Luton Airport flight path changes "unfair to Hertfordshire residents"

PUBLISHED: 07:33 25 July 2016 | UPDATED: 07:33 25 July 2016

Luton Airport's change in flight paths are affecting residents throughout Herts, including those living in Stevenage, Harpenden, Welwyn Garden City and St Albans - but avoids Luton itself.
This shows just one day in March this year: easterly departures in blue, arrivals in red.

Luton Airport's change in flight paths are affecting residents throughout Herts, including those living in Stevenage, Harpenden, Welwyn Garden City and St Albans - but avoids Luton itself. This shows just one day in March this year: easterly departures in blue, arrivals in red.

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Complaints about plane noise from Luton Airport have leapt by 78 per cent, with residents saying their lives have been "devastated" by detrimental flight path changes.

Luton Airport's change in flight paths are affecting residents throughout Herts, including those living in Stevenage, Harpenden, Welwyn Garden City and St Albans - but avoids Luton itself. This shows just one day in March this year: westerly departures in blue, arrivals in red.Luton Airport's change in flight paths are affecting residents throughout Herts, including those living in Stevenage, Harpenden, Welwyn Garden City and St Albans - but avoids Luton itself. This shows just one day in March this year: westerly departures in blue, arrivals in red.

The latest edition of the airport’s quarterly monitoring report has also revealed a 60 per cent rise in the number of complainants.

Flight movement maps in the report, recording westerly and easterly movements over a 24 hour period in March, show a concentration of planes flying over many urban areas in Herts, including St Albans district, Stevenage, Letchworth and Welwyn Garden City.

Yet, the skies above Luton, and the immediate area around the town - apart from the airport’s location in the south - appear to be mostly devoid of aircraft by comparison.

One of the many local residents affected by recent flight path changes, John Worth, told the Herts Advertiser: “It has been devastating for those living in the Childwickbury area between St Albans and Harpenden. The noise is becoming continuous with, on some days, a constant stream of low flying flights over our area.”

Childwickbury.Childwickbury.

Between January and March this year, there were 191 noise complaints, compared to 107 in the first quarter in 2015.

There were a total of 26,907 aircraft movements, a rise from 22,824 for the same period in 2015 – an increase of 18 per cent.

This equated to about 300 movements per 24 hours, compared to 254 last year.

The airport has been expanding rapidly since its owner, and prime beneficiary, Luton borough council, controversially approved its bid to near double passenger throughput to 18 million a year in December 2013.

Childwickbury.Childwickbury.

Although the first phase of its £110 million redevelopment project just started in September last year, the airport has pressed ahead with expanding capacity, boasting this month of an increase in numbers for the 27th month in a row, with 1.4 million people flying during June alone.

Also in September last year, in a bid to better control aircraft and prevent them from straying from centrelines, Luton introduced a system called “RNAV”, which stands for area navigation.

Based on using software assistance to navigate flights, using a network of beacons to follow a designated route, RNAV is designed to channel aircraft down a narrow track – but if you live underneath it, you suffer from increased noise.

A Harpenden-based campaigner for quieter skies, Neil MacArthur, pointed out that Herts residents are suffering more as a result, when compared to those living in Bedfordshire.

Another reason for this stems from the designated flight paths. Back in 2008, NATS, the UK’s provider of air traffic control services, proposed that Bedfordshire should share the load, but that was opposed.

Neil explained: “On the contrary, there seems to be a significant body of influence and opinion at Luton Airport, Luton borough council (LBC) and councils in Bedfordshire which suggest the airport should gain all the economic benefits, yet the county take none of the day or night disturbance which has been deemed by LBC and the airport as a Hertfordshire problem - that will become progressively worse as the airport expands.”

Neil said the RNAV results showed recent flight path changes were “significantly flawed insofar as meeting the airport’s aim of reducing noise disturbance for local communities”.

A spokesman for the airport said there were plans to reduce the flight path even further, with trials to begin later this year, followed by public consultation.

An aircraft noise enquiry or complaint can be made to Luton Airport via its online flight tracking system known as TraVis (http://travisltn.topsonic.aero), or email: noise@ltn.aero or by calling 01582 395382 (24hr automated line).

RESIDENTS’ ANGER:

Revelations of a spike in complaints about Luton Airport noise have come as no surprise to locals, with one commenting that some flights “could surely wake the dead, let alone anyone trying to do a day’s work later”.

The man, who lives between Redbourn and Hemel Hempstead and did not want to be named, criticised Luton Airport’s recent flight path changes as “a failure; it seems that more people are being disturbed now.

“I fully accept that nobody wants aircraft noise, but why the presumption that Luton Airport and Luton council can ride roughshod over anyone in their way is completely unacceptable.

“The centreline now goes directly over our house and the path has been concentrated, so rather than having a few over flights, like others we now seem to get the lot. Cargo flights at night make a good night’s sleep a rarity. A heavily loaded older plane at full throttle could surely wake the dead.”

He also asked why there were so many night flights.

Luton Airport said in a recent report there were 2,281 such flights between January and March this year, compared to 1,991 for the first quarter in 2015.

This prompted the man to say: “We are not at war, night flights are not vital or essential for the UK population. Only a real and complete ban between 10.30pm-6.30am will allow everyone to get a minimum of eight hours’ proper sleep.”

John Worth, who lives in the Childwickbury area, said: “We first noticed the increase in noise just before Christmas, with a sudden increase in flights that were going over or close to our house.

“After much correspondence with Luton Airport, we found out it is because of the implementation of a new technology that keeps all flights to a certain path.”

However, John pointed out, he was not consulted upon this significant change and impact upon his life.

And while the airport told him it had been monitoring noise levels in the area, “further enquiries have revealed this is completely inadequate. There have been two monitoring attempts in recent years, neither directly in the Childwickbury area – the results of which are inconclusive. Luton Airport now admits it is inadequate, and that they do not have sufficient equipment in order to carry out appropriate monitoring.”

John went on: “Most importantly is the height of flights, which are being kept deliberately low - a mere 4,000 feet above sea level or less. You cannot hold a conversation with others outside, you are woken up to the sound of aircraft, and animals and people alike are startled.

“Furthermore, we are getting tired of not having our voices heard, and being brushed off by authorities that really don’t care enough to find alternative solutions. We are being fobbed off.”

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