Aircraft noise is one of the most significant local environmental impacts related to aviation operations. While individual aircraft may have become quieter due to airframe and engine technology advances, an increase in the number of flights and urbanisation, with cities spreading outwards and nearer to airports, have led to more people being affected by aviation noise. More information on the locations, and times that people are exposed to aircraft noise, can lead to a better understanding of their reactions and complaints, smarter land-use planning and more effective operational procedures around airports to mitigate the negative impacts of aircraft noise.
This study sought to contribute to a greater understanding of people’s perception of soundscape in general and, thereby, infer the effects of noise on the quality of life of residents near airports. Recent technological advances have enabled an increased opportunity to conduct novel sound research by deploying novel, tailored mobile phone applications. In this case, the AnimApp was developed and used to collect a range of momentary situational and environmental perception data to determine whether such information can help to improve understanding of the effects of noise on humans.
The specific intention was to carry out an experience sampling method (ESM) study about the impact of the soundscape and visual environment on people’s perception of their environment and quality of life around airports. However, the project’s timing meant that the app was deployed during the period of COVID pandemic restrictions in the early summer of 2021. Thus, the aim had to be adapted to reflect that a) air traffic volumes were significantly reduced and b) that people’s activities were affected by mobility and accessibility restrictions.
Thus, in this study, efforts were made to:
- collect all the information necessary to better describe the way people interact with their sound environment,
- study the influence of the sound environment on wellbeing and quality of life, and
- understand the role of the air traffic noise in the composition of the sound environment around airports, not only acoustically, but essentially perceptively (since aircraft sound is only one aspect of the environment).
The methods underpinning the development of the AnimApp were divided into pre-release and release phases.
The pre-release phase 1 consisted of:
- the elaboration of the test-method (i.e. what should participants be asked),
- the development of the app on both iPhone and Android platforms,
- initial testing of the app to generate feedback on the content and useability of the app.
The release phase 2 consisted of:
- refinement of the test-method in the light of the feedback from test participants,
- modification of the app and release in the App- and Play-stores,
- recruitment aiming for 60 participants around two airports (i.e. London-Heathrow and Ljubljana airports – later opened up to include other UK airports to increase number of responses),
- conducting the field study,
- evaluation of the gathered data.
As anticipated, due to the timing of the deployment in unusual circumstances, the number of people participating was low. Only a relatively small number of participants (47) fulfilled all the minimum requirements for inclusion in the data analysis.
Nevertheless, the survey provided good information on functionality of the mobile application. It also revealed that a lot of diverse and important information can be gathered in a relatively easy and novel way. On the other hand, considering the specific circumstances and the small data sample, it is important that results of the data analysis are seen as illustrative of how the AnimApp data may be analysed.