noise limit is legally possible in principle.

Oeko-Institut’s announcement from September 2014: "Noise limit – less aircraft noise is possible" (in German)

Oeko-Institut’s expert report "Introduction of a noise limit in Frankfurt/Main: Expert analysis of the legal possibilities” (in German)

In another expert report, which was conducted on behalf of the German Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety, Oeko-Institut comprehensively shows the adjustments to the legal framework that are needed so that measures for actual noise abatement at airports can become a reality. A key finding was that in the determination of flight routes, information should be shown more transparently in future and the public should be incorporated at an early stage. At the same time the various relevant parties – air traffic control, the Aircraft Noise Commission and the federal state and national authorities – should cooperate more effectively to enable improved noise protection. (See diagrams on the right)

Oeko-Institut’s press release of July 2014: "Optimizing flight routes and improving noise protection” (in German)

Oeko-Institut’s current activities regarding noise protection

Active noise abatement is being further advanced: Oeko-Institut is centrally involved in various committees of the FFR at present, especially in the Expert Group on Active Noise Abatement, and is cooperating in the development of a second package of measures.

On behalf of the German Environment Ministry, lawyers at Oeko-Institut are examining – in cooperation with the GeräuscheRechner office in Hildesheim and the Fridrich Bannasch & Partner law firm in Freiburg – the regulatory mechanisms and the effectiveness of Germany’s Second Aircraft Noise Protection Ordinance as well as its implementation. Since 2009 this ordinance has set sound insulation requirements for new buildings and regulated the remuneration of passive sound insulation measures in existing buildings (e.g. soundproof windows).

Further information on the analysis of Germany’s Second Aircraft Noise Protection Ordinance (April 2015) (in German)

Another recent study by Oeko-Institut examines the question of what institutional barriers stand in the way of the implementation of active noise abatement measures, which can be implemented only slowly as a result. One example of these institutional barriers is the lengthy approval procedures for technical innovations, as was the case with the equipping of A320 aircraft with noise-reducing vortex generators. Another example is the lack of international standards for the approach and departure procedures of aircrafts.

Furthermore, Oeko-Institut is supporting the Environment and Neighbourhood House (UNH) in carrying out the study “Noise-Related Annoyance, Cognition and Health” (NORAH). In this study, researchers from five disciplines are analyzing the influence of aviation, road and rail noise on health-related quality of life, the physiology of the people concerned and the cognitive performance of children. The study is the largest ever of its kind in Europe to date.

Further information on the NORAH study can be found in the article "Not all noise is the same – How does traffic noise affect health and well-being?" in Oeko-Institut’s e-paper eco@work from December 2012 (in German)