Rural communities complain of ‘airport blight’ as flights increase
Rural communities are complaining that their lives are being blighted by the
increasing number of flights at small airfields.
By David Millward, Transport Editor
The surge has led to complaints of excessive noise from residents who say their
quiet idyll has been disturbed.
Many blame the Government for the problems they now face.
This is because the 2003 Aviation White Paper recommended that traffic at smaller
airfields increase to take pressure of larger airports in the South East.
As the skies have become more congested, there has been a shift to smaller aerodromes,
some of which have traditionally been used for gliders.
The issue is already causing some concern at Westminster and it is part of an
inquiry into the use of UK airspace by the all-party Transport Select Committee.
One dispute has erupted at Wycombe Air Park in Buckinghamshire, which now has nearly 100,000 air movements
a year – rather more than some commercial airports.
Campaigners say the Air Park, which was once largely used by gliders, is now
hosting far more conventional aircraft and helicopters – much to the annoyance
of people living nearby.
Because it is regarded as a small airfield, Wycombe is subject to far less regulation
than larger airports.
This, campaigners say, means it is able to police itself, a situation regarded
as unsatisfactory by those who live nearby.
It has taken the unusual attempt of asking Geoff Hoon, the Transport Secretary,
to treat the Air Park in the same way as larger airports.
This would entail imposing what is known as a “specification order”, under which its air traffic would be regulated by the Department for Transport
and the Civil Aviation Authority.
“We are saddened and frustrated that we have been forced to take the unusual
step of applying to the DfT for a specification order,” said Richard Wetenhall,
spokesman for the Wycombe Air Park Action Group.
“However, the complete breakdown of all attempts to work constructively with
the Air Park leaves us with no alternative.
“As the law stands, the only bodies that can resolve the impasse are the DfT
and the CAA.”
However Capt Tim Orchard, managing director of Airways Aero Associations, which
operates Wycombe, disputes the campaigners’ case.
“The number of movements we have had here has come down by 50% compared to the
“We operate best practice in terms of noise amelioration. We are in constant
talks with the local populous. We endeavour to be safe and neighbourly friendly.”
The dispute reflects a trend which has seen other small airports change radically.
Oxford, for example, which is switching from training pilots to the increasingly lucrative private aviation market.
Farnborough in Hampshire is also looking to increase the number of flights it handles and
the operators of Kent International Airport at Manston also have ambitious expansion plans.
Redhill, near Gatwick, also had ambitious expansion plans, but they have since been dropped,
Opponents of such expansion say there is little protection for communities who
find that their local airfield is hosting several times the number of flights
that it did only a few years ago.
According to Ralph Smyth transport spokesman of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, the 1990 Environmental
Protection Act only classified noise from model aircraft as a potential nuisance.
“There is no monitoring of these commercial aircraft at local aircraft. This
information has to be collated to see the extent of the problem.”
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