General News

Below are links to stories of general interest in relation to aviation and airports.

 

ICCAN produces review and 6 recommendations about aviation noise metrics and their measurement

The issue of plane noise has been of great concern to hundreds of thousands of people, for ages. ICCAN was set up in 2019 to look into the problem, seeing if there might be ways to manage it better, and for people to be considered more  - and their noise concerns taken seriously. One key problem is how noise is measured, and therefore how overflown communities can get factual data on the noise they are experiencing. This is complicated. Acoustics is not a simple science, and especially difficult to explain in plain English to laypeople. The noise an area suffers depends on the number of planes overhead, their height, their type, what they are doing at the time, the frequency of the flights overhead, the time of day (or night) and the background level of noise an area already experiences. Traditionally aircraft noise is averaged over a period of time. That provides numbers that can be compared to other places and other times. But it makes no sense to those being affected. But nobody hears an average of plane noise. They hear a number of separate noisy events. Now ICCAN has produced a review of aircraft noise metric and their measurement, and their recommendations, for how improvements should be made.

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BA is retiring its whole fleet of 747s (lots used to use Heathrow) due to the Covid fall in air travel

British Airways has said it will retire, with immediate effect, all of its Boeing 747s as air travel demand has fallen so much due to Covid - and it may never recover to be how it was before. BA has 31 jumbo jets, which make up about 10% of the BA fleet.  It had planned on retiring the planes in 2024 but has brought forward the date.  There are about 500 747s still in service, of which 30 are still flying passengers. More than 300 fly cargo. The rest are in storage. The four-engined 747s are not fuel efficient, so cost a lot to run - and emit a lot of carbon. They are very noisy, causing noise nuisance to millions living under fight paths near airports. Even before Covid, Air France, Delta and United had already retired their 747 fleets. With expected lower air travel for years, even if a vaccine is found fairly soon, airlines need to save money, and 747s are more expensive to run than 2-engined planes. It will also be difficult to fill them up. They depend on the hub model of airports, and are less suited to the more popular point to point sort of air travel.  With the end of 747s and A380s, much of the rationale for Heathrow expansion ends. Unfortunately, it is due to the 747s in the 1970s making air travel cheaper, that brought in the era of cheap, readily available air travel - with its environmental costs.

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ICCAN progress report, after a year’s work looking at aviation noise – it should be a priority post-Covid

What seems a long time ago, in 2015, the Airports Commission recommended that an independent body should be set up to deal with aircraft noise problems. So in 2019 ICCAN (the Independent Commission on Civil Aviation Noise) was finally set up.  It was hoped that this body would be able to help people who are subjected to aircraft noise, and who have no sensible means to get the level of noise nuisance reduced. In reality, ICCAN says its aim is "to improve trust and public confidence in the management of noise in the UK through the delivery of a comprehensive work programme." And: "It is not, and never has been, our role to have a view on the future expansion of the aviation industry, but as part of making the UK a world leader in managing aviation noise ...." It has no powers. It has now produced its Progress Report, one year from starting work. Its main aim has been contacting many "stakeholders", finding information, getting well informed. Now its lead commissioner, Rob Light, says the Covid pandemic "should be seen as a chance to rebuild and regrow aviation in a more sustainable way" and noise should be a key priority.

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Around 250 job losses likely at Bristol airport, due to collapse in its air travel demand

Nearly 250 jobs could be lost at Bristol Airport because demand for air travel has plummeted. The unions are saying these redundancies would leave a ‘huge economic hole’ in the region.  Bristol Airport has begun consultation with Unite over making 76 directly employed staff redundant. Swissport has also announced 167 job losses. A smaller number of redundancies at other firms are also expected to be announced soon. There are the usual claims about the alleged economic benefit the airport brings, and the number of jobs it supports. These conveniently ignore the fact that most flights are taken by local people flying abroad for their leisure, spending their money abroad - not in local businesses or local leisure/ holiday destinations.  To try to save jobs, the unions want delay, in the hope that air travel demand picks up.  The AOA - lobby groups for the industry - said this week up to 20,000 jobs at Britain’s airports are at risk as a result of the collapse of air travel due to the Covid pandemic.  Bristol is yet another area has has become too dependent on the airport for jobs, and this vulnerability has now been shown up. Aviation is no longer a sector with guaranteed security and growth for a local economy.

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Heathrow to close southern runway for several weeks, then use it for daytime only, till October

Heathrow has announced, with no warning, that it will be only using the northern runway from 13th July to 2nd August. It is doing extensive repairs (probably in fact resurfacing) on the southern runway, that means it cannot be opened even part of the day.  So people living under the approach path to the northern runway, or under the departure flight paths, will not get the respite period they are used to.  Normally flights are switched at 3pm each day. The disruption is planned to last until early October. After 2nd August, there will be flights on both runways, but the southern runway will be closed from 7pm to 7am. Therefore those under flight paths for the northern runway will get all the noise. Campaigners fear that the use of "mixed mode" (ie. landings and take-offs using the same runway) could become the “new norm” if Heathrow seek to use this method of operating permanently, post-pandemic, as a way of increasing the current flight cap of 480,000, to an estimated 565,000 flights per year. Mixed mode would allow that increase in flights without building a 3rd runway, which Heathrow probably can no longer afford.

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Natural England says Leeds Bradford Airport expansion should not be approved – necessary details have not been provided

The government's environment adviser, Natural England, says Leeds City Council should not approve controversial plans for the Leeds Bradford Airport expansion, unless further evidence on the potential impacts is provided.  Natural England states the airport's planning application lacks detail and "there is currently not enough information to rule out the likelihood of significant effects" on the environment. It has asked the airport to provide additional information, so the council can asses the impact the new £150 million terminal would have on air quality, local wildlife and protected landscapes.  Natural England therefore advises Leeds City Council that it should not grant planning permission at this stage. The airport wants to increase passengers numbers from 4 million to 7 million a year. Climate scientists, environmentalists, The Group for Action on Leeds Bradford Airport (GALBA) and four Leeds MPs are also calling on the council to reject the new plans. GALBA, said the airport has not bothered to assess the damage that their expansion plans would do to wildlife and nature.

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Public consultation over Southampton runway extension slightly delayed – and campaigners fight for Marlhill Copse trees

The public consultation through Eastleigh Borough Council over plans to extend Southampton Airport's runway by 164 metres has been delayed. It was due to start on July 10th, but now the start date is not known - the delay may only be a week or so. The consultation is due to last 30 days. The airport also wants to add 600 more parking spaces to the existing long stay car park. There is a lot of local opposition to the plans, largely due to the noise impact and the extra carbon emissions of more flights. Neighbouring local authorities including Winchester and Southampton councils objected to the scheme.  There has already been one consultation, in late 2019, and the airport may make modifications in this second consultation. The final decision will be by Eastleigh Borough Council. The airport bought a small woodland near the airport, Marlhill Copse in 2018. It now wants to fell many of the trees, citing safety concerns. The trees in fact would only be a potential safety concern if the airport is allowed to expand. Three trees have already been felled, on the pretext of "good forestry management".  Campaigners are trying to get this tree felling and tree height reduction stopped.

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MAG to appeal council’s refusal of Stansted expansion proposals – SSE says this is “CALLOUS, CYNICAL AND POINTLESS”

The Manchester Airports Group (MAG) has decided to appeal against the refusal by Uttlesford District Council of the expansion plans of Stansted airport. Stop Stansted Expansion (SSE) Chairman, Peter Sanders, said this was “callous, cynical and pointless” and prolongs uncertainty. MAG has been seeking an increase in the permitted number of flights using Stansted, up from the present limit of 35 mppa to 43mppa.  Stansted’s actual throughput in 2019 was 28 mppa and will be very significantly lower in 2020 due to the impact of Covid-19.  Uttlesford District Council (UDC) first received MAG’s expansion proposals for Stansted in June 2017 and spent more than two and a half years considering the issues prior to 24 January 2020 when its (cross-party) Planning Committee voted by 10 votes to zero to refuse the application. MAG itself had said it wanted the application to be determined locally rather than nationally, and that UDC was the “competent and appropriate authority” to deal with its application. But now it is appealing, for the decision to go to a Public Inquiry, that would be costly for UDC at a time when finances are struggling.

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Government grants Manston DCO to allow the airport to re-open, against Planning Inspectorate recommendation

Manston has been closed as an airport since May 2014. It is the first airport to have to take its plans through the DCO (Development Consent Order) process, dependant on the Airports National Policy Statement (ANPS). It always failed as an airport in the past, largely due to its location. In October 2019, the Planning Inspector recommended to the Secretary of State for Transport that Manston should not be re-opened. The decision was then for transport minister Andrew Stephenson, "with the secretary of state, Grant Shapps, recused to avoid any conflict of interest."  He has now given approval to the DCO for the airport to re-open, for cargo and even passengers - overruling the Planning Inspectorate (PINS). The airport claims it could open by 2023, handling up to 10,000 cargo flights a year as well as passenger services, with construction starting as early as 2021. There is huge opposition to the plans, due to noise and air pollution. The approach path from the east is directly over Ramsgate, about 2 miles from the airport. PINS had said opening Manston would have "a material impact on the ability of government to meet its carbon reduction targets". The ANPS is currently not valid, awaiting a Supreme Court hearing on 7th and 8th October.

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Prof Whitelegg: How the aviation sector should be reformed following the Covid-19 crisis

Prof John Whitelegg says the Covid pandemic provides a key opportunity for major reforms to the aviation sector.  The sector is not likely to reduce its carbon emissions to the extent necessary, even for the net zero target for 2050. The Committee on Climate Change has said there will need to be measures to limit demand for air travel, and it "cannot continue to grow unfettered over the long-term.” They say "we still expect the sector to emit more than any other in 2050.” Aviation continues to receive an effective subsidy, due to the absence of VAT and fuel duty that amounts to about £11 billion per year (compared to about £3.8 billion taken in APD). There are well known negative health impacts caused the plane noise, with some of the best researched being cardiovascular.  We need to change the dominant expectation that air travel with continue to grow.  There has to be realisation that air passengers must pay the costs of the environmental damage they cause. Some necessary changes would be charging VAT; taxing frequent fliers; adopting WHO noise standards for health; full internalisation of external costs; fiscal instruments to shift all passenger journeys under 500kms in length from air to rail. And more.

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