Near-airport distribution of the environmental costs of aviation [Science Direct]


• We model air quality, climate change, and noise costs associated with 84 US commercial airports.

• In aggregate, costs from aviation-induced climate change exceed the combined costs of aviation noise and air quality degradation.

• People living within 5 km of a commercial airport disproportionately bear costs of aircraft noise.

• As the number of operations increases at an airport, near-airport air quality costs approach the noise costs.


Aircraft noise, air quality, and climate change damages are spatially and temporally heterogeneous. While policymakers often focus on aggregate cost-benefit analysis to examine tradeoffs in aviation environmental policy, these analyses do not always indicate who bears the costs or who gains the benefits of aviation.

We model both the net cost and distribution of environmental damages from one year of aviation operations across the three environmental domains. We find that populations living at airport boundaries face damages of $100–400 per person per year from aircraft noise and between $5–16 per person per year from climate damages (in 2006 dollars).

Expected damages from air quality are dependent on the number of operations at the airport and range from $20 to over $400 per person per year with air quality damages approaching those of noise at high volume airports.

Mean expected noise and air quality damages decay with distance from the airport, but for noise, the range of expected damages at a given distance can be high and depends on orientation with respect to runways and flight patterns.

Damages from aviation-induced climate change dominate those from local air quality degradation and noise pollution further away from the airport. However, air quality damages may exceed those from climate when considering the impact of cruise emissions on air quality.

1. Introduction

Over the past 50 years, the environmental impacts of aviation, particularly noise, air quality, and climate change, have become increasingly important. Aircraft noise can lead to physical and monetary damages such as annoyance, sleep disturbance, and property damage.

Primary and secondary aerosols from aircraft emissions lead to increased incidences of premature mortality and morbidity. Aviation impacts the climate through long- and short-lived emissions species such as CO2, soot, and NOX, as well as through induced changes in cloud cover.

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Laboratory for Aviation and the Environment, Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 77 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA, USA – 15/03/14

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