South Harpenden continues fighting low flying planes

A HARPENDEN man is fuming about the “nonsensical decision” to shelve consultation plans over changes to Hertfordshire’s airspace despite residents’ complaints about planes flying low over homes to and from Luton Airport.

Leading a campaign against low flying aircraft over south Harpenden, Neil MacArthur has rejected the “completely irrational” decision by National Air Traffic Services to postpone its promised discussion over changes to airspace north of London, instead incorporating proposals into a wider review of airspace over southern England.

Last week the service controversially revoked its promise to restart its Terminal Control North consultation over alterations to airspace north of London, including Luton, later this year.

A NATS spokesman said the wider review, taking in airspace as far away as Ipswich, west to Bournemouth and Banbury in the northwest, was not expected to deliver improvements to satefy, air traffic management and provide for additional capacity until up to another 10 years.

The turnaround has infuriated Neil whose plight was first publicised in the Herts Advertiser two months ago after he said he was fed up with planes flying 4,000ft above his home, well below the Government’s suggested threshold for dense population flyovers.

Irritated by aircraft noise and fearing for his safety, Neil started up campaign website to begin lobbying against the low flyovers.

The article sparked debate between readers with some dismissing Neil’s claims as an “exaggeration” and “nimbyism of the worst kind.”

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He called upon National Air Traffic Services, which permits access to airspace and operates under licence from the Civil Aviation Authority, “to reroute the increasing volume of air traffic currently over Harpenden”.

However this too has struck a nerve with locals, with Wheathampstead Cllr Gillian Clark reminding Herts Advertiser readers that: “Proposals from NATS a couple of years ago suggested rerouting to increase the number of flights passing over us and I know that a large number of Wheathampstead residents were extremely unhappy.”

Harpenden Town Council initiated both a working party and an online survey to garner residents’ views on aircraft noise in response to a letter from NATS promising the Terminal Control North consultation would restart “later this year”.

A spokesman for NATS said the organisation had not established a timescale to publish proposed changes, and that public consultation would only occur “depending on the nature of routes that effect people on the ground, where those routes did not exist before”.

He admitted that Neil’s home in Cross Lane was “in the heart of an existing flight path”, where “aircraft are still climbing” from Luton.

Alex Bristol, development and investment director for NATS explained there was now “less urgency” to introduce airspace changes as there had been a downturn in air traffic levels since its 2008 Terminal Control North consultation on local flight paths.

He said: “Current forecasts show that air traffic levels are not expected to return to the peak levels of 2007 until at least 2013/14.

“We are already working on a wider project involving the airspace over much of southern England.

“This is a large and very complex area of airspace with many interactions and as traffic levels pick up, changes will be necessary to ensure continued safety and reduce delay.

“The work we have done so far in TCN – and the feedback we have from the 2008 consultation – will be very much a part of our revised plans.”

Neil rejected Alex’s comments, insisting that Luton was not suffering a significant downturn in air traffic levels. He cited a recent announcement of an increase in passengers by easyJet, one of the airport’s main operators.

However Neil’s claim that planes were taking a “shortcut” over south Harpenden, forcing the area to suffer a “disproportionate amount of air traffic,” have been dismissed as “impossible” by a Civil Aviation Authority spokesman.

He said: “There have been no changes to air routes. It’s up to the air traffic controllers to vector in aircraft on the final stages.

“We are talking about controlled airspace, which has clearly defined routes. They are certainly not taking short cuts.

“It’s just impossible as they are under instruction from air traffic controllers so there is no way they can deviate from that route. These things are done with safety in mind.”