Heralding quieter skies across south of Harpenden

SOUTH Harpenden skies should be quieter from now on thanks to the efforts of a feisty local campaigner who credits “people power” for forcing Luton Airport to crack down on low-flying planes.

As originally revealed by the Herts Advertiser back in August, Neil MacArthur was so fed up with suffering excessive noise and the stress of having planes flying at just 4,000ft above his home to and from the airport that he took both Luton and the UK’s leading air navigation service provider (NATS) to task, launching an internet campaign to expose the problem.

Backed by Harpenden Town Council, which initiated an online “Aircraft Noise Over Harpenden” survey, Neil demanded that NATS show more consideration of the impact of air traffic on Harpenden residents and its increasing adverse impact upon the town.

Aircraft flying in the area are operating within the 3km flightpath set out at a national level by NATS, which recently annoyed residents when it decided to shelve public consultation plans over changes to Hertfordshire’s airspace, despite local concerns.

But Neil said that following publicity about plane noise problems being experienced by residents, representatives of Luton Airport had visited him to discuss the issue.

On his campaign website he wrote of the breakthrough: “Luton Airport are now running a trial with EasyJet to hold air traffic to the centreline of the Dover/Clacton Exit route which will alleviate disturbance from Luton departures for the majority of south Harpenden residents.”

Neil said: “These aircraft are ‘wandering’ outside this swathe. They are running trials of EasyJet to tighten up the way aircraft go through the swathe. They should be on the centre of it, but for one reason or another they haven’t been.”

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He commended Luton for “listening and taking notice” of residents’ views and thanked the Herts Advertiser for publicising the problems. He added that it was, “absolutely a victory. It just shows that people power still has an influence.”

Harpenden district and town councillor Bert Pawle also welcomed Luton’s decision to encourage air traffic to fly along the centre line of the Dover/Clacton route rather than “wander all over it.”

A spokesman for Luton Airport confirmed efforts were being made to encourage pilots to fly closer to the centre of the flightpath.

He explained: “LLA [London Luton Airport] is working with its Flight Operations Committee and Noise and Track Sub-Committee of the London Luton Airport Consultative Committee to look at track keeping improvements that will encourage aircraft operators to fly closer to the centreline of the published departures routes.

“Aircraft operate within the flightpath that has been set out at a national level by NATS. The flightpath is 3km wide at this area and pilots will fly the most appropriate course to ensure plane and passenger safety, taking into account local atmospheric conditions. The number of planes that fly over this area will thus be dependent on these local conditions and the course the pilot’s feel will best ensure plane and passenger safety.”

It is government policy that over-flights of densely populated areas below 7,000ft are minimised. According to a spokesman for Luton and District Association for the Control of Aircraft Noise (LADACAN), Luton departures are usually prevented from climbing higher over Harpenden as they are “compounded” by a busy south-to-north route from Heathrow.

A Harpenden Town Council survey on aeroplane noise showed that 34.1 percent of 188 respondents were affected by the din of aircraft, while a further 45 per cent were “occasionally” affected.

Residents concerned about aircraft noise and safety should either email Luton’s airfield environment team at noise@ltn.aero, or call the airport’s 24-hour voicemail service on 01582 395382.