NATS flight stack plans ‘must be thrown out’

2.7.2008   (East Anglia Daily Times EADT)

by Laurence Cawley

Campaigners and MPs have upped the pressure on airspace bosses to rethink plans
to move a flight stack over rural Suffolk.

NATS, formerly the National Air Traffic Service, wants to move a stacking area
for planes heading in to Stansted Airport to an area affecting 32 Suffolk villages,
centred on Lavenham.

Today, the debate reaches the House of Commons where MP Richard Spring will discuss
the proposals while fellow MP David Ruffley met NATS bosses last night to implore
them to move the flight stack to over the North Sea.

NATS says circling planes over rural areas will affect fewer people than the
current arrangements – but campaigners claim their peace and quiet will be shattered
and that no alternative options were drawn up.

Mr Ruffley, MP for Bury St Edmunds, said he had asked NATS why the air stack
could not be moved over the North Sea.

"We were given various reasons why that is difficult. They said a lot of military
do training exercises over the sea and it would be crowded if civil aircraft were
kept in a holding stack," he said.

"They said if the stack was over the sea it meant it’s a longer air descent for
aircraft which means they would be burning more fuel and increasing CO2 emissions.

"I don’t see any evidence of that. I want them to go away and look at the alternative
of putting a stack over the sea."

Mr Spring, who will today call on the Government to look at the way the consultation
process was handled, said: "There are many people who thought the consultation
was flawed because they were invited to contribute their comments over the internet
which some people do not have access to and there were no alternative options.

"I am beside myself with anxiety about this. It is a big deal. I am doing everything
I can on this to highlight the issues."

He said he hoped the ministerial team at the Department for Transport would get
involved in the matter and echo his concerns over the proposals.

Philip Gibson, who represents Lavenham on Babergh District Council, said he accepted
planes had to be stacked somewhere but he felt NATS had not explained why incoming
aircraft could not be stacked over the North Sea.

David Williams, of Brent Eleigh, one of the affected villages, said he and fellow
residents had vowed to keep up the campaign to get the proposals changed.

Last month, campaigners from many of the affected villages held a rally at NATS’
headquarters in London in protest at the plans.

The deadline for comments about the proposals has now passed and NATS is preparing
to publish its feedback report later this month. The recommendations will then
go to the Civil Aviation Authority to decide.

A spokesman for the Department for Transport said neither his organisation nor
its ministers would not be involved in deciding the proposals as that was the
responsibility of the Civil Aviation Authority.

However he did say the CAA had "to be satisfied" with the recommendations before
agreeing to them.

A spokeswoman for NATS declined to comment.