Sunday, November 01, 2009

FTF Submit Formal Complaint to CAA over Flight Path Changes

Last year NATs launched a consultation on Terminal Control North flight path changes, we blogged recently about it here. One set of these flight path changes was for London City Airport. It is because of these changes, which were 'slipped through the back door' by the Civil Aviation Authority(CAA), without the National Air Traffic Systems (NATS) consultation being completed that have been responsible for causing aircraft noise misery to thousands of newly affected residents in east London.

Of course, the real reason as to why the flight path changes were requested was purely due to London City Airports increased use of the larger types of jet planes, which has steadily increased over the past few years, and which now make up the majority of flights. It is London City Airports' and Newham Councils' continued support of expansion at the airport that has forced such changes, because of course the CAA wouldn't say 'sorry, but the planes you want to fly, don't suit the current flight paths so you can't fly them'.

However, the effect of the changes has been so acute for so many residents even from far afield that FTF decided to submit a formal complaint to the Civil Aviation Authority in respect of this dire situation, the contents of which you may read beneath:

Dear Sir/Madam

We would like to make a formal complaint in regard to the changes made to the London City Airport (LCY) flight paths which were supposedly being consulted upon in the NATS TCN exercise in 2008 and which would have been required to be dealt with under the CAP725 procedures.

In 2008 we were made aware of NATS TCN consultation. We duly submitted comments on this. In late 2008 we received a letter from NATS which was quite clear that due to the hugely negative responses received from the general public, that NATS were essentially going to go back to the drawing board and would re-consult on flight path changes in 2009.

In late spring, our group suddenly received a considerable increase correspondance from residents suffering from the effect of aircraft noise in new areas. The majority of these were regarding London City Airport flights, and secondly some Heathrow flights. One such complaint came from as far as Gravesend, Kent regarding LCY flights in which the resident stated:

April 2009 "most of these flights are now flying directly overhead, not in a westerly direction along the river any more but 'north/north westerley in a line from say Dover to LCY. Also of those flying westerly I see more flying along the A2 corridor rather than along the river from the estuary"

and then followed a stream of emails, here being just a selection:
  • April 2009, Havering:: "I noticed a huge increase in planes going over from September 2008". "I received a response from the department for transport who denied that there had been a change in flightpaths from LCA". "I just couldn't understand why there had been no consultation with residents whatsoever".
  • June 2009 "I have lived at the post code RM9 for nearly four years and haven’t experienced over head departure from LCA till now, Why"? "When I called the CAA (aircraft noise nuisance department), I got some statistics and was informed that the whole flight path and number of flights changed on 6th May 2009". "My fears were realised about the whole thing". "I was surprised that the CAA did not except any responsibility in the matter and said that they were only concerned with safety and aviation licensing".
  • June 2009 "I live in Leyton E10, and have done for 50 years, and have been used to air traffic noise but “distant” noise and accept it due to living near three busy London airports". "But what is happening at City Airport"? "Starting this year I noticed some aircraft flight paths had changed from south of my house, Newham, Stratford to right over my house"? "Not only flying over but accelerating making an unbelievable noise"!
  • July 2009, Sidcup "Over the past month I have noticed a considerable increase in flights coupled with low flying aircraft. I wonder if it’s due to increase in London City Airport flights or change in flightpath"?
  • July 2009, " I live in Leytonstone, E11, and for the first time yesterday, Sunday 17 August, I became aware and was disturbed by the noise of aircraft frequently flying overhead. I had not experienced that before".

For some time there was much discussion between residents and colleagues with regard to what had happened and why residents who had never been affected by LCY flights had suddenly had become so. Some residents wrote to London City Airport and were told there had been no changes made to flight paths, then in another response a resident had been told there had been a 'shift'.

As you will note above, another resident also wrote to the Department for Transport and there again was no mention of flight paths that were due to change at that time or perhaps had already changed.

It appeared that residents weren't the only ones who didn't know what was happening, councils and MP's also seemed unaware, despite any such changes clearly having an effect over their boroughs.

However we did not expect the flight paths to have been changed, as of course, NATS had advised us directly, by letter, that the TCN proposals were to be re-consulted upon during this year (2009), which included LCY's flight path. We were then dissapointed to discover that the CAA appear to have taken matters into their own hands, and have disregarded that the TCN LCY proposals were part of the consultation process and had signed off changes in late spring, with no publicity at all.

It appears to us that there has been a disgraceful lack of communication between yourself and NATS and in turn to the general public. For NATS to say that TCN was to be re-consulted upon, and then LCY flight paths to what appears to be cherry picked from that consultation and pushed through the back door, without any notification from NATS to residents, or indeed yourselves can only be seen as making changes by stealth without honouring the consultation and other procedural requirements. We have just last week received another letter from NATS advising that the TCN consultation is to be delayed for a further year, however this time, and may we add that it is AFTER the fact, that LCY flight paths had already been changed, by you, the CAA.

We would like to know why NATS and yourselves did not inform residents that are/would be affected that LCY's flight paths were to be changed quietly, whilst those few members of the public who had been made aware of the consultation were told explicitly that changes would not be made until a further consultation was carried out. NATS made no reference to any exception being made to LCY flight paths in the past prior to the letter received last week.

We do not wish to receive a response passing the buck to another agency, as so often seems to be the case when residents complain to NATS or either yourselves. It is for CAA and NATS to ensure that processes and consultations are carried out, fairly, and informatively. Between yourselves, something has gone wrong on this occasion, and we would even suggest that there has been a clear indication of negligence and disingenuity when dealing with the public. The residents comments above are an inditement of the effects of these 'unconsulted' flight path changes. As far as we can see the CAAs' actions to enforce the flight path changes at LCY, have ignored the consultation process, and the procedures around CAP725 are highly questionable. It would not be unfair to suggest that the events look in breach of the procedures required.

We would also like you to confirm and clarify the statement that NATS have made regarding the future TCN consultation. Please clarify and confirm whether NATs have been instructed to consult on the LCY flight paths in the next consultation. Is there any intention to revisit and re-consult the LCY flight paths at all? This has not been made clear, and simply adds to the confusion already made by NATS and the CAA.

We would appreciate your explanation as to how you believe the approach you have taken to sign off the LCY flight paths has followed procedures required in the CAP725, step by step. We look forward to your response, and we suggest if there is an element that NATS needs to contribute to for you to provide us with a full response to all the issues raised, then you pursue that as part of a joined up government approach, and one that promotes transparency in dealing with this formal complaint. We would also request that you respond using the minimum of aviation jargon as this again does not assist transparency.

Yours sincerely

Fight the Flights