by John Stewart
Put simply: you need to be more transparent in the way you deal with residents. That’s not say to that your organisation – NATS – is not tying to improve. It is. It is a world away from what it was like nearly 20 years ago when I first started with HACAN. From memory, it was the best part of a decade before we even got a response before we even got a response to our letters and our queries.
Presumably NATS felt they were the experts and they didn’t need to engage with the likes of us. A skill, a pride in your job, particularly in one as important as ensuring the safety of aircraft, is admirable. But that pride can, and did, lead to a feeling of superiority, an air of arrogance. Residents were left desperate and angry as flight paths changed over their heads.
There are signs of change and there are individuals within the organisation who take a very different approach and are pressing NATS as a whole to do so. But old habits die hard. Only last year Heathrow was furious with NATS that they hadn’t been told about flight path changes that had taken place west of Heathrow.
The recent flight path changes around Gatwick and the proposed concentrated flights for Londo nCityAirport are driven by NATS. The changes have prompted residents around Gatwick, Heathrow and City airports to come together in an unprecedented way to deliver a joint letter to Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin calling for residents to be centrally involved in any flight path changes that may be proposed.
Because most of NATS is still too remote there seems to be a failure to understand the impact flight paths can have on residents. What appear to be small operational changes to NATS can have a significant impact on residents on the ground.
I was in Kennington Park, near the Oval, on Friday evening. Eighteen miles from Heathrow we were bombarded with planes, most of them between 3500 and 4,000 feet. The next day I checked the flight paths on Webtrak. Sure enough, virtually every plane landing at Heathrow was coming over or close to the park.
Kennington Park has been badly overflown for well over a decade now. But this was concentration taken to a whole new level. Few planes further south going over Brixton and Streatham as they used to. And residents are noticing. HACAN has started getting emails from the area on a regularly basis.
It’s true that Kennington is not bombarded like this throughout the day but it gets no period of predicable respite. As far as residents are concerned, things have changed big-time. And not a word from NATS. The internal revolution has still some way to go.