Airport noise community groups write to David Cameron calling for review of airspace policy
In an open letter to David Cameron, which was co-ordinated through the Aviation Environment Federation (AEF), community groups concerned about the impacts of flight path changes have called on the Government to bring forward a review, both of airspace policy and the process for consultation and engagement. The letter describes the current approach for making airspace changes as “not fit for purpose” and demands that a moratorium on flight path trials and airspace decisions is introduced until a new policy is put in place. Flight path trials over the last few years have led to significant community disturbance around major airports across the UK, especially where communities have been overflown for the first time. In many cases, flight path trials were cancelled early following vociferous reactions from the public. The Government and the CAA were expected to consult on proposals to change the policy and process for making changes to flight paths early this year. However, this has been delayed until at least the summer, when the Government will make a statement on a possible new runway. The letter’s 24 signatories stress that the airspace policy review is required urgently to address existing problems and should be independent of any future decisions on airport capacity.
Airport noise community groups write to David Cameron calling for review of airspace policy
In an open letter to David Cameron, which AEF co-ordinated, community groups concerned about the impacts of flight path changes have written to call on the Government to bring forward a review of airspace policy and the process for consultation and engagement. The letter describes the current approach for making airspace changes as “not fit for purpose” and demands that a moratorium on flight path trials and airspace decisions is introduced until a new policy is put in place.
Flight path trials over the last few years have led to significant community disturbance around major airports across the UK, especially where communities have been overflown for the first time. In many cases, flight path trials were cancelled early following vociferous reactions from the public. See background briefing here.
The Government and the Civil Aviation Authority were expected to consult on proposals to change the policy and process for making changes to flight paths early this year. However, the Secretary of State for Transport, Patrick McLoughlin indicated in an evidence session with the Transport Select Committee that the Government does not currently plan to review its policy for airspace change until at least the summer, when it makes a decision on South East airport expansion.
The letter’s 24 signatories, including representatives from around Edinburgh Airport, in addition to groups in the South East and nationally representative organisations, stress that the airspace policy review is required urgently to address existing problems relating to a reorganisation of UK airspace and should be independent of any future decisions on South East airport capacity.
The letter argues that issues related to airspace change can evoke strong community responses yet the guiding principles underpinning the existing policy and process are unclear or lacking in supporting evidence. A recent consultant’s report for the Civil Aviation Authority concluded that it is not clear whether, for example, the Government considers it appropriate to expose new communities to aircraft noise. Until these issues are resolved, the letter calls for a moratorium on new flight path trials except where there is a community preference to reverse those which have already taken place.
The letter reinforces previous requests to Ministers, by groups around Heathrow, Gatwick and London City Airports, asking for recent airspace changes to be reversed, on which there has been no substantive progress
Download: Joint letter to David Cameron
Download: Short media briefing
Open letter to the Prime Minister
Correspondence address: C/O Aviation Environment Federation 40 Bermondsey Street London SE1 3UD
To: The Rt Hon David Cameron MP 10 Downing Street London SW1A 2AA
18th February 2016
Dear Prime Minister
Organisations representing communities throughout the UK recently met to share their concerns – and in many cases their anger – about the noise impacts of recent flight path trials and other airspace changes. Some of these organisations have previously written to ministers about this issue, but no substantive progress has been made on the matters raised in those letters. The meeting felt strongly that we should write to you to call for an urgent review in relation to airspace. Since significant changes are already underway and are independent of any future decisions on South East airport capacity, such a review should not be held up by the runway debate.
We urge you, therefore:
to bring forward meaningful consultation on both the policy governing airspace change and the process for delivering it; and
to impose a moratorium on any new initiatives leading to further trials of future airspace changes (including permanent vectoring changes), except where there is a community preference to reverse those which have already taken place, until such consultation has been completed and Government policy reviewed.
We understand that the Government wishes to reorganise airspace and that the approach for doing so has been set out by the CAA in its Future Airspace Strategy. Our experience suggests however that the current approach for making such changes is not fit for purpose. Many airspace changes including trials of possible new flight paths have, for example, taken place recently without notification for local communities, and for reasons that in some cases remain opaque.
Further, it has become clear that the principles guiding the CAA on how to assess and manage the environmental impacts of airspace change are currently too crudely defined to be directly applicable to the issues posed by the introduction of modern technologies. Performance Based Navigation, for example, enables aircraft to fly intensely concentrated routes such that those who find themselves under a flight path drawn up by air traffic controllers can be – in some cases quite suddenly – exposed to noisy aircraft at a rate of up to one per minute.
Issues such as the location of these intensely concentrated flight paths, how effectively their proposed introduction is publicised, what the trigger should be for the deployment of respite options, and whether it is appropriate to expose new communities to aircraft noise evoke strong reaction and – in our view – require clearer guidance, based on evidence on noise impacts. Independent consultants to the CAA recently reached a similar conclusion. Yet significant change has been taking place without formal public engagement on these critical, high level questions.
Irrespective of the decision-making process concerning a new runway, airspace change is underway and changes planned for the future will have very significant community impacts. We understand that a bundling together of questions relevant both to airport expansion and airspace change may appear convenient. But it is our view that the Government’s decision to undertake further analysis on the issue of airport expansion must not hold up the public consultation of the principles and process for assessing the community impacts of airspace change that we had been expecting to be issued early this year.
Given the strength of feeling that the changes so far trialled or undertaken have provoked in many cases – resulting in a number of trials being forced to end early and airports having to reconsider their own approach to community engagement – we request that a moratorium be placed on all further airspace change trials until such public consultation has been undertaken and the Government’s policy reviewed.
Tim Johnson (Aviation Environment Federation)
Sarah Clayton (AirportWatch)
Robert Barnstone (HACAN East, at London City airport)
Martin Baraud (GON, Gatwick Obviously Not)
Murray Barter (RAAN, Residents Against Aircraft Noise)
Louise Barton (Lydd Airport Action Group)
Peter Clymer (TWAANG, Tunbridge Wells Anti Aircraft Noise Group)
Nigel Davies (EGAG, Englefield Green Action Group)
John Davis (LADACAN, Luton and District Association for the Control of Aircraft Noise)
Nic Ferriday (West London Friends of the Earth)
Stephen Hanks (Nutfield Conservation Society)
Ian Hare (PAGNE, Pulborough against Gatwick Noise and Emissions)
Rosalie James (Aircraft Noise Three Villages)
Margaret Majummdar (ENAG, Ealing Noise Action Group)
Dominic Nevill (ESCCAN, East Sussex Communities for the Control of Aircraft Noise) Helena Paul (SEAT, Stop Edinburgh Airspace Trial)
Sally Pavey (CAGNE, Communities Against Gatwick Noise and Emissions)
Linda Penny (BIPLANE, Back Ifold, Plaistow & Loxwood Against Noise and Emissions)
Peter Sanders (SSE, Stop Stansted Expansion)
Brendon Sewill (GACC, Gatwick Area Conservation Campaign)
John Stewart (HACAN, Heathrow Association for the Control of Aircraft Noise)
Mike Ward (Plane Wrong)
Peter Willan (Richmond Heathrow Campaign)
Katie Williams (Teddington Action Group)
Reported in The Times
Improved GPS makes flight paths narrower and noisier
Research shows that stress related to noise could lead to heart attacks and strokes
By Graeme Paton Transport Correspondent (Times)
Homeowners are putting up with “disastrous” levels of aircraft noise because planes now have more accurate guidance systems.
In a letter to the prime minister a coalition of more than 20 community groups has called for a ban on all further flight path changes pending a comprehensive strategy to deal with the effects of aircraft noise.
It follows research showing that the stress related to noise could lead to high blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes and impaired performance at school.
Concerns have been raised over the use of satellite navigation systems to guide plans into airports more accurately. The technology replaces ground beacons and reduces the width of land overflown but leads to a greater concentration of planes over a smaller area.
One group living near Edinburgh airport said that aircraft noise of 80 decibels, which is equivalent to city traffic, was being recorded in rural areas and that complaints had risen 200-fold.
The letter to the prime minister, organised by the Aviation Environment Federation, calls for a moratorium on flight path trials and airspace decisions until a new aviation policy is implemented.
The move is made before a decision on a new runway in the southeast. The government has already put the ruling off for six months pending research into the effects of noise and emissions.
Tim Johnson, director of the federation, said: “We need a clearer policy direction from government with effective community consultation to avoid any more disastrous flight path trials. David Cameron needs to know that people up and down the UK are calling for a review immediately and there is no justification for this to be held up by the government’s deliberations on a new runway.”
Linda Penny, spokeswoman for a residents’ group near Gatwick, said: “Intervals between planes of two minutes or less up to midnight and beyond mean a constant wall of noise, disrupting sleep and wrecking the previous peace of the gardens.”