Local MP says RAF Northolt is becoming a commercial airport ‘in all but name’

Labour MP Gareth Thomas (Harrow West) says military base, Northolt Airport, in west London near Heathrow is hosting 10,000 passenger flights a year and this number could quintuple. It is used by many VIP passenger flights and by the royal family. It is not supposed to be a commercial airport, but it seems to have become one “by stealth” and it is “increasingly apparent that it is a commercial airport in all but name”, with military status used “as a smokescreen”.  While it is a military airfield, the number of commercial flights has dramatically increased in recent years. The number of passenger journeys, mostly involving VIP jets, dwarfs the 3,800 military flights.  In a report commissioned by the Ministry of Defence, consultants suggested increasing the number of commercial flights to 50,000 a year, with the regional airline Flybe among those campaigning for commercial passenger flights to start operating there. Local residents had not been consulted over further changes including the proposed increase to 50,000. Some enthusiasts for Northolt hope it could become “an alternative to London City airport” for regional flights with up to 100 seats and a “key access airport” for Heathrow. It is unsuitable for larger planes. Gareth Thomas said the number of flights was already having a major impact on local people’s quality of life, including noise pollution, poor air quality and concerns about safety.

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RAF Northolt becoming commercial airport ‘in all but name’, says MP

Gareth Thomas says military base in west London is hosting 10,000 passenger flights a year and this number could quintuple

By Political reporter – Guardian)

A military airport used frequently by the royal family has become a commercial hub by stealth, hosting 10,000 passenger flights a year, a Labour MP has said.

Gareth Thomas, the MP for Harrow West, said local residents had not been consulted over further changes at RAF Northolt in west London, including a proposal that would increase the number of commercial flights to 50,000 a year.

Thomas said residents were concerned and it is “increasingly apparent that it is a commercial airport in all but name”, with military status used “as a smokescreen”.

RAF Northolt is a military airport, but the number of commercial flights has dramatically increased in recent years. The number of passenger journeys, mostly involving VIP jets, dwarfs the 3,800 military flights.  It is used by the royal family as well as VIPs.

The project ark report, authored by the accounting company EY, suggested RAF Northolt could be “an alternative to London City airport” for regional flights with up to 100 seats and a “key access airport” for Heathrow, but said it was unsuitable for larger planes.

Thomas said the number of flights was already having a major impact on local people’s quality of life, including noise pollution, poor air quality and concerns about safety.

The MoD is to spend £45m resurfacing the runway, which the MP said was a significantly higher cost for than for the same work at other airports and had been approved without a public consultation. The runway will be closed from spring 2018 for the work.

“This has meant a gradual worsening of quality of life and an important discussion about safety swept under the carpet.”

RAF Northolt’s classification as a military base means it does not have to comply with the rules of a civilian airport, including the need to get planning approval for changes to the runway and increasing the number of commercial flights.

This week, the London assembly passed a motion expressing concern about the airport’s future, calling on the mayor, Sadiq Khan, to do “everything possible to campaign against RAF Northolt becoming a commercial airport”.

Tobias Ellwood, a defence minister, said there were “stringent conditions” for using the spare capacity at RAF Northolt for commercial flights.

“It is used and needed by the military every single day, but it has for a number of decades been underutilised in this role,” he said in his reply to a Westminster Hall debate.

Ellwood said the government was committed to sharing information about the airport with local residents “when it seems pertinent as decisions and options are considered”, but added that commercial use ensured value for money for taxpayers.

Passenger flights “offset the cost of the station’s military operations to the taxpaying public”, he said, and ministers would meet Thomas and local councillors to discuss concerns.

Thomas said he wanted the government to commit to a full and open consultation on the renovation work. “The simple fact of the matter is that Northolt is no longer, in practical terms, a military airport. The vast majority of flights there are now commercial ones,” he said.

“It is not right to continue hiding behind military status, making small changes each time that add up to the very thing they publicly deny.”

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/sep/13/raf-northolt-commercial-airport-in-all-but-name-gareth-thomas-mp

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See earlier:

Heathrow funded report suggests using RAF Northolt as an interim 3rd runway for domestic flights

Heathrow airport set up and funds a body called the “National Connectivity Task Force” (NCTF). This produced a report in March, looking at regional connectivity – and putting arguments that suit Heathrow.  (Gatwick airport, unsurprisingly strongly disagrees with it).  As well as saying how important links to regional airports are from Heathrow, though these have progressively been cut as long haul flights are more profitable, the NCTF report says RAF Northolt airport, just a few miles north of Heathrow, should be used as an extension to Heathrow, for smaller planes to regional airports.  As this news broke about the same time as the Germanwings plane tragedy, it did not get press attention. What Heathrow wants is to have Northolt brought into service, as an interim measure, before it can get a new runway.  If Gatwick was chosen for a runway, Heathrow could use Northolt for domestic flights it has been promising regional airports, in order to get their backing for a Heathrow runway. Heathrow says the Northolt runway could not be used at the same time as a Heathrow north-west runway. RAF Northolt does not comply with the safety standards required for a civilian airport. Its runway ends just short of the busy A40.

http://www.airportwatch.org.uk/2015/03/heathrow-funded-report-suggests-using-raf-northolt-as-an-interim-3rd-runway-for-domestic-flights/
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Residents fight against ‘noisy neighbour’ RAF Northolt over changed flight path

South Ruislip residents are desperately calling on recently-elected MP Boris Johnson to get RAF Northolt to stop allowing planes to fly over their houses. A local resident has collected over 520 signatures,asking that the planes and helicopters stick to the designated flight path. People know for certain that aircraft are flying over areas they did not fly over before. RAF Northolt is said to use one runway with a designated flight path but residents who signed the petition regularly see planes taking off over their houses.  In 2013, the decision to keep RAF Northolt as a military airfield included an instruction from defence ministers that it should aim to increase its revenue from commercial aircraft. The increase was set to rise from 7,000 flight movements, taking off or landing, to 12,000 a year. But an RAF spokesman admitted: “Military and government movements are uncapped but expect to remain constant with the total number of movements in 2016 not expecting to exceed 17,500.”  Not the 12,000.  John Stewart (HACAN) said the “flight paths seem to have changed without any thought of the impact of local communities.”  Residents say they have not been listened to by Northolt in the past and a letter to them was “dumped in the bin.”  They hope Boris will step in and do something.

http://www.airportwatch.org.uk/2015/06/residents-fight-against-noisy-neighbour-raf-northolt-over-changed-flight-path/

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High Court decision that RAF Northolt must have same safety standards for private jets as civilian airports

A legal judgement, brought by rival airports (Oxford and Biggin Hill) against RAF Northolt, says the CAA is the statutory regulator required to determine safety standards for civilian aircraft using government owned military aerodromes. This means Northolt will have to meet higher safety standards for business jets than those in place for military flights, and this will be expensive for them. As the number of military flights has fallen from Northolt, there have been more business jets – up to a total of 12,000 per year.  The trigger for the current proceedings came in April 2012 when the MOD decided to increase the limit on civil flights at RAF Northolt from 7,000 to 12,000 movements. Ministers had repeatedly argued before that they didn’t need to meet stricter, costlier civilian safety standards and the CAA had no regulatory powers at military aerodromes. This meant that smaller private airports reliant on business jets were being significantly undermined, as RAF Northolt became a competitor without incurring the higher costs of complying with civilian safety standards. Although the arguments in the case have been about the application of safety standards, the motivation for the challenge is the claimant airports’ commercial interests as competitors.

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