Star keeps up the pressure on flights

JUST like residents of the beautiful and peaceful Dedham Vale, the Felixstowe peninsula has experienced a “dramatic and unexpected” change in its tranquillity in the past five years.

JUST like residents of the beautiful and peaceful Dedham Vale, the Felixstowe peninsula has experienced a “dramatic and unexpected” change in its tranquillity in the past five years. Hundreds of jets now go over the area every day and night - robbing it of its peace and quiet - and the situation will only get worse in the future. RICHARD CORNWELL reports.

THEY march across our Suffolk skies in an endless procession, noisily invading our ear-space.

These are the jets that many of us use for travel, or business, or both.

So those of us who enjoy benefits of “the high-life” risk being accused of hypocrisy when it comes to attacking the noise levels which affect us when we are on the ground.

It's worth stressing, therefore, that as aircraft numbers passing over Suffolk airspace have rocketed, The Evening Star's Air Fair campaign wasn't launched as an attempt to remove planes - and their noise - from our skies.

We launched Air Fair because of the secrecy and scale of the changes which increased dramatically the number of planes on flightpaths over our towns and villages, and proposals which in the next 20 years will double the number of jets.

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Changes forced on us by a private, profit-hungry, firm which controls air movements in this country - NATS' profits in the past 12 months were �135 million, double the previous year - and the government which insists air traffic will grow no matter what.

We know - and are on record for saying - that we all should share the burden of burgeoning flights and the noise and pollution jets bring in their wake.

It is just that in certain places the burden has become odious and unfair - the precious “sound” of Suffolk silence has been stolen from locals by NATS, which, amazingly, denies there have been any recent changes.

To us - just like the people in Constable Country - there has been a “dramatic and unexpected” impact on our lives.

And that's why this week we are re-doubling our efforts on your behalf - taking on NATS, and its colleague, the Civil Aviation Authority.

As well as the weak-willed Suffolk councils which have stood by and let it all happen around and above them.

On the ground the councils are all-powerful when it comes to planning law - in the skies they are impotent to the march of the jet-liner.

By the way, for those lucky enough to be reading this article in peace and solitude, there is every good reason not to be complacent -the skies are certain to become more crowded and noisy in the years ahead unless we win our fight to change flightpaths.

In just one air corridor, over Walton/Trimley and the Suffolk coast recently, 257 jets passed over in a ten-hour period. They travelled at multi levels, east to west and west to east in a cavalcade which would have been worthy of a major international air show.

And yet NATS says nothing is changing, that a status quo exists.

To us that statement challenges our belief in NATS and the information the organisation is giving us.

Puzzlingly, officials say they can't do what The Evening Star has done - telling the public details of air traffic numbers, exactly how many planes are passing over a certain town or village on a flightpath used day after day.

And if the organisation can't tell how many planes they are dealing with, shouldn't we be worried about that?

As far as the public is concerned The Evening Star's digging is vital - as a private company NATS isn't subject to the fresh air of scrutiny from Freedom of Information requests, it is exempt!

DRAMATIC and unexpected.

Those were the key words when residents of Constable Country took on the aviation authorities in the courts over the number of jet planes foisted on their community - and won.

They argued there had been a “dramatic and unexpected” change to the area's tranquillity when changes were made to flightpaths.

When changes are made to airspace next year, those communities on the Suffolk-Essex border will see less planes thanks to their successful High Court case against air traffic management company NATS and the Civil Aviation Authority.

It will mean aircraft being diverted away from the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty to go over other towns and villages instead.

If a court case on the “dramatic and unexpected” change in flight patterns and the disturbance this caused in Dedham can succeed in the High Court, then there is every chance that a similar action for the Felixstowe area would also be victorious.

Those changes to flightpaths in 2004 had exactly the same impact on Felixstowe - increasing the number of planes dramatically.

With the area already bombarded by noise - the port, the rail line, the A14 and the general noise of an urban community - no-one noticed the initial increase in air traffic.

People living in the area now though are amazed at the number of planes which go over - one every two minutes at peak times, the deep rumble of one passing often fading into the arrival of the next, creating a dull background roar for long periods at peak times.

At other times up to half a dozen planes can be seen in the sky at one time - flying in different directions and at different heights.

Night-time is a kaleidoscope of lights on planes, some particularly low, going in and out.

The changes in airspace in 2004 were specifically created to enable Suffolk's moderately peaceful skies to take on a 35 per cent increase in air traffic.

Incredibly, NATS insist the number of planes in our skies is LESS than before the changes.

They say between 2002 and 2007 there was an eight per cent reduction, and a further 0.2pc drop last year.

Yes, there has been a drop in planes in the past year - but that's because of the recession and the number will grow again.

It is not the whole story though because what the company is talking about is use of the Clacton Beacon, used by planes as a navigational marker for their journeys across the Suffolk area - not the number of planes which go over the Felixstowe area.

The total number of planes which use the beacon may have reduced slightly but many more than previously of those that do use it are using it to access flightpaths over Felixstowe and the Trimley villages, the Shotley peninsula and Holbrook, - which was the whole point of the changes in 2004, expanding the airspace and taking pressure off Essex, moving the flightpaths north, directly over Felixstowe.

Even NATS' own maps show exactly that's what happened!

Prior to 2004 virtually all the planes went over Clacton in a narrow band, and after 2004 the flightpath was expanded and moved north - with the centre line directly over Felixstowe, where the CAA and NATS say planes should be concentrated.

Had airspace change proposals put forward last year been adopted, the situation over Felixstowe would have got even worse with even more planes concentrated over the town.

NATS says it does not keep records of planes using particular flightpaths, but all they really need to do is to look skywards - and visit Suffolk to see for themselves the impact their air traffic control is having on the county.

COMMUNITIES are today being affected as never before - as the noise from jet planes over Suffolk continues to get worse.

An Evening Star survey of just one of the flightpaths passing over the Felixstowe area found 257 planes during a 10-hour period.

The survey undertaken by the Evening Star in the twin Trimley villages recorded a passenger jet, on average, every 2.3 minutes.

Campaigners say the number of planes witnessed during the survey was astonishing because the recording focussed on just one flightpath - and there are several which go over the area on different routes.

Planes which could be seen on the other paths were ignored in order to concentrate on one corridor.

The planes came through in quick succession, sometimes two or three at a time in the same small corridor, meaning the sound from one merged with the others.

We estimated that each plane carried with it around 80 seconds of noise - the roar of one overhead fading into the noise of the next in a constant drone.

This was a warm and sunny Sunday afternoon when people would be relaxing in their gardens with a drink or a book or enjoying a rest - expecting to enjoy peace and quiet.

Residents in Suffolk are increasingly frustrated at the noise from jet planes ruining the county's peace and tranquillity and are anxiously waiting for air traffic management company NATS to reveal its revised plans for future flightpaths.

The company has promised less people will be affected by planes in the future when the airspace is reorganised.

Are you annoyed by the increasing number of planes in our skies? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

OUR CAMPAIGN: 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.

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 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.

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