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Aircraft noise and public understanding: how to improve environmental communications

Hudson, Rebecca Elizabeth Diane (2019) Aircraft noise and public understanding: how to improve environmental communications. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.

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Abstract

Airports are often the single largest generators of economic activity and social development in the regions they serve, and so their continued growth is seen by many as critical. The social and economic adverse impacts that arise from the growth in air transport are equally significant; at a local level these manifest themselves primarily in terms of the disturbance caused by aircraft noise to communities surrounding airports and along flight routes. Community opposition to aircraft noise can result in operational constraints or failure to secure planning approval for growth, thereby limiting the social and economic benefits, with the perception of aircraft noise disturbance being a highly subjective issue. In response to this challenge, the air transport industry has implemented a wide variety of technological and operational measures designed to reduce the noise generated by aircraft, but these improvements have been offset by changes in perception of ‘acceptable’ disturbance levels. Previous studies have lacked in identifying and exploring issues that influence perception. Through a series of case studies exploring auralisation and visualisation as a communication tool, this thesis focuses on public attitudes thereby looking to improve environmental communications between airports and their local communities. The case studies use document analysis, observations, and semi-structured interviews, to chart the evolution of an auralisation and visualisation tool, under the guise of Arup’s SoundLab technology, in enhancing public understanding of technical information being provided, and the success (or otherwise) of such use. The exploration of case studies culminates in the design and execution of an experiment based upon this technology to explore the impact of visual stimuli on human perception of a sound source. Principle findings suggested that the use of auralisation and visualisation effectively facilitates research into understanding the point (decibel level) at which the human ear discerns a change in sound level; this is the case when testing mostly audio stimuli. Further experimentation however saw visual stimuli having considerable influence on human perception of the sound stimuli, raising the question of the extent of influence of other stimuli (non-acoustic factors). Findings also suggest that auralisation and visualisation has the potential to yield meaningful communications between airports and their local communities. This potential of such a communication tool, however, has limitations when compromising between utilising the sophistication of Arup’s SoundLab technology conducive to a small number of people, and a simplified mobile version accessible to a far larger number of people. Moreover, restrictions surrounding 2D visualisation become more pronounced when applying the technology to direct overhead aircraft demonstrations. It is recommended for future use that more recent developments of 3D technology be explored. The contribution of this study lies in better understanding the role of auralisation and visualisation as a communication and engagement tool; by using findings from this thesis, industry should be able to focus time, effort and money on the most effective channels for improving environmental communications, and acoustic consultant companies such as Arup are better placed to utilise their tool based on the systematic evaluation of past experiences, which through this thesis has revealed key strengths and weaknesses of such technology.

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