Bristol Airport withdraws application to be allowed many more night flights
Bristol Airport is pushing on with its expansion plans, despite withdrawing the application to the DfT to join the UK’s list of “coordinated airports”. The application, which would allow Bristol Airport to operate night flights all year round, has been withdrawn due to the pandemic-driven drop in passenger numbers. It would have given the airport complete freedom to schedule night flights across the year, with the declared intention to increase summer (summer is 7 months) night flights. Flights are currently allowed to operate between 11pm to 7am in the summer season. Allowing more flights at night would improve airline profits and “efficiency” (allegedly). And airport spokesperson said the application for coordinated status is separate from the airport’s expansion plans, and the airport will resubmit the coordinated status application when/if passenger numbers return to high levels – such as numbers in 2019. There is currently an appeal by the airport, against their rejection by North Somerset council last year. There are now 7 airports that have coordinated status, (Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, London City, Luton, Birmingham and Manchester) and this is normally for congested airports. The airport currently has a cap of 10 million annual passengers.
Bristol Airport is currently designated as a partially coordinated Level 3 airport, covering night time operations between the hours 23:00 – 07:00 during each IATA summer season. It is limited to 3000 in the summer season and 1000 in the winter season within any one year. Outside summer time the airport is a Level 2 facilitated airport.
Summer is generally understood as 7 months, April to September inclusive.
Bristol Airport still set on expansion despite pulling application to run night flights
2 MAR, 2021
BY CATHERINE KENNEDY (New Civil Engineer)
Bristol Airport bosses are still fully committed to expansion plans despite withdrawing the application to join the UK’s list of “coordinated airports”.
The application, which would allow Bristol Airport to operate night flights all year round, has been withdrawn due to the pandemic-driven drop in passenger numbers.
The airport is currently only allowed to operate between 11pm to 7am in the summer season.
Expanding this would allow the airport to allocate landing slots to airlines formally, and thereby increase its efficiency – but the impact of Covid-19 has led to the airport withdrawing its application.
Despite this, a spokesperson emphasised that the application for coordinated status is separate from the airport’s expansion plans and added that it will resubmit the coordinated status application once passenger numbers return to normal.
The airport’s planning appeal over expansion is still ongoing, after plans were rejected by North Somerset council last year.
“In light of the devastating impact of Covid-19 on the industry and the unprecedented temporary reduction in passenger numbers, Bristol Airport has decided to withdraw its [coordinated status] application at this time,” the spokesperson said.
“However, given that we fully expect passengers numbers to recover when travel restrictions ease, we intend to resubmit our application ahead of Bristol Airport returning to the record passenger numbers of 2019 to ensure that we can effectively manage operations at the airport into the future.”
The Department for Transport (DfT) added: “Due to the impact the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic has had on the aviation industry since the original application, Bristol Airport has informed DfT that it has withdrawn its request and will resubmit as traffic levels recover.
“DfT will continue to engage with Bristol Airport on this issue.”
If granted coordinated status, Bristol would join a select club including London Heathrow, Gatwick and Manchester. In total, there are seven coordinated airports in the UK, with the designation reserved for congested airports.
It originally submitted its application to become coordinated in November 2019.
The spokesperson explained: “This was to give the airport greater control over timings and number of passengers by using the industry standard of greater coordination of flights.
“This is particularly important to ensure that Bristol Airport remains within its current planning permission previously granted to handle 10M passengers per year. Without this mechanism in place the airport would be unable to fully control the demand for flights and passenger numbers.”
Meanwhile last month, the employers group the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) threw its weight behind plans to expand the airport.
In a boost for Bristol Airport’s planning appeal, the CBI said that expanding the airport would be a “significant step” in the government’s “levelling up” agenda.
Bristol Airport plans to increase its capacity by 30% by 2025 were first tabled in 2018. Airport bosses want up to 12M passengers a year to use the airport by the mid-2020s and have said operational changes are needed to cope with the demand.
The proposals include a multi-storey car park and expanded baggage handling areas but plans for a new terminal have already been shelved.
Canadian teachers don’t want their pensions invested in expanding
February 22, 2021
Since 2014 the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan (which has some 329,000 members) has owned Bristol airport. Now some of the Canadian teachers in the pension plan say they stand in solidarity with the thousands of residents who oppose its expansion. In an open letter, six current and former teachers in the plan said they do not want their money used in such a “financially risky and unethical way”, and they would not want a foreign investor paving over their green spaces. The ask the pension plan to instruct the airport to withdraw its appeal, and stop trying to overthrow the democratic will of the local communities. The OTPP has rejected the teachers’ claims that the airport’s expansion – refused last year by North Somerset Council – was incompatible with the council’s climate change commitments. The teachers said the pension plan had pledged to invest in “climate-friendly opportunities” and must invest with conviction and integrity. An OTPP spokesperson gave a waffly response about how the airport was intending to eventually become carbon neutral … and “net zero by 2050.” The airport’s appeal will be heard at a public inquiry in July. The deadline for comments is February 22. OTPP also owns part of London City Airport. The USS owns 10% of Heathrow.
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Bristol Airport expansion: comments can be submitted on the appeal – 11th Jan to 22nd Feb
Members of the public are being urged to submit their views on the expansion of Bristol airport, to the Planning Inspectorate, ahead of public inquiry this summer. The consultation started on 11th January, and end on 22nd February. The airport appealed against a decision by North Somerset Council to reject its expansion plans which would see passenger numbers grow from 10 million to 12 million per year. The public inquiry heard by an independent planning inspector, would probably last 3-4 weeks, and is likely to start in July. Local campaigners are now getting ready to fight the appeal. They say any expansion of the airport would lead to congested roads, increased noise, loss of green belt, negative impact on the local environment from the proposed growth in flights – as well as the impact on climate change. Campaign group Bristol Airport Action Network (BAAN) is angry that the airport’s management has been instructed by wealthy owners, the Ontario Teacher’s Pension Plan, to appeal the original decision made in March 2020. Bristol City Council also opposed the expansion with North Somerset Council saying it will ‘robustly defend’ the appeal.
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Bristol Airport expansion plans rejected by North Somerset council by 18-7
North Somerset Council’s Planning & Regulatory Committee has gone against the advice of their own planning officers and have refused permission for Bristol Airport to expand. It has been a “David versus Goliath” battle of local campaigners against the airport, (owned by the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan). The airport wanted to expand from 10 million to 12 million passengers per year, with large carpark and other building. The opposition to the plans was huge, on ground of carbon emissions, as well as noise and general local damage. There were almost 9,000 objections sent in by members of the public, against 2,400 in favour. Councillors voted 18-7 against the plans, with one abstention. Councillors were persuaded that paltry economic benefits to the airport and airlines were far outweighed by the environmental harm. There would be large land take for the parking, and the extra carbon emissions would make targets of carbon neutrality for the area unachievable. Because the councillors went against the officers’ recommendations, the decision will return to the same committee to be ratified. If the decision is ratified, the applicant has six months to lodge an appeal, which would be heard at a public inquiry.
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BRISTOL AIRPORT STILL WANTS TO INCREASE NIGHT FLIGHTS DESPITE REJECTION BY NORTH SOMERSET COUNCIL
Bristol Airport has applied to the Department for Transport (DfT) to be designated a ‘co-ordinated airport’, a status given to highly congested airports in the UK . It would give Bristol Airport complete freedom to schedule night flights across the year, with the declared intention to increase summer night flights. The DfT has opened a consultation inviting comment until June 26th (extended from April 3rd)
The only airports with ‘co-ordinated status’ at present are the London airports (Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, London City and Luton), Manchester and Birmingham. Bristol Airport is currently ‘partially co-ordinated’ (for summer seasons only during 2300 – 0659 hours), limited to 3000 in the summer season and 1000 in the winter season within any one year.
Reasons to reject the application for ‘co-ordinated’ status: SBAEx has submitted a full response to the quasi-technical consultation. In sum we make the following points:
An invalid application
Bristol Airport should not be granted ‘coordinated airport status, allowing permission to operate flights all hours in all seasons, for the following reasons:
.1 The Airport application is based on the assumption that the current capacity level has been increased by its recent planning application to North Somerset . In fact, the application was refused (10 February, ratified 18th March 2020). So current capacity remains at 10 mppa not 12 mppa as proposed . The consultation is therefore based on a false assumption and is invalid.
.2 The consultation document recognises that ‘the Bristol Airport night restrictions are fixed in the planning condition. Therefore, there is no mechanism to change or remove the restrictions except by a new planning permission.’  The airport is already partially coordinated in the summer months to maximise night-time flights so the only way to become fully coordinated is to remove the condition set under the planning consent of 2011.
.3 It is not possible to verify the Airport’s fleet projections. Only the airlines have the power to deliver quieter aircraft . In fact quieter aircraft should be used to reduce existing levels of night noise and not as an excuse to increase night flights.
.4 It is likely that Bristol Airport will appeal the planning decision within the next 6 months which will result in a public inquiry, where these issues would be discussed in detail. Any decision in advance of an appeal is premature.
The adverse impact of increased night flights on local communities
Local communities are oppressed by current night flights and increased night flights within the summer months or any other period within the year will further harm the health and well-being of local communities. This impact is supported by the body of scientific evidence showing health problems stemming from sleep disturbance and deprivation .
The democratic decision taken by North Somerset Council to reject Bristol Airport’s planning application has been supported by local Members of Parliament and many, many parish councils and community groups on the grounds that the harmful impact on health, well-being and the environment cannot be justified by the claimed economic benefits. As the Leader of North Somerset Council, Cllr Don Davies, has definitively stated: ‘the detrimental effect of the expansion of the Airport on this area and the wider impact on the environment outweighs the narrower benefits to Airport expansion’.
The impact of the international events
Even before the Corvid-19 pandemic there were strong socio-economic grounds for challenging Bristol Airport’s claim of congestion. At present it still has around 15% potential for growth before reaching the existing cap of 10 million passengers per annum. The rapid growth in public awareness of the global climate emergency are likely to lead to a diminution of demand, together with the unpredictable consequences of Brexit. National and international protocols, agreements and legislation in the pipeline are also likely to discourage demand-led growth in aviation, particularly from tourist travel. 85% of Bristol Airport’s passenger traffic is leisure-based.
Now the Corvid-19 pandemic has created circumstances in which the Airport is highly unlikely to reach capacity levels in 2021 or even in the foreseeable future. As one small indicator, the Airport has just recognised that the newly-completed administration buildings are a white elephant and put these onto the (non-existent) market for letting. This possibly contravenes the bounds of permitted development under which the building was constructed.
On planning and wider socio-economic grounds there can be no case for granting Bristol Airport co-ordinated status.
Based on original research and comment by HB, with thanks.
(1) As concluded by the Mott MacDonald Report, ‘Demand and Capacity Assessment Report 2019’.
(2) 18/P/5118/OUT submitted to North Somerset Council. It’s also worth noting that the consultation for the Airport’s Noise Action Plan was held in 2018, before the Airport submitted its planning application to North Somerset Council in December 2018.
(3) under application 09/P/1020/OT2
(5) Suggested in the airport application 18/P/5118/OUT and the MMR, which states ‘Aircraft operating at Bristol Airport are expected to get quieter in coming years with the introduction of new types such as the A320neo and B737Max’.
(6) See for example, comment from the World Health Organisation recognise noise as an ‘underestimated threat’ that has significant Public Health effects. http://www.euro.who.int/en/health-topics/environment-and-health/noise/data-and-statistics