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Airport noise community groups write to David Cameron calling for airspace review

MEDIA RELEASE EMBARGOED UNTIL 00:01 Monday 22nd February

  • Over 20 groups around airports across the South East and next to Edinburgh Airport affected by recent flight path trials write to David Cameron
  • The letter states airspace policy is “not fit for purpose” and calls for an immediate review and moratorium on new flight path trials
  • The letter follows a delay in the review of airspace policy to after a decision on a new runway, creating uncertainty for affected communities

In an open letter to David Cameron[1], co-ordinated by the national NGO Aviation Environment Federation[2], community groups concerned about noise from airports 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[3], 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, it has emerged 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[4].

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 [5] 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 [6], asking for recent airspace changes to be reversed, on which there has been no substantive progress.

Tim Johnson, Director of Aviation Environment Federation, the national NGO which co-ordinated the letter, said:

“The current airspace change process is confusing, with a lack of transparency about who is responsible and insufficient public information and engagement. This leaves many communities feeling angry and excluded. 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.”

Helena Paul, spokesperson for Stop Edinburgh Airspace Trial (SEAT), representing communities affected by Edinburgh flight path changes [7], said:

“2015 will be remembered as a terrible summer for thousands of people, some living many miles from Edinburgh Airport, who woke up to find themselves suddenly living under a busy flight path. The reality of “airspace trials” is constant and unwelcome noise disruption – readings of over 80 decibels during the so called “TUTUR” trial were commonplace in previously tranquil rural areas.

“Despite receiving nearly 8000 noise complaints – a 200 fold increase – and a debate being called with cross-party support in the Scottish Parliament, as well as a motion in Westminster Parliament, Edinburgh Airport has recently declared the trial to have been a “success.” The airport is now intent on reviewing departure procedures all round the airport, leaving no area safe from the threat of new and unbearable and intrusive aircraft noise. With others, we call on the Government to urgently review the “airspace change” process in the UK and work harder to strike a fairer balance between the demands of aviation, and the health and well-being of its citizens.”

Sally Pavey, Chair of CAGNE, which was set up following flight path trials at Gatwick Airport [8] said:

“CAGNE was formed as a result of a new flight path trial with Gatwick being the first airport to use P-RNAV to concentrate flight paths. It was mental torture, you were forced out of your home or stayed locked inside throughout the summer as Gatwick would not stop the six month trial.  Our rural area, with very little background noise, was subjected to a never ending stream of aircraft at below 3,000ft from 6am till night – it was sheer hell and now it is one of the five proposed new routes off a second runway at Gatwick over rural areas.”

Brendon Sewill, Chairman for the Gatwick Areas Conservation Campaign said:

“Never in the sixty years that GACC has been in existence have we seen such anger at new flight paths.  Complaints to the airport have increased six-fold.  GACC has, as paid-up members, some 60 councils and some 40 groups, and new groups formed to protest about new flight paths are springing up every month.  People are not prepared to put up with having their peace and quiet destroyed.’

Linda Penny, spokesperson for BIPLANE (Back Ifold, Plaistow and Loxwood against noise and Emissions), which was affected by Gatwick flight path trials, said:

“This rural part of West Sussex was suddenly hit 2 years ago by almost all aircraft approaching Gatwick from the west turning over the villages within the new narrowed swathe. Intervals between planes of 2 minutes or less, up to midnight and beyond, mean a constant wall of noise, disrupting sleep and wrecking the previous peace of the gardens.  A few months later concentration of departure paths resulted in an increase in noise when take offs were towards the west. This all resulted from changes in airspace use that were made without consultation or consideration of communities on the ground.  There needs to be a democratic process by which use of airspace, in the overcrowded South East in particular, is planned.”

Nigel Davies, spokesperson for Englefield Green Action Group, a community group set up in the wake of Heathrow flight path trials [9], said:

“The infamous 2014 Heathrow flight path trials had a dramatic negative impact on our village. Whilst the trials were terminated early, following extensive public protests, we continue to be adversely affected by ‘unofficial changes’ to flight paths, within the approved take off routes.

“The trials and flight path changes were introduced for commercial reasons benefitting the airlines and Heathrow, having no regard whatsoever to residents living on the ground. Our experiences demonstrate that the current airspace change process is ‘not fit for purpose’ as far as residents are concerned.”

Paul McGuinness, spokesperson for Teddington Action Group, community group set up in the wake of Heathrow flight path trials, said:

“Since 1990, the number of flights in our skies has increased by 80% and are projected to increase by another 45% by 2036.  Regulation, noise metrics and emissions standards have not kept pace with this unrestrained explosion of planes in our sky.  To fit all of these planes in, UK airspace is being abused under the guise of ‘airspace modernisation’.  The creators of the UK airspace modernisation program, LAMP, have failed to include the impacts on the overflown in any of their proposed changes, many of which have already been implemented by stealth.  

“UK communities have had their lives turned upside down by increasingly unbearable noise and air pollution levels.  To maximize profits, planes are flying far lower than previously over UK towns and villages along flightpaths that are either new or radically altered.  Given that an estimated 28.9 million people will be impacted by LAMP, it is time that the UK Government finally recognised the very real impacts that unrestrained aviation growth and industry greed are having on UK citizens in terms of our health, our air and our quality of life”

Rob Barnstone, spokesperson for HACAN East, which represents communities affected by aircraft noise from London City Airport, said:

“‎What has happened at City Airport is a great example of the systemic failings of the current mindset at the CAA”

—ENDS—

Contact:

James Lees / 079 8177 2962 / 020 3102 1509

Notes to editor

[1] The letter is available here with full list of signatories: http://www.aef.org.uk/uploads/Letter-to-David-Cameron-FINAL.pdf

[2] The Aviation Environment Federation (AEF) is the only national NGO campaigning exclusively on the environmental impacts of aviation including noise, air pollution and climate change. Supported by individuals and community groups affected by the UK’s airports and airfields or concerned about aviation and climate change, we promote a sustainable future for aviation which fully recognises and takes account of all its environmental and social impacts.

[3] See background briefing for more information here: http://www.aef.org.uk/uploads/Media-background-briefing-on-airspace-change-by-Aviation-Environment-Federation-Feb-16.pdf

[4] Transport Secretary, Patrick McLoughlin appeared to confirm that the Government does not plan to publish any consultation on airspace policy until after a runway decision is made, when he gave evidence to the Transport Secretary on Monday 8th February.

[5] Report for CAA by Helios, published in December 2015. Available here: http://publicapps.caa.co.uk/docs/33/AirspaceChangeProcessIndependentReviewFinal.pdf

[6] See http://www.airportwatch.org.uk/2015/06/gatwick-heathrow-and-london-city-airport-campaigns-come-together-to-oppose-airspace-change/

[7] Further details on the Edinburgh flight path trials http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-edinburgh-east-fife-35562570

[8] Further details on the Gatwick flight path trials http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-28722477

[9] Further details on the Heathrow flight path trials http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-29597561

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