Posted on October 4, 2015
by John Stewart
The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is expected to announce its decision on whether London City Airport will be required to re-consult on it proposals to concentrate flight path over narrow corridors.
If the CAA allows London City’s flight path plans to go-ahead, it will be against all the laws of natural justice. Hundreds of thousands of people who never expected more than a small percentage of flights over their homes will get all the flights over them.
It is a story of rank injustice and it makes my blood boil.
The story begins in 2008. NATS (the air traffic controllers) carried out a consultation for flight path changes for an area known as Terminal Control North (TCN) which covers the airspace north of the Thames for Heathrow, Stansted, Luton and London City Airports.
The proposals caused uproar. They were dropped….except for the ones covering London City.
What NATS did not tell local residents that London City would not be able to operate the bigger planes it has started to use without the flight path changes. In other words, unlike all the other airports, NATS had no real option but to approve the City Airport changes.
This was never explained to the residents of East London. Or at least to the few who knew the consultation was taking place. It is a strong word to use but there is no doubt in my mind these residents were deceived into believing the authorities had the option of dropping these 2008 flight path changes.
They were needed because the larger jet planes could not make the tight turn when taking off that the smaller turbo-props which they were replacing could do.
It meant that many areas got a lot more planes – places like Bow, parts of Leyton, Leytonstone, Wanstead, Dagenham and parts of Havering.
But then in 2014 came the hammer blow. London City said it wanted to concentrate all the take-offs on those routes. And it argued that, because the change was largely replicating what was already happening, it was only required by the CAA to carry out a minimal consultation. All it did was put a technical document on its website and inform the supine Consultative Committee.
The concentration, which will also affect parts of South London, would mean that some areas would get 30% more planes than they do now.
The key point is that areas which 10 years ago were relatively undisturbed by London City aircraft are faced with the prospect of getting all the planes concentrated over them. And they have never been properly informed or consulted about it.
And it gets worse. Many of these areas are also overflown by aircraft flying into Heathrow. In fact, according to a study carried out by HACAN, Waltham Forest is the third most overflown borough in London after Hounslow and Richmond.
This cavalier treatment of their residents has infuriated local councils and was probably behind Boris Johnson’s recent rejection of London City’s plans to expand.
Perhaps the most revealing aspect of this is that the aviation industry simply doesn’t seem to grasp the impact these changes have on residents. HACAN East went to see the CAA, (which oversees all flight path changes) about the 2008 flight path changes. They simply did not grasp that moving a lot of planes even just a mile has a significant impact on residents, including those many miles from the airport. (A key problem at City Airport is that departing planes cannot take off steeply because of the Heathrow aircraft above them).
In recent years there has been controversy over flight path changes at Gatwick and Birmingham and trials at Heathrow and Edinburgh. The fury has startled the CAA and NATS, both of which are reviewing their procedures. We’d welcome constrictive dialogue with both bodies.
But what has happened at City Airport is the best advertisement there could be for an Independent Noise Authority to be in place to ensure fairness. Because what has happened to the people of East London is simply unfair.