St Albans MP calls for Luton Airport action over plane noise complaints
PUBLISHED: 17:00 04 August 2016
St Albans MP Anne Main has implored Luton Airport to listen - and take action - in light of the raft of complaints from noise-plagued residents.
Her comments follow revelations in the Herts Advertiser, and sister papers The Comet and Welwyn Hatfield Times, that flight path changes brought in a year ago by Luton have resulted in a concentration of aircraft flying over many urban areas in Herts.
This includes St Albans district, Stevenage, Letchworth and Welwyn Garden City.
With complaints about plane noise from Luton Airport leaping by 78 per cent between January and March this year, compared to the first quarter in 2015, Anne said she had written twice to the aviation minister, “and has been in constant contact with Luton”.
The increase in noise complaints coincides with an 18 per cent increase in aircraft movements, in line with the airport’s major expansion.
Anne added: “I understand that local residents have experienced disturbances since the new flight paths came into practice last year. These were intended to narrow the field so fewer planes were flying over the city.
“What I have been trying to establish is if this disturbance is permanent.
“If planes are being vectored outside the legal limits then this is absolutely unacceptable. It is important that Luton continues to talk to residents, to listen to their concerns, and to take steps to improve on the disturbance that they are experiencing.”
The Herts Advertiser has been inundated with emails about the blight of plane noise, including one from a former Luton Airport employee who said that he, along with other people affected by the flight path changes, was “not consulted” about the altered routes.
He said: “My complaint is that it is unfair that, despite living far from the airport – I’m 15-20 miles away – to get away from the noise, I’m still affected.”
County councillor for St Albans North, Roma Mills, said: “It seems the rerouting is causing real problems, and I have received a number of complaints from local people.”
She has asked for a briefing for councillors, which is taking place today (Thursday), “and we will then be in a better position to know how to take this forward.”
Luton Airport introduced new area navigation (RNAV1) technology flight procedures on August 20 last year, to keep aircraft much closer to the centreline of its westerly departure route using modern GPS technology, as opposed to older ground based radio beacons. This allowed the airport to reduce the width of the corridor from 3km to 2km.
As a result, however, Harpenden Sky spokesman Neil Macarthur said there had been a significant increase in air traffic noise for residents in the southern part of the town, who are apparently “outraged” by the new routing.
He added: “We believe that aircraft noise follows the inverse square law so the noise increase for even a short distance can have a disproportionately large effect.”
Another campaign group, London Luton Airport Town and Village Communities Committee, said its experts had noticed and reported “some distinctly odd flight paths followed by Ryanair’s Boeing 737s when using the RNAV route for westerly departure [that] were clearly in parts of the sky where they shouldn’t have been”.
The outcome of the “wandering Boeings” investigation showed that not all aircraft flight management systems behave in the same way, so while many planes fly the new route perfectly well, others – such as the Boeing 737 aircraft - become “confused” and, put simply, “got lost”.
• Campaigners are urging people to make Luton aware of their noise problem by lodging a complaint at: email@example.com
LUTON AIRPORT RESPONDS:
Despite complaints from St Albans residents that government guidelines are being “contravened” by increased plane noise in populated areas throughout Herts, Luton Airport has defended flight path and operational changes.
However, it has admitted to an increase in plane noise in Sandridge.
In response to complaints printed in the Herts Advertiser, a spokesman for the airport said that the implementation of area navigation technology (RNAV) for departures “is fully complaint with government guidance and the criteria set out by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).
“These criteria focus on reducing the number of people overflow; before and after maps of flight tracks indicate that RNAV is achieving that objective across the region.”
In August 2014, when it applied for airspace changes to improve track-keeping on the Runway 26 Brookmans Park departure route, Luton said that noise monitoring would be undertaken in Sandridge, to determine whether the concentration of aircraft passing this location was “perceivable” and data would be sent to the CAA when tweaks were reviewed a year after their implementation.
An annual review was supposed to have been initated by now, but has been postponed because of the difficulty some aircraft were having in keeping to the tweaked route.
The CAA has said that it had to suspend the post implementation review of Luton’s RNAV, to allow the airport to undertake necessary redesign work.
The Luton spokesman said that noise monitoring was carried out in Sandridge in February this year.
He explained: “The results show the maximum noise levels of Airbus A321 and A300 aircraft over Sandridge remain unchanged [compared to August 2014], while there has been a 0.8 decibel increase in noise from A319 and 1.2dB from A320 aircraft.”
Although the centreline is unchanged in this location, aircraft are now flying closer to it, to avoid Harpenden and St Albans.
But, the airport asserts, “within our airspace change proposals, we are committed to reviewing this when the latest navigation technology becomes available, and this will form part of our assessment when we develop proposals for future improvements on this route”.
With regard to a call from campaign group Harpenden Sky for a formal review of the changes, the spokesman said that the CAA would independently assess “whether the changes should remain. It is firmly our belief that the implementation of RNAV has been successful in its objective of reducing the number of people directly overflown”.
All feedback about RNAV is logged, and collated for use in CAA’s post-implementation review.
To have your say, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call Luton’s 24-hour automated noise line on 01582 395382, or go via its website. More information is available at: www.london-luton.co.uk/corporate/community/noise