Davies challenged on night flights and noise respite claims

Published: Friday 19th December 14

Key questions about aircraft noise, night flights and the viability of Heathrow’s ‘respite’ proposals need to be answered following the Airport Commission’s public hearing, Ravi Govindia has said.

The leader of Wandsworth Council has written to commission chairman Sir Howard Davies requesting a complete response to the issues raised (full letter below).

Six members of the cross-party 2M Group of councils took part in the public meeting on December 3 -  Wandsworth, Richmond, Hounslow, Hillingdon, Ealing and Windsor and Maidenhead. 

The local authorities questioned the economic case for expanding Heathrow, the destruction of local communities and whether the health and environmental impacts are being accurately assessed.

The Airports Commission is examining two options for expanding Heathrow and one for expanding Gatwick. One of these proposals will be recommended to the Government next year and a consultation is now underway to test the public’s views.

Cllr Govindia said: “The public hearing was a welcome opportunity to challenge Sir Howard’s assumptions about Heathrow expansion. We believe he has accepted claims made by the promoters of these projects which do not stand up to scrutiny.

“In particular the credibility gap between the computer models used to represent noise impacts and the real life experience of people living around this airport has to be addressed. Some of these points could not be adequately addressed at the hearing and I hope Sir Howard will provide the full response our residents need.”

Find out more about the council’s aviation policies and sign up for the e-newsletter at www.wandsworth.gov.uk/aviation


The letter reads:

Dear Sir Howard

Thank you for the opportunity to put forward this Council’s views on Heathrow expansion at the Public Hearing on December 3.

As you know, Wandsworth’s residents have vigorously expressed their opposition to Heathrow expansion and night flights for many years. Our own recent public meeting reaffirmed this strength of feeling, with over 200 people turning out to question both Heathrow promoters. Our recent residents survey returned the highest ever response, with the vast majority against Heathrow’s expansion.  

At the hearing I raised several important questions to both the Commission and the Promoters. I accept that the practicalities of such a public event constrained the time available for you to provide me with full answers to my questions. As such, I’m writing to request the Commission’s response to the following questions so that I can share with Wandsworth’s residents:

Prolonged exposure to night flights is known to cause a deterioration in health, happiness and wellbeing, as confirmed by the World Health Organisation and the Civil Aviation Authority. Frankfurt Airport has banned night flights despite threats the airlines would leave the airport. These threats were never realised and the airport continues to operate successfully.  At Frankfurt 239,000 people live within a 55Lden noise contour. At Heathrow 766,100 people live within this noise contour but night flights are allowed.

Why has the Commission not also investigated the option of introducing a night curfew at Heathrow now, or as a condition of expansion?

Why have the often cited “commercial reasons” for night flights not been independently challenged by the Commission?

The UK Government still calculates noise impacts on the basis of a social survey carried out more than 30 years ago. This is unacceptable and we have brought this to your attention before. We commissioned our own research which demonstrates that the trade off between noise level and numbers of noise incidents is now clearly out of calibration. The Commission’s work does not appear to challenge the illogical claims by promoters that adding 200,000 flights a year around Heathrow will produce a better sound environment for residents.   

Why has the Commission not challenged the Government’s approach to assessing community annoyance?

One of the 3rd runway options for Heathrow is called the ‘respite’ option. It involves multiple curved arrival routes into Heathrow instead of the two relatively straight, single streams of aircraft we have today. We don’t believe that Heathrow nor the Commission has the power to ensure this elaborate and untested noise respite procedure is ever put into action.  The truth is that the National Air Traffic Services (NATS) controls the sky and their primary concern has to be safety. If they have any concerns with wind conditions or anything else they will ignore the respite arrangements and land planes along the safest and most direct routes. Today, with two runways the relatively simple respite arrangements are only adhered to around half of the time. If Heathrow expands to three runways and brings in a far more complex respite system we expect the air traffic controllers to overrule it far more frequently. 

Given the poor delivery record with today’s Heathrow respite plans, how can the Commission possibly endorse even more elaborate respite plans without further and absolute guarantee from the CAA and NATS that they are acceptable?

We believe that the Airports Commission is in danger of recommending an option that might not be deliverable. Given the reaction to the new departure routes over Teddington and other places which seems to have caught both the CAA and Heathrow by surprise, how can the Commission be confident that a respite plan with so many new flight-paths can actually be delivered?  

We can see from the Commission’s own Risk Analysis that the Heathrow 3rd runway (under any mode of operation) will require a redesign of the London Airspace system which would be in the Commission’s own words “a complicated process likely to require several years.”

Finally, does the Commission now accept that creating dozens of new flight-paths over London will generate insurmountable levels of political and social opposition? This is a clear risk and barrier to delivery and a clarification on this point would be very welcome. 

These issues are critical to Wandsworth. I’ve therefore published this as an open letter on Wandsworth Council’s website, and I look forward to publishing the Commission’s response alongside it.  

Yours sincerely

Ravi Govindia

Leader of Wandsworth Council

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Recent comments

There should be a ban on night flights at Heathrow. I do not believe that passengers really want to arrive in the middle of the night.
J Ritchie

20 December 2014

It isn't just night flights. More flights would mean continuous noise in the daytime also, which is also extremely stressful (actually a form of torture) and unacceptable. It is simply not feasible that more flights would make less noise as Heathrow claim. At times I already have 5 flight paths over my house, that is dangerous enough. Why should our lives be ruined so Chinese businessmen can arrive in time for work!!!
Carol Tibbs

20 December 2014