London City: softening us up for expansion?
by John Stewart, 23rd April 2019
London City Airport is up to something. The quirky story in last week’s Evening Standard is part of its new approach. The paper reported that the airport is planning to create a “chilled” atmosphere, featuring “muted colours, less background noise and better directions” as part of the £500 million redesign of its terminal which is due to be completed by 2022. The airport hopes that better the interior design will boost mental wellbeing of passengers
This is all very admirable but begs the question why London City is doing it. I suspect it is part of a charm offensive before it unveils proposals for a further expansion of the airport. This summer London City will publish its Master Plan where it will set out its ‘vision’ for the future. This is expected to include an option to lift the current cap on the number of flights permitted to use the airport each year.
To have any chance of getting permission to expand further the airport needs to do two things:
convince people it is a ‘caring’ airport;
show it is a key driver of economic regeneration in East and SE London.
London City has a lot of catching up to do.
Its relationship with its very local area has tended to be quite good. The conditions set by the London Borough of Newham, the planning authority for the airport, attached to the four – yes, four - successful applications to expand the airport since it opened in 1989, have given some protection to those living close to the airport.
But it neglected the wider area its planes fly over. It made little effort to engage with communities or local authorities in these areas. Relations were at rock bottom. Most of the local authorities, furious at being routinely snubbed, opposed all its expansion plans. Things got so bad that when London City refused to send a representative to a key Waltham Forest committee, the council arranged for a fluffy puppet to sit in its chair!
This neglect of its wider catchment areas was one of the reasons behind calls to close it down. These have come from many in the local community, from the former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone and from the Green Party mayoral candidate Sian Berry. All argued that replacing the airport with a different development could create more jobs and do more for the local economy than the airport does and without its environmental downsides.
A major reason why the airport failed to woo its wider catchment area was that the then owners were simply in it to sell the airport at a profit. The new owners, who bought it for £2bn, are seen to be in it for the long-term. They realized things had to change.
London City is reaching out like never before. It has appointed new press and PR people. It has started to sponsor important receptions at party conferences. ‘Feel-good’ stories have begun to appear in the media. The airport is wooing the local authorities by visiting their leaders and chief executives. It is trying to portray the airport as the key economic driver of the region. To stand up that claim, of course, would require a lot more hard evidence than has so far been produced: London City contributes to the economy –yes; it’s a key driver of the regional economy – the jury is very much out.
A lot of what is being done is welcome.
More engagement with key stakeholders across a much wider region, with helpful staff in their community, planning, noise and environment teams.
Good engagement with its very local neighbours led by committed staff
A revamped Consultative Committee, impressively chaired.
A commitment to engage fully when the airport reconsiders its flight paths.
A commitment on less noisy planes.
But the underlying worry is that the airport’s big aim is to seek permission to lift the cap on the number of flights. 111,000 flights are allowed to use airport each year. (Over the last few years the actual number has hovered around 84,000). 111,000 is enough. London City may only be the 14th busiest airport in the UK but noise from its planes impacts more people than any airport bar Heathrow and Manchester. It is only the 94th busiest airport in Europe but, astonishingly, it impacts more people than mega airports like Schiphol, Madrid, Munich or Brussels. And the numbers impacted by noise will rise as there will be a lot of new homes built in East London over the next few years.
Let’s work together but not on an expanded airport.
Unlike diamonds, flight paths are not forever
There is no doubt that the Civil Aviation Authority’s backing last month of London City’s concentrated flight paths was a huge blow to very many people.
But I suspect that is not the end of the matter. There may be renewed pressure on London City to offer some respite.
The pressure could come from three directions:
Local discontent will not go away. And may intensify as thousands more homes are built under or close to the flight path in East London over the next few years. These homes may be well-insulated and many of the newcomers will have some awareness that they will get aircraft noise. However, it is expected that, London City could come to impact at least 74,000 people which would mean it would overfly more people in the UK than any airport except Heathrow and Manchester and almost twice as many as Brussels or Schiphol. Will they all really keep quiet if they get no predicable break from the noise?
Flight paths at airports across London and the South East will be altered. Before Christmas NATS, the air traffic controllers, will publish a major report looking at how the flight paths changes at the different airports can mesh together. It is probable that NATS will not expect to see changes to London City’s flight paths but the wider changes will be so fundamental that nothing is guaranteed.
Heathrow is committed to introducing respite. Heathrow’s new flight paths are not expected to come in before 2025 (when a third runway would open if it is given final permission) but Heathrow flight paths which were rotated to give people respite would highlight just what a poor deal people were getting from London City.
Unlike diamonds, flight paths are not forever.
SE LONDON: A CHALLENGE TO BOTH LONDON CITY AND HEATHROW
by John Stewart 18/11/2018
Here’s your starter for 10. How many times during a typical year has the east wind blown above 5 knots between lunchtime Saturday and lunchtime Sunday?
The question is of more than quiz trivia interest to people in South East London because it is the only time many of them get a break from aircraft noise.
Here’s how it works:
West Wind: Planes landing at Heathrow; can be over 40 an hour
East Wind: Usually no Heathrow planes, but London City aircraft land in their concentrated corridor over swathes of SE London
Light East Wind: Heathrow planes still landing (because they only switch when the wind gets above about 5 knots) but City planes are also landing (because they switch immediately wind direction changes). Total can be over 50 planes an hour.
East wind above 5 knots Sat lunch – Sun lunch: No planes! Heathrow aircraft are landing over Windsor; and London City is shut.
Last year because of the beast from the east and its summer cousin we saw a lot of east wind but in a typical year it just blows about 30% of the time. How often is it over 5 decibels? I’m not sure. And how often is it over 5 decibels between Saturday lunch time and Sunday lunchtime? Even less. But that is the only time many in SE London get a break from the noise.
Heathrow and London City have started talking. When Heathrow introduces its new flight paths after 2025, there is the opportunity to provide respite through the introduction of multiple rotating flights (particularly if London City will play ball and remove its current single concentrated flight path). In the shorter term HACAN is speaking with both the airports and NATS to look at what could be done to ease the situation.
A bonus mark to those of you who added Christmas Day: City Airport is closed and an east wind above about 5 knots means Heathrow planes land over Windsor.
The human cost of London City’s concentrated flight paths
by John Stewart, 26/10/18
Let me first acknowledge that not all the 900,000 or so people overflown by planes to and from London City at heights of less than 7,000ft are driven mad by them. But, for those people who are affected, this week’s report from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) backing London City’s decision to concentrate its flight paths in 2016 was a sickening blow.
I can hear the sorrow and despair in their voices when they ring me up. Before 2016 more people were overflown by City Airport planes but the concentration brought all the aircraft over selected communities. Complaints to the airport shot up fourfold within a year.
Those distressed by the constant overflying – and distressed is not too strong a word – had put their hope in the CAA’s review of the concentrated flight paths. They accepted that they should have a share of the planes but were calling for further flight paths to be created so they could get a break from the noise. Their hopes were cruelly dashed this week. It is probably too early to say whether all hope has been extinguished by certainly the mood is one of deep sadness.
Most people had lived in their homes before the flight paths were concentrated in 2016. Some people had been there long before the airport opened in the late 1980s. And many feel doubly cheated. Back in 2009 London City first changed its flight paths to allow the larger planes coming into service to use a wider arc when departing. There had been a consultation but residents weren’t aware of it. Then in 2016 these new flight paths more or less became the concentrated flight paths.
In some ways the City Airport residents have been desperately unlucky. The 2016 flight path changes followed a consultation that was totally inadequate but which followed the correct CAA procedures. Partly as a result of the City Airport experience, the CAA has radically altered the procedures to allow for more community consultation and for real options to be presented to residents.
But rather than hide behind their good fortune in getting away with a shabby plan, City Airport should embrace at least the spirit of the new guidelines and come up with a package of measures to ease the burden on the many residents who have lost out from their decision to concentrate their flight paths. Over the next few months we will be proposing practical actions London City can take.