Air travel on the rise

AIR travel is to increase dramatically in the next few years and Suffolk is set to bear the brunt of the huge increase in the number of planes in the sky - with skylords proposing motorways of the skies criss-crossing the county.

AIR travel is to increase dramatically in the next few years and Suffolk is set to bear the brunt of the huge increase in the number of planes in the sky - with skylords proposing motorways of the skies criss-crossing the county. RICHARD CORNWELL and PAUL GEATER continue the Evening Star's investigation.

YOU ain't seen nothing yet!

That was the blunt warning to Suffolk from air protesters today as the government prepares for a rapid expansion in the aviation industry over the next decade.

People whose lives are already blighted by low-flying jets would get little relief in the years ahead - and those who are not concerned about the loss of Suffolk's tranquillity will be once the jets start coming over their homes.

Turn the clock back five years or so and the amount of jet planes flying over the county was hardly noticeable.

Today the number of planes is staggering - observers say there are more than 100,000 flying over a year, and some experts put it as high as 250,000.

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In some places at peak times the planes are one every two minutes on overhead, sometimes two or three are visible at the same time, flying in different directions and at various heights, a dull constant roar of aircraft noise in the background.

And more of the county is set to be covered by a spider's web of flight paths centred on the airports of the south east of England.

The increase has prompted a massive outcry and growing concern for a number of reasons:

There is set to be a huge upsurge in the number of flights over the county.

The authorities will not tell us how many planes are flying across the county . . . or how the flightpaths will change next year.

The National Air Traffic Service (NATS) have said there will be major changes next year, but won't yet say what they are likely to be.

It is only through informal contacts between protesters and the CAA that it has been established that huge new areas of Suffolk and south Norfolk are to be opened to planes.

Campaigners say if you're not worried yet, you will be soon as plane numbers rocket! More and more planes will start flying over the tranquil areas of our county.

Maps obtained from the CAA shows that all north east-bound traffic from airports in the south east goes over Suffolk - including the long distance flights to the far east from Britain's biggest airports.

The reaction by Suffolk councils on the issue varies between ineffectual and non-existent. During the last round of consultations some councils did not even make a response to the CAA or NATS. The truth about the highways of the sky is only now emerging because of the Evening Star's campaign.

South Suffolk already has a motorway of the skies - and over the Felixstowe and Ipswich area it's like a spaghetti junction.

A recent survey in the Felixstowe area counted 67 planes in two hours over one part of the town.

The county has rapidly started to lose its peacefulness and tranquillity.

Now there are proposals being drawn up to make the county the country's premier air route to deal with the enormous increase in air traffic the government expects over the next 15 years.

Imagine the current traffic more than doubled - the noise, the pollution, the blotting out of our blue skies by contrails miles wide - and you start to get the picture of what it will be like.

According to National Air Traffic Services (NATS), the planned changes to airspace over the North Sector - which includes Suffolk - to come into effect in May 2009 are the biggest airspace changes anywhere in the world in the most complex airspace in the world.

Communities which currently don't suffer planes flying overhead will in future, and those already plagued by planes will have more.

How many more planes there will be no-one can tell - NATS says it cannot give any facts or figures.

The Evening Star is not against a reasonable amount of air traffic - the number of planes flying over now - but to increase that would have an intolerable impact on our communities.

It would be easy to blame Stansted airport and its phenomenal growth over the past few years.

But the truth is that while around half of the airport's traffic flies over Suffolk, much more is going to and from Luton, Heathrow, and Gatwick airports, and some simply flying straight over Britain to and from America.

Stansted already handles 25 million passengers a year. Currently it wants to increase that number to 35 million.

And if it gets permission for that, it is already planning to build a second runway which could push its capacity up to 68 million passengers a year - approaching three times the current limit!

Nationally the government is still predicting a doubling in the number of people flying in Britain by 2020 - despite growing fears about the impact of flights on the environment.

Dick Histed, of the South Suffolk Air Traffic Action Group (SSATAG), said the wider threat to the countryside by airport expansion should not be underestimated.

“Protecting the countryside from further intrusion is not a luxury,” he said.

“It is about preserving and promoting a feature that is genuinely valued by residents and visitors alike.

“At present levels air traffic noise is causing widespread dissatisfaction all over south Suffolk and east Essex. Suffolk was once a byword for tranquil countryside associated with Constable or Benjamin Britten. A visit to Snape now is far from tranquil.”

Mr Histed said both the government's aviation and countryside white papers stressed the need to protect the countryside and reduce plane noise in rural areas.

“What we have now is a constant background of jet noise - it's quite loud and it's one plane after another, hour after hour. If we don't have action soon there will not be any tranquil places left,” he added.

According to a new government-funded study, the British public is “addicted” to cheap flights and is confused about the climate impact of flying.

It said even people living generally “green” lives were reluctant to fly less.

The Exeter University team that carried out the research found cheap flights have become a lifestyle choice.

The government raised air passenger duty in February, and the European Union is set to include aviation in its Emissions Trading Scheme, which could increase costs further. But the research suggests price hikes would have a minimal impact.

Stewart Barr, of the university's Department of Geography said: “We found that flying is quite embedded in people's lifestyle choices. And it's not people on lower incomes taking these flights, it's middle class people taking more flights to go on city breaks, and they can afford to pay higher prices.”

At Stansted, the average annual household income of people using the budget airport exceeds £47,000.

The biggest change for Suffolk was triggered in 2004 when airspace over the county was last reorganised and expanded by 30pc, allowing hundreds more planes a day to be diverted over the county.

If Stansted is allowed to expand - 70,000 more flights if its current runway is used to its maximum capacity and another 300,000 if a second runway is built - every flightpath will be needed and there will be more traffic than ever.

What do you think of the increase in planes overflying our towns and villages - does the noise upset you? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail EveningStarLetters@eveningstar.co.uk

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FASTFACTS: NO MORE STANSTED

Our No More Stansted campaign agrees with and supports Stansted Airport at its current flight and passenger limits.

But the campaign is against expansion of the airport which will have an intolerable impact on the quality of life of people in Suffolk.

It is against proposals being discussed currently at a public inquiry to increase the number of passengers by ten million a year on around 70,000 extra flights.

It is against the building of a second runway which would more than double the current flights - another 300,000 a year.

The campaign wants a full review of the pollution being caused by the jets - both the impact on ozone layer and also on the environment at ground level - and of the increasing noise being caused by the aircraft 24/7.

We want assurances that planes will not be allowed to fly lower than the present lowest levels across Suffolk.

There must also be a full review of the current flightpaths to cut the noise afflicting communities and to look at the possibility of moving flight corridors on a regular basis so that the same communities do not suffer noise nuisance incessantly.

FAST FACTS: Air Traffic

In 1995, 129 million passengers passed through the UK's airports - by 2020 government expects this to be 400m.

Latest figures show that in 2006, UK airports handled 235 million passengers - a rise of more nearly three per cent on 2005, but only half the increase of 2004.

Landings and take-offs of commercial aircraft at UK airports has grown by six pc in the past two years to a total of 2.4 million.

The total tonnage of freight and mail carried from UK airports in 2006 was 2.5 million tonnes, a decrease of three pc.

Air traffic controllers in the UK handle around 6,000 flights a day landing and taking off.

With increasing pressure on air space for the growing number of planes, one way of adding more space and reduce delays will be to allow planes to fly at 1,000ft above each other instead of 2,000ft above 29,000ft.

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