It's sky time to be Air Fair!

DESPITE huge numbers of protests, air traffic bosses are still planning new flightpaths and holding stacks over Suffolk - threatening to destroy the county's beloved tranquillity.

Richard Cornwell

DESPITE huge numbers of protests, air traffic bosses are still planning new flightpaths and holding stacks over Suffolk - threatening to destroy the county's beloved tranquillity. RICHARD CORNWELL looks at the need for a different approach, one which will give everyone the chance to hold on to precious quiet times amid the growing noise from the skies.

IT'S a crucial year for the skies above Suffolk - 12 months on which the county's peaceful and tranquil image will hinge.

For the sake of people living here now and the generations of future residents, we must all pray the skylords are listening and prepared to make radical changes to ensure our lives are not blighted by noisy jet planes forever.

So could they finally be listening to reason?

Indications from sources in the air industry are that the authorities who will decide the new flightpaths of tens of thousands of extra planes are prepared to make significant changes to their policies.

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Our hope now is that is true - and the ideas put forward become reality.

The Evening Star has suggested to air management company NATS that it introduces a “spread the load” scheme.

The aim would be to make the currently unfair system fairer - to manage the flightpaths to give communities a break from planes - which will be so vital as the number of jets and noise increase with the expansion of air travel.

It would create “quiet times” when passenger planes and cargo jets would be diverted on to alternative flightpaths a few degrees north or south so one set of communities beneath the regular route would not get all the traffic, all the time.

The truth is that Suffolk is the gateway to Europe and the Far East as far as air travel is concerned.

In the next 20 years - with the expansion of Stansted, using its current runway to its maximum and possibly building a second, and Luton, Heathrow and Gatwick and others - more and more planes will be sent over Suffolk every day.

It will not just be the people living near the airports that are affected.

Flightpaths and holding stacks will cause misery for families living many miles from airports.

Jets from Heathrow can be over Suffolk in ten minutes after take-off - many of them heavily fuel-laden, bound for the Far East, still relatively low in the sky and noisy, especially during the quieter weekend afternoons and evenings.

Felixstowe is the Clapham junction of the skies in this region.

Around 600 planes - more than half the number criss-crossing the county - funnel across London, then north-east across Essex and the Shotley peninsula and across Felixstowe, or fly home directly across the peninsula to Stansted.

Drive along the A14 through Suffolk at night and there are few planes in the skies until you reach Seven Hills when opening out before you is a kaleidoscope of twinkling lights - aircraft going in several directions on flightpaths at different levels, illustrating clearly the huge number of flights in our skies at any one time.

In addition to the noise problems now and set to worsen in future, there is continuing concern over pollution and the annoyance at contrails blotting out blue sky days.

The Evening Star's Air Fair campaign seeks to protect Suffolk's tranquillity, one of the most-appreciated aspects of the unspoilt rural county, and one of its great joys for those who live here.

Star editor Nigel Pickover said: “We firmly believe providing quiet times for communities is the way forward to protect and help our towns and villages.

“Noise from aircraft is getting worse - but we haven't heard anything yet.

“Stansted will expand and there will be thousands more flights added to the ones we already have above us - if it gets a second runway it will be a non-stop nightmare.

“Quiet times will spread the load and give people a break. It will enable you to plan your picnic or barbecue or walk in the countryside knowing there will be no flights and you can really enjoy the peace and quiet.”

Do you think spreading the flights would be fairer? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail EveningStarLetters@eveningstar.co.uk

THIS is how the Evening Star's proposals to “spread the load” would work.

NATS could publish well ahead a rota or timetable showing which towns and villages across the area would have quiet or noisy weeks - depending on the flightpaths for that week.

It would enable people to plan all their outdoor activities well in advance - picnics, weddings, walks in the countryside, family barbecues, or just sitting in the garden relaxing with a book, enjoying some well-deserved peace and quiet.

On other weeks, people would know planes would be above and could choose instead to do activities where noise might not matter.

A timetable publicised a long way in advance could help planners of major outside events such as musical festivals, carnivals, fetes and fairs, and so on.

Planes are flying under a new system - called Precision Area Navigation (P-RNAV) -which concentrates planes on certain routes, and is to be even more widely used when changes to airspace are made, sending even more jets over certain areas.

Day after day, night after night, residents are seeing planes flying laser beam-like on the same routes - at peak times one every two minutes on the same track, with others going above and below in other directions.

NATS has confirmed P-RNAV will be used more in line with government policy.

“This means the swathe of airspace across which aircraft are regularly seen will reduce where new P-RNAV routes are used and aircraft flight paths will tend to be more concentrated around the route centre-line,” said NATS.

Moving the P-RNAV routes a few degrees could give those peace and quiet breaks.

FIVE years ago, passenger planes in the sky above Suffolk were hardly noticeable.

Then came a change on which there was no public consultation, no explanation of what would happen, and no chance of stopping it.

The onslaught began.

It was all due to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) agreeing to increase flight capacity by 30 per cent in what is known as the Clacton airspace sector.

Ironically, what the changes did was move the main flow of incoming aircraft for Stansted and Luton from over Clacton and Frinton to right over Felixstowe, Harwich and Woodbridge - removing virtually all flights over Clacton.

Councils were consulted on the changes but few, by their own admission, actually understood the question - or the consequences.

The public was not asked for its views and the first people knew there had been a major change was when flights suddenly started going straight over the Felixstowe peninsula.

There can be more than 30 an hour at peak times, one every two minutes, with the dull roar of one subsiding just as the next arrives.

Between 10pm and 11pm, when the area is quiet and people are settling for the night, the planes can be unbearably loud.

Go down to the picturesque villages of Trimley St Mary and Martin, Walton, and Old Felixstowe and there's a regular cacophony.

Look into the night sky and it is a revelation.

Lights of planes passing each other in every direction, criss-crossing the sky thousands of metres apart - sometimes seven or eight jets in the sky at once.

But why the Felixstowe peninsula was targeted is a mystery which remains unsolved.

Ironically, the Felixstowe area is the worst noise-blighted area of the whole county. After the A14 and A12 merge in Ipswich, all the container lorries for the Port of Felixstowe - 4,000-plus a day, and that figure set to rise by 2,700 a day in the next 15 years - thunder in and out of the dock area, plus thousands of cars, and cargo trains on the rail line.

Some suspect the peninsula may have been pinpointed for the blitz because it suffers so much noise already no one would notice the planes - others feel it was a knock-on from the fuss kicked up by Dedham Vale campaigners wanting their flightpaths moved.

Whatever the truth, people have had aircraft foisted on them with no say whatsoever - and now it is time to change that.

GOVERNMENT is encouraging a dramatic increase in air travel - and that will have huge consequences for Suffolk's skies and the communities which live below them.

More than 1,200 planes currently cross Suffolk every day and the number is set to grow hugely - possibly double - in the next two decades

The planes bring noise, pollution, and blot out the sun with their contrails, and the fear is flights will get lower.

Our campaign agrees with and supports Stansted Airport at its current flight and passenger limits - we do not agree with its agreed expansion or the second runway plan, which will have an intolerable impact on the quality of life of people in Suffolk.

The campaign wants a full review of pollution being caused by the jets - both the impact on the ozone layer and 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 look at the possibility of moving flight corridors on a regular basis so the same communities do not suffer noise nuisance incessantly.

FRESH proposals for flightpaths over Suffolk are likely to be unveiled some time this year.

Air management company NATS had hoped to have the new routes and holding stacks up and running by next month - but the thousands of protests it received has severely delayed the project.

Among the original proposals were new arrival routes and holds for Stansted, with a new holding stack affecting more than 25 villages between Stowmarket and Hadleigh, which could mean a low-flying airliner every two minutes.

Currently experts at NATS are looking at further options for several of the flightpath changes proposed for jets travelling to and from Luton, Stansted, Heathrow and London City.

NATS says it is doing considerable work to assess the significant amounts of constructive feedback it received during the consultation and further design options and suggestions are being drawn up, but it is a highly complex matter.

It says the changes are needed to cure congestion and delays in the skies, make environmental improvements and reduce the number of people flown over by jets.

A spokesman for NATS said: “At the moment we are still considering the next steps and a lot of issues are currently being discussed. As yet there is no new timescale in place for when that work might be complete.”

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