Minister finally gets the message

AT long last minister Jim Fitzpatrick has admitted the buck stops with him over noisy passenger planes flying over Suffolk and threatening to make residents' lives a misery.

AT long last minister Jim Fitzpatrick has admitted the buck stops with him over noisy passenger planes flying over Suffolk and threatening to make residents' lives a misery.

Five months ago when Suffolk Coastal MP John Gummer asked a series of questions on behalf of The Evening Star, the transport minister dodged them - saying aircraft and airspace were the responsibility of the Civil Aviation Authority.

Now he has announced he has to approve the final plans and could intervene to change them - so today we are asking Mr Fitzpatrick a fresh series of questions and for a face to face meeting.

Air management company NATS is proposing a massive shake-up of flightpaths over the region to reduce bottle-necks in the sky and airport delays, deal with the huge increase in flights in recent years, and improve the environment.

There will be winners and losers, but the company has failed to come up with details of the biggest indicators of this - just how many planes fly on which flightpaths and how many more, or less, there will be after the changes are made.

Mr Fitzpatrick told the House of Commons an investigation into the practicality of stacking planes over the sea could be ordered in the autumn and the CAA could submit the final plans to the government for approval or order NATS to look at alternatives.

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Today we ask Mr Fitzpatrick:

Where is the accountability to the public over air traffic - is the government ultimately responsible for flightpaths, airspace, numbers of planes in our skies, or has this been handed over to the unelected CAA lock, stock and barrel?

What account is taken of the effect on communities living under flightpaths when taking decisions on the number of planes flying on those routes?

Did the government's research for its own White Paper on air transport recognise the disturbance planes can cause to those living below flightpaths - what is its policy on this issue.

Planes are destroying the tranquillity of peaceful areas of Britain - Suffolk is a prime example. What is the government's view on this?

Should NATS have done some “on the ground” research over jet noise to back up its plans?

What action can you take to alter the proposals put forward by NATS that threaten to cause such misery in Suffolk?

How many commercial aeroplanes flew over Suffolk in the last 12 months?

What is the estimated maximum number of planes that may fly safely over Suffolk each day?

Is the government taking action to cut the number of flights from UK airports as part of plans to combat CO2 emissions?

Has the government ordered in depth research into pollution caused by aircraft, both the impact on the atmosphere and those living on the ground?

NATS submits its final proposals to CAA by the autumn and hopes to make the changes next year.

ONE of the biggest debates over the current proposed changes to airspace is where planes wanting to land at Stansted at busy times should wait.

Air management company NATS is suggesting two holding stacks - one over the countryside between Stowmarket and Hadleigh, and the other near Newmarket.

Residents of the dozens of villages affected say it will create a motorway in the sky above them, with a plane every two minutes, and the obvious solution would be to stack the planes over the sea.

However, NATS says it has already investigated this option - and rejected it because it would cause major disruption to flightpaths.

For residents close to the North Sea, it is still unclear whether they would suffer an impact if the stack was moved over the water and if jets would then fly in over different communities.

NATS said the stacks for planes waiting to land at peak times needed to be close enough to Stansted in order to create a steady stream with safe spacing between the jets at busy times.

“If the spacing between aircraft is more than it needs to be, fewer aircraft are able to land within a given time period and the airborne queue can get longer,” said the letter from NATS' consultation team.

“This creates more emissions and exposes communities to more noise because aircraft fly above them longer.

“Holding over the sea would be too far away from the airports to enable air traffic control to efficiently sequence aircraft for landing at either Luton or Stansted.

“Variations in flying speeds present increasing problems with aircraft catching up with, or pulling away from, one another as the distance they need to fly to reach the airport increases.”

There would also be concerns over the height and size of the holding circuit over the sea and the buffer needed around it.

“An efficient hold over the sea for Luton/Stansted arrivals would operate from 20,000ft upwards,” said the letter.

“This would occupy two to three times the area of a low level hold and over the southern North Sea this would interfere with many established air routes.

“Amending these routes to go around such a hold would mean significant additional route miles/emissions for all other aircraft which use this airspace.”

Suffolk Preservation Society have taken a more radical view and suggested the holding areas should be on the ground at airports with take-offs made more efficient so that planes only fly when they know they will be able to land at their destination.

Should tens of thousands more planes be allowed to over Suffolk? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail EveningStarLetters@eveningstar.co.uk

CAMPAIGN FILE: Air Fair

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.

Our Air Fair 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 to increase the number of passengers by ten million a year on around 23,000 extra flights, and 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 pollution being caused by the jets - both the impact on 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.

Action must be taken to cut the noise afflicting the county and to look at the possibility of moving flight corridors on a regular basis so the same communities do not suffer noise nuisance incessantly.

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