One consequence of last year’s long hot summer’s easterly winds was an intense increase in noise over Dulwich from airliners descending to approach London City Airport from the west.
A particular bugbear of mine has been the (commercially successful) Embraer 190 jet which descends over us with a whoosh to 2,000 feet before, at the level of Battersea Bridge, turning right 180 degrees to head back to land. Data from wind direction confirmed that during the year City airport runway usage was 40 per cent into the easterly wind, and greater still during the hot weather spell.
When London City Airport opened 20 years or so ago it was not meant to be like this. Then it was only prop-jets, and a passenger volume of just over 133,000. Now with the introduction of small jet airliners the passenger total is over 4 million, and currently the airport is being expanded to take up to 6 million or more passengers a year.
Admittedly when the wind is from the west we are not bothered because the airliners taking off turn right and depart to the north.
But do all these aircraft have to pass over south London in these easterly wind conditions? The answer is controversial.
I wrote to NATS, the National Air Traffic Services company, asking why the noise over us could not be shared by alternating the approaches north and south — rather the way the higher approaches to Heathrow seem to do. Their answer was that the airspace in the southeast is so crowded (considering Heathrow, Stansted and Luton traffic,) that changing the patterns as I suggested would add risk. Further, they argued that the present system allowed them to control London City traffic independently (NATS do it remotely from near Southampton!). To change it would mean complex coordination. Finally, they also pointed out that people living north of the Thames who endure all that London City takeoff noise might not be best pleased. NATS also pointed out that the Heathrow approaches over us are not alternated, from north and south, as it appears, but occur because there are holding or stacking areas to the north and south from which (as travellers regularly note) they peel off after some delay.
A couple of years ago so-called concentrated paths, implying more narrowly navigated routes in and out of City airport, were introduced — to great dismay in northeast London over their increased noise. The Civil Aviation Authority was supposed to report last year on the “anticipated benefits and impacts”, but has not yet done so and no firm date has been provided.
So what input do we the public have in all this? For a start you may register your complaint with London City. In 2018 during the period April - June the increase in landings to the east, the highest number of complaints came from the Borough of Lambeth though apparently not too many from our members reach our chairman’s desk. Are we becoming passive urbanites?
Second there is a local consultancy committee, the lcacc.org. The meeting I attended in September was mostly taken up with the irritation over nighttime construction noise (pile driving etc) to the immediate local residents. But it too reports back on complaints of aircraft noise.
More long term and potentially more serious for us is that there is, in its early stages, a government-supported rethink to modernise airspace over the southeast. In all, 15 airports will be asked to look at their low-level approach and departure route designs, with NATS coordinating the effort, with the industry and public to be fully consulted.
Before it is too late, I feel sure that Dulwich Society members will wish their voices to be heard, above the din. Please don’t simply remove your hearing aids.