What if Davies got his sums wrong……

by John Stewart

The Airports Commission recommended a third runway at Heathrow largely on the basis of the economic benefits it would bring to the country.  However, over the last few weeks evidence has emerged that the economic case for a third runway is much less convincing than it may have appeared.

What strengthens the argument is that much of this evidence, whilst unearthed by Gatwick Airport and others, is contained in the report of Airports Commission itself.

We now know:

  • The number of domestic airports linked to Heathrow will fall from 7 to just 4.
  • A 3rd runway will provide no more than 12 additional long-haul destinations by 2050

The case for a new runway at Heathrow always rested on the fact it would significantly improve connectivity to the emerging economies of the world and that it would connect more UK airports to Heathrow.  The facts suggest otherwise.  Indeed, a second runway at Gatwick would add 10 new long-haul destinations at a fraction of the cost to the taxpayer.

We also now know:

  • The £147 billion the Commission said a 3rd runway would bring to the national economy over 60 years is likely to be way too high.

Its own experts Professor Peter Mackie and Brian Pearce told the Commission that the method of modelling used by consultants PwC, which produced this figure, faced “a number of difficulties” and was about three times higher than traditional estimates.

Using the more traditional modelling methods, and assuming carbon trading is in place, the benefits of a third runway over a 60 year period fall to £69 billion.  A second runway at Gatwick would bring in just over £60 billion.

But, if the costs of the disbenefits (such as noise and emissions) and the costs of delivering the third runway are included, the economic benefits fall to £11.8 billion over 60 years.  The Commission admits Gatwick would be close behind at £10.8 billion.  (Gatwick Airport believes this is an underestimate as it argues the Commission has underestimated the number of passengers it would attract).

A recent report from the Aviation Environment Federation puts the benefits of a third runway even lower as it believes the Commission hasn’t fully factored in the costs of climate emissions.

But, even on the Commission’s own figures, the economic benefits of a third runway at Heathrow could be much less than has been commonly assumed.

Food for much thought for the cabinet committee which is assessing the Commission’s recommendation.    

Davies Report: a game-changer on noise policy…whatever happens to new runways

The Airport Commission’s report could be a game-changer.  But not necessarily in the most obvious way.  New runways dominated the headlines last week when its chairman, Sir Howard Davies, published the report.  Inevitably so.  Gatwick or Heathrow.  It is a big story.  And, if the report does result in a new runway being built in London and the South East, it will be very big indeed.

But Davies was also asked to look at aviation noise policy.  And it is here he has developed proposals which, if implemented, could be game-changing. Indeed, even if they are not all taken forward, he has prised open a door that had been fairly firmly closed for a long time.  Importantly, though some of his proposals are Heathrow-specific, many are UK-wide.

The most eye-catching of his proposals is a legally-binding ban on scheduled night flights between 11.30pm and 6am if a third runway is built at Heathrow.  He argues that the new runway would provide the capacity to relocate the 16 flights which currently land between 4.30am and 6am to just after 6 o’clock.  The Commission looked at the experience of Frankfurt which banned flights between midnight and 5am after its controversial fourth runway opened in 2011.  It found that the economy of Frankfurt did not crumble; nor did Lufhanza’s profits tumble.  This reinforces an earlier finding in work done by Tim Leunig for the Policy Institute that a ban on night flights at Heathrow is operationally achievable and not damaging to the economy. (That is not the case of a ban until 7am). Heathrow has not yet committed to a ban.  It will need to speak to its biggest customer, British Airways, but, if it was the price of getting a new runway, I’m pretty certain they would introduce it.  And, if Heathrow banned night flights, there would be pressure on other airports in the UK and in the rest of Europe to do much the same.

Davies has bought into and promoted the concept of respite.  This is the idea where residents under flight paths are guaranteed, wherever possible, predicable breaks from the noise.  He has made it a condition of a new runway going ahead at Heathrow but his clear endorsement of the concept will mean that other airports will be under pressure to introduce it.  This is, of course, particularly timely given the reorganization of flight paths that will take place across the UK over the next five years – regardless of what happens on runways – in order to allow more effective use to be made of airspace.

Davies has also the promoted the idea of an independent noise authority.  The details of this body have yet to be worked out but its main role would be to ensure fair play between local communities, the airport and other key decision-makers.  Heathrow has worked hard in recent years to improve its working relationship with the local community but this is not the case at many of the smaller airports in the country.  An independent noise authority would have a particularly important role to play at these airports.

Finally, post-Davies, the Government and others will struggle to go back to the old, discredited way of measuring noise annoyance.  This sounds technical but it is critical in getting policy-making correct.  If the level of annoyance is underestimated, the impact of  new runways or changed flight paths on the population would be skewed.  The Government’s preferred noise contour – known as 57 LAeq – excluded places like Putney and Fulham as areas where people are significantly disturbed by aircraft noise from Heathrow.  Simply not reality!  Davies has recommended that airports and the Government use a suite of metrics to convey and more accurate and realistic picture of where noise occurs.

HACAN worked constructively with the Airports Commission in the work it was doing on noise.  In recent years we have also worked closely with Heathrow on noise matters.  Things are changing.  Whatever happens to runways as a result of the Davies report it has left a potentially game-changing legacy with its work on noise.



A memo to air traffic controllers


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.

Why this election result makes it less likely a 3rd runway will be built at Heathrow


by John Stewart

Boris Johnson said in his acceptance speech after being elected MP for Uxbridge that he would join John McDonnell and “lie down with you in front of those bulldozers and stop the building, stop the construction of that third runway.”

John McDonnell, re-elected as the MP for the neighbouring constituency of Hayes and Harlington, had said in his speech “Whoever’s in government, if they come back to try and build a third runway at Heathrow, we will resist on a cross-party basis, and I expect the person who will be elected to Uxbridge tonight to follow through the commitment that was given by John Randall and join with me in lying down in front of those bulldozers if they come.”

Both men feel very strongly that a third runway should not be built.  And it is this that could make it very hard for the new Government to give the green-light for a new runway. Boris, too, passionately believes there are other ways forward.

Both are willing to be hugely troublesome over a third runway.  There are doing much, much more than going through the motions of opposing because it is an unpopular issue locally.  And they are not alone.  Famously, Zac Goldsmith has said he will stand down and fight a by-election if a Conservative Government goes for a third runway runway.  (In this election he increased his majority from 4,000 to an astonishing 23,000).  And Putney MP Justine Greening had to be moved from her position as Transport Secretary because of her principled opposition to a new runway.

No Government would want all this troublesome and potentially embarrassing opposition any runway plans.  Particularly when they know other “big beasts” in the Conservative Party are also against a third runway.  Philip Hammond, Foreign Secretary in the last Government,Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers and probably also Theresa May, Home Secretary and Maidenhead MP.

 There is also cross-party opposition from MPs around Heathrow.  Windsor MP Adam Afriyie has been a consistent and very public opponent of Heathrow expansion.  Hammersmith MP Andy Slaughter resigned his government position when Labour was in power over the issue.  Ruth Cadbury, newly-elected Labour MP in Brentford and Isleworth, has a history of effective opposition from her days on Hounslow Council.  Ealing and Acton’s new Labour MP Rupa Huq, is against  As were the Conservative MPs they replaced, Mary Macleod and Angie Bray, respectively.  Tania Mathias, who defeated Vince Cable, made Heathrow an issue in her campaigning.

Cable himself of course was staunchly opposed as was his compatriot, Ed Davey, who lost his seat in Kingston.  Pressure from Lib Dem heavyweights will be missed but, the way the results panned out generally suggest to me that that it will be increasingly difficult to contemplate a new runway at Heathrow.

This could be the election that finally killed off a third runway at Heathrow.



Why Schiphol will never become ‘Heathrow’s third runway’

by John Stewart

28th April 2015

We routinely are told that, if Heathrow doesn’t expand, people from other UK airports will choose to fly to Schiphol to interchange on to a long-distance flight.  The CEO of Schiphol has even rather cheekily called it ‘Heathrow’s third runway’.  He knows full well it can never be that because Schiphol has almost reached capacity.

It is not that Schiphol lacks runway space.  It has five runways (six if you include one for very small planes) and fewer flights than Heathrow.  The capacity constraint is down to the strict rules which exist about which runways can be used and when.  There are tight noise regulations in place which mean that all five runways are never in use at any one time.  Indeed, rarely are more than three of the runways used at once.  And the use of the two runways which go over densely-populated areas is avoided whenever possible.

 But here’s the big reason why Schiphol can never become London’s third runway.  It has almost reached its permissible noise limits.  The airport has a complex way of regulating noise:  “the present system as from 2005 consists of 35 points around Schiphol where the actual noise of passing planes is physically measured and added up to annual totals per point. If a total at a certain point exceeds its legal maximum, the relating runway can no longer be used and traffic should be diverted to alternative runways. The maximum capacity of this system is some 480,000 air traffic movements each year.”  You can read more about this in the paper Noise Reduction at Schiphol:Noise reduction Schiphol  

 The system is being altered so that possibly 510,000 flights will be able to use the airport each year.  But that’s it.  No more.  And not significantly greater than the 480,000 cap at the two-runway Heathrow.  The trips from Edinburgh,Manchester or Newcastle to Schiphol to interchange will have a finite limit. 

Schiphol is looking to get round its limits by ‘outsourcing’ perhaps as many as 70,000 low-cost, leisure flights to the smaller airports Netherlands.  If  – and it still very much is ‘if’ that happens – it will free up some space at Schiphol but not enough to dent the myth that Schiphol can ever become Heathrow’s third runway.  Gatwick maybe.  Stansted possibly.  Even Birmingham or Boris Island.  But not Schiphol.  The Dutch take their noise responsibilities far too seriously for that to happen. 

Lessons to be learnt from NATS flight path blunder

by John Stewart

23rd March

Some good may yet come out of last week’s revelation that NATS (National Air Traffic Control) failed to tell Heathrow Airport about critical flight path changes.  Residents in the affected areas – Ascot, Binfield, Virginia Water and Bracknell– had consistently complained about the increase in flights over their areas.  Heathrow Airport admitted that trials had taken place in 2014 but argued that since the trials finished, things have returned to normal.  However Heathrow issued a statement – COMPTON FINAL STATEMENT 17 March 14 – last week that it had not been told about an earlier 2014 change made by NATS which is still in place.  It means that planes are using more concentrated flight paths over the affected areas.

In a strong statement Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye said:  “I am very concerned that NATS made this change without informing the airport or affected communities about its potential impact, particularly given its effects on some of the same areas to the west of the airport that were affected by the airspace trials we ran last year. Because of the assurances we received, we in turn told residents in good faith that no changes had occurred.  That is unacceptable and I unequivocally apologise to local residents. At my request, the Chief Executive of NATS has agreed to urgently review his company’s processes to ensure that NATS shares this information with the airport to prevent this happening again in the future.”

Heathrow has asked NATS to revert to the pre-2014 flight paths but, so far, NATS has not done so.

 Some scepticism has been expressed that Heathrow did not know about the NATS’ changes but retired flight path controllers have told HACAN that there is no reason why NATS should have told the Airport or even their own spokespeople.  As far as controllers were concerned, they were simply making an alteration to the route departing aircraft took above 8,000 feet in order to ensure more space between planes from Heathrow and those using Stansted and Luton.

This blunder can work in everybody’s favour if it acts as a wake-up call to NATS.  NATS technical staff have a superb record in ensuring flying is safe but the culture must change.  NATS needs to make sure all its staff are aware of the impact the changes they make will have on people on the ground and of the need to communicate any changes clearly to residents and airports.

 But there is a more fundamental challenge for NATS.  It needs to come to accept that it cannot proceed with some of the changes it would like to make if they are going to have a noticeably adverse effect on local communities.  (The only exception to this would be if safety was seriously compromised).  This will require a deep change in the NATS mind-set.

 A new approach from NATS is particularly important at a time when significant changes will be introduced to airspace and flight paths to allow for the effective use of new technology.  At Heathrow, the airport, local authorities, HACAN and others are working together to try to ensure the best all-round outcome.  There will need to be give and take from all bodies.  That must include NATS.

 The most immediate gesture of good faith would be for NATS to reverse flight path changes they made in June 2014…..and to tell us all about it!














The stubborn 30% who remain opposed to a 3rd runway could be politically more important than those who support it

So, how much support is there for a third runway?  Heathrow – understandably from their perspective – made a big deal of this week’s Populus Poll which saw support edge up to just over 50% – http://mediacentre.heathrowairport.com/Press-releases/New-Poll-Growing-local-support-for-Heathrow-expansion-ab2.aspx They have now crafted huge adverts around the findings.

 The reliability of the Populus polls has been questioned because of the way in which they have been conducted – http://hacan.org.uk/blog/?p=316  – but the key stat may be found in a 2007 Populus Poll.  The findings then were very similar to the results of this week’s poll.  It showed 50% in favour and 30% against – http://hacan.org.uk/blog/?p=281

Nothing much has changed since 2007 and critically around a third of people questioned remain opposed to Heathrow expansion.  Across London and the South East that adds up to over one million people.  And that’s a number to worry any Government.  It is a stubborn block of opposition that refuses to be swayed by Heathrow’s advertising blitz or Back Heathrow’s expensive leaflet drops.

I think, though, what Heathrow has achieved is bringing into sharper focus the support there is for a third runway.  That support – some of it active; a lot of it passive – has always been there.  It was simply not part of the narrative 10 years ago.

However, I suspect, when the next Government comes to consider the findings of the Airports Commission, it will be more interested in assessing the level of opposition when coming to a view about the political deliverability of a third runway that how much support it has.  It is the way of politics.

It is likely that a third of residents will continue to oppose expansion, some of them vehemently.  As will the array of environmental groups.  They were an important part of the coalition which saw off the proposals for a third runway last time round.  And Heathrow has not sought to engage with them, nor Back Heathrow to influence them.

Most of the green groups have gone quiet since the third runway was dropped in 2010.  Climate Change is their issue.  They are not really interested in noise or flight paths.  My soundings suggest they will be back if a new runway is given an amber light after the Election.

Heathrow understands there is little they can offer the environmental groups, so have not spent resources trying to influence them.  Heathrow has concentrated its energies in try to offer residents and local authorities a better deal in terms of noise mitigation measures, jobs and compensation.  But, so far, it has not shifted the million plus people inLondonand the South East who remain firmly opposed to expansion.

“If you knew Heathrow was there, why did you move under the flight path?”

by John Stewart

“Well, you knew Heathrow was there, so why did you move under the flight path?”  It is one of the most common responses to residents’ complaints about noise.

And it is not always said in a sneering, aggressive way, although that can and does happen.  Often the questioner is simply drawing a very logical conclusion.  Most of us moved into our homes after Heathrow was opened in 1946; we knew we were under a flight path; haven’t we, therefore, really just got ourselves to blame.

 As you might expect, I’m going to argue it is nothing like as straightforward as that. But first to acknowledge the truth in what is being said.  Over the past 20 years a lot of homes under the flight paths have changed hands.  And some, in the buoyant London market, for figures in excess of a million pounds.  Most of these buyers knew about the flight paths, though some would not have realized how disturbing the planes actually can be until after they moved in.  But HACAN gets a negligible number of complaints from people who have moved under the flight paths in the boroughs closest to Heathrow in recent years.

Now let me take you to Walthamstow.  It could be Leystonstone,Stratford, Catford, Peckham, Brixton or Vauxhall.  Ask yourself, if you were moving into one of these areas, would you ask the estate agents about aircraft noise.  And yet, over the last 20 years, it has become a real problem in these places.

A study HACAN commissioned from the independent noise consultants Bureau Veritas in 2008 found that in places 20 kilometres from Heathrow “aircraft noise dominated the local environment.”  It said there was “an almost constant background of aircraft noise” in Kennington Park, close to the Oval Cricket Ground, well over 15 kilometres from the airport.  And the study concluded:  “The relatively high levels of aircraft noise that do occur at some distance from the airport are certainly enough to be noticed by those living in those areas and in certain circumstances to cause some disturbance and intrusion.”

The big change occurred in the mid-1990s when a change in operational practices meant that aircraft joined their final approach path much further from the airport.  Instead of joining over West London, they were expected to join over SE London.  As one resident wrote, “We didn’t move to the flight path, the flight path moved to us.”  It can make people still living in those areas very angry to be told they were aware that they were under the flight path to a major international airport when they moved in.  Interestingly, the highest number of complaints HACAN continues to get are from areas some distance from the airport.

There is, though, another reason why it is too easy to say that people knew about the airport when the moved in and therefore, it is implied, should shut up about the noise.  Not everybody has a choice about where they live.  People will move to where jobs are and, particularly if you are on a low-income, will want to live as near work as possible in order to reduce travel costs.  Additionally, the many people in social housing have limited choices about location.

 In conclusion, think twice before you say: “You knew Heathrow was there, so why did you move under the flight path?”  It can make a lot of people angry and frustrated because they know that, in their case, it is simply not true.  Or that they had no choice.

Why I’m not despondent at the start of 2015……all because respite is in the air

by John Stewart

Five years ago in the week between Christmas and the New Year I wrote Victory Against All Odds – the story of how the campaign to stop a third runway at Heathrow was won:  http://www.hacan.org.uk/resources/reports/how.the.heathrow.campaign.was.won.pdf  It was five months before the 2010 General Election but I was banking on the fact that Labour, which was promoting the new runway would lose, and that David Cameron  – “No ifs; not buts; there will be No Third Runway” – would become Prime Minister.

Five years on the third runway is back on the agenda.  For a short period when Justine Greening was Transport Secretary, Theresa Villiers was responsible for aviation and Maria Eagle shadowed transport for Labour, it looked as if we might have killed the third runway.

That hasn’t happened. However, I would argue it has been far from a wasted five years and, in one crucial respect, we are in a better place than we were in 2010.  Amongst my concluding words in Victory Against All the Odds were these: “HACAN has been part of a famous victory. But we have work yet to do.  The planes are still roaring over our heads.  During the years of the campaign the noise has become immeasurably worse for many people.  Planes are lining up to join their final approach path further out than before.  Aircraft noise is now a real problem for more people much further from the airport…..For these people victory in the third runway campaign will ring very hollow indeed if nothing is done about the sky of sound over their heads.”

HACAN had identified the problem at least ten years earlier.  And had it confirmed in 2007 in a report we commissioned from the respected consultancy, Bureau Veritas, which found:

Aircraft noise had become a London-wide problem.  In places 20 kilometres from Heathrow “aircraft noise dominated the local environment.” For example, there was “an almost constant background of aircraft noise” in Kennington Park, close to the Oval Cricket Ground, well over 15 kilometres from the airport.  In some areas of East London flown over by both Heathrow planes and City Airport noise levels were comparable to those in parts of West London.  And its key conclusions were:

“The increase in the number of movements between 1996 and 2005 can clearly be seen.  In terms of geographical spread, the greatest increases have occurred in the early morning and in the evening – arguably the relatively more sensitive times of day. The relatively high levels of aircraft noise that do occur at some distance from the airport are certainly enough to be noticed by those living in those areas and in certain circumstances to cause some disturbance and intrusion.”

 The point is brought to life in this video commissioned by HACAN, where local people in Vauxhall tell their story: http://youtu.be/rXf8o_khz8s

A key task for HACAN in 2010 was to get the authorities to recognise this problem; indeed, more generally, to find ways to improve things for residents under the flight paths of a two-runway Heathrow.  It coincided with a change of attitude from Heathrow Airport, then still called BAA:  they had been chastened by their failure to get a third runway and realized they had to do things differently.

 Five years on, Heathrow not only has recognized that the problem of noise extends way beyond West London but understands that all areas need some respite from the noise.  HACAN has been calling for respite since the mid-1990s and in recent years has worked with Heathrow, NATS, the CAA and British Airways to look at practical ways in which respite can be effectively introduced.

Introducing respite will not be easy.  Other airports across the world have tried it with varying degrees of success.  And, given the size and complexity of the airport, Heathrow’s emerging plans are bold and ambitious.  But if they get it right, it could be a ground-breaking example which other airports across the world could emulate.

 So I’m not despondent five years on.  Whatever happens about a third runway, there is real hope that hundreds of thousands of people who for years have lived with “the sky of sound over their heads” will begin to see some light at the end of the tunnel in 2015.

Santa on 2014 – noise, respite, trials, 3rd runway – and can he meet everybody’s requests for Xmas 2015?

Santa gets it.  He knows just how much of London and the South East is impacted by aircraft noise from Heathrow.    Most people don’t.  They tend to only know their own patch.  Not so Santa.  The nature of his job means he’s familiar with every square mile.

 He wouldn’t be surprised that most years the majority of complaints received by HACAN come from south, south-east and even east London.  He senses most people in west London have learnt to live with the noise.  On the whole, they don’t want any more of it – and they certainly don’t want to loose their respite periods – but in some ways aircraft noise has become part of the fabric of life in west London.

Certainly the biggest demand for ear defenders each year comes from south and south east London.  But Santa has been known to bring them down the chimneys in places as far from Heathrow as Walthamstow, Hackney and Leytonstone.  He suspects part of the reason for the problem in east London is the fact they get City Airport planes as well.  It always amazes him that noise levels of aircraft from City and Heathrow are assessed separately.  That’s not how his customers hear noise!

 Genial though he is, Santa can get annoyed when he hears whispered conversations that people who don’t like noise shouldn’t have moved under the flight path.  He accepts that may be true of people who moved into west London in recent years but it is a silly thing to say about folks living over 20 miles away in south east London.   And even in west London it not always true – in these times of austerity many people have no choice but to move to where they can get a job.

Of course Santa is aware that not all the 766,000 people who are officially impacted by the noise are disturbed by it.  He knows that he has to glide silently down the chimney of around only 10% of homes.  If he could deliver during the day, it would be a bit less.  Still, though, more than any other city in Europe.

In his letters this year one big – and at first sight, rather surprising – request.  The residents of Teddington, Ascot, Englefield Green and one or two others places were adamant:  no present that included “free trials”.

So, what will be the big requests for Christmas 2015?  Santa likes to collect his letters a year in advance to give himself and his elves plenty of time to prepare.

  •  Top of the list comes the call for official periods of respite from the noise.
  •  Heathrow wants respite plus a third runway.
  •  And then there is the annual call for an end to night flights.  Santa feels that this could be a game-changer for people….and make his job so much easier into the bargain.
  •  The residents of the Heathrow villages want still to be in their homes this time next year.
  •  Back Heathrow wants a knighthood for the CEO of Populus for services to polling.

 Santa doesn’t like to disappoint.  But some of the requests appear contradictory. However, he’ll do his best.  He senses he has a chance of pulling something off.

 Have as peaceful a New Year as you can.