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Back to the drawing board for airspace changes

February 26, 2009

National Air Traffic Services (NATS) consulted a year ago on changes to flight paths.  But their proposals are being taken back to the drawing board after an overwhelming thumbs-down from people across the region.

Campaigners and the public are delighted that (for once) the authorities wave listened to the public concerns about aviation.

NATS plans to conduct a new consultation later this year on revised proposals for flightpaths and holding stacks in the area of south-east England known in airspace terms as Terminal Control North.

The proposal to change aircraft stacking areas, arrival and departure routes for planes using airports in the south-east in the years to 2014 caused uproar, particularly in Essex, Herts, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire because of the threats posed to the tranquillity of rural areas.

The key point, which was obvious to those living in tranquil areas, but also obvious to many who don’t, is that aircraft noise (or extra noise) has a disproportionate impact in areas that are otherwise quiet.  This is confirmed by noise science, which explains this observation in terms of the ‘non-linear’ relationship between noise levels and annoyance/disturbance.

These basic scientific and social facts seems to hold little sway with NATS and the CAA (Civil Aviation Authority).  They, and some others, seem to believe that flight paths should be increased in order to ‘spread the misery’.  But the net effect of spreading flight paths is to increase the aggregate or societal impact of noise.

In this respect, noise is quite different from other impacts of aviation.  For air pollution or greenhouse gas emissions or third-party safety, spreading the impacts around does not increase the aggregate or societal impact.