From Neil Sanders
Background: We suffer from the noise of aircraft coming in to land at Heathrow and at London City Airport. Flights into Heathrow (like Gatwick and Stansted) are regulated by the Government, but flights into London City are controlled by Newham Council as part of the planning permission for the airport.
Aldebert Terrace is lined up with the northern runway at Heathrow and as traffic has increased over the years the noise has got worse both directly because there are more planes, and because with more planes, they have to join the glide path earlier, so they all come along Aldebert Terrace instead of peeling into the glide path somewhere around Barnes. Planes normally land and take off into the wind, so we get the Heathrow planes when there is a west wind. However, Heathrow continues to operate in this westerly mode when the wind comes from the east, provided that it is less than 5 mph. This is called the “Westerly preference” and was introduced to protect west London from the noise of aircraft taking off. (In the early days of flying, noise from take-offs was regarded as more important than noise from aircraft coming in to land. However, aircraft climb much more steeply than they used to (say 15˚) so, though take-off is noisy, it only affects a small geographical area. The international standard for landing aircraft to approach is 3˚, so they affect people much further away.)
London City was originally approved for use by a modest number of relatively quiet turbo-prop aircraft. However, Newham Council has more recently given permission for larger, much noisier, jets – and BA have devised clever schemes to get big planes in with very little fuel on board, so they can touch down for refuelling in Ireland and then fly to North America. Obviously, as London City is much closer to us than Heathrow, the planes are much lower.
The organisation campaigning to reduce aircraft noise is called HACAN. It’s based close to us, in Stockwell Road, and it’s very professional. Its website is http://www.hacan.org.uk. The rest of this report is based on a briefing meeting they held on 23rd September. (Do consider joining HACAN as an individual member – fighting the economic power of BAA and the airlines is an expensive business.)
The latest: Over the years, the primary objective of the Department of Transport has always seemed to be to foster the aviation industry, rather than to protect its victims. However,Teresa Villiers, the new Aviation Minister seems much more receptive than her predecessors to addressing noise problems. She seems to have accepted that the noise envelopes from Heathrow and London City should be combined in assessing disturbance, rather than treated as completely separate issues! This is a real step forward for us – when an east wind gives us relief from Heathrow traffic, we get more from London City.
Abandonment of the third runway at Heathrow was a massive step forward for us. At the moment, there is a system of runway alternation: for half the day planes take off from the north runway and land on the south; for the other half it is reversed. So for half the day they are coming along Aldebert Terrace, but at least for the other half the approach lines up with somewhere in the south of Clapham. If there had been a third runway, we might have had flights over us all day.
Now that the 3rd Runway has been ruled out, HACAN are concentrating on the next achievable aims:
(i). The dozen or so arrivals between 4.20 and 6.00 cause misery to thousands of people, but BAA seem to argue that without them the whole UK economy would collapse! HACAN have commissioned a serious study from a Dutch firm of economic consultants which should be published in early November, and will form the basis for their next campaign, which will be to stop these night flights.
(ii) HACAN are examining the way approach paths concentrate the noise over particular groups of people. There may be scope for giving us predictable periods of relief on the lines of current runway alternation.
(iii) HACAN continues to push on the question of whether the 3˚ angle of glide slope needs to be sacrosanct – if planes could come in more steeply, they would affect fewer people. (At our distance from Heathrow, on a 3˚ approach, planes should be at 3100 feet – but we know that some pilots like to approach the glide path from below, and there’s nothing to stop them coming in lower.)
Heathrow at present operates at 99% capacity; there is agreement that this leaves too little flexibility if something goes wrong – Teresa Villiers would prefer 85-90%. If this is achieved, it would reduce the regular volume of noise and the extra disturbance we get, for example, when evening flights are all delayed by some incident.
There is no will in the Government for abandoning the Westerly Preference, so HACAN are not pressing this at present.
Newham Council’s recent granting of planning permission for expansion of London City operations is being challenged in the High Court by local groups. We shall wait and see.
Helicopters don’t seem to be comprehensively monitored. Only the police have to record exactly what they do. However, the majority of helicopter traffic is apparently private commercial use – advertising, taking corporate guests to Ascot and Henley, etc.– that surprised us.
HACAN plan a follow-up briefing meeting in November, after their economic report is published, to discuss the night-flights campaign. That will be the most important next event for ASSA. We will pass on the details of the meeting through our website and email list, and keep you in touch with the development of the campaign