Luton Hooey!

Just when we thought airport expansion proposals could not get any crazier, they have. The Policy Exchange think tank has put forward a proposal to demolish Luton Hoo and build a 4-runway airport there, just up the road from Harpenden. London’s Heathrow and Stansted airports would then close, transferring their flights to the new hub airport along with substantially extra services to the new locations in China and the developing world. Passengers would fly in from around the UK and Europe to transfer on to long-haul flights to the new economies, and business people from China would fly in to Luton and set up their headquarters there.

Quite apart from the almost incredible arrogance of the proposals in dismissing at a stroke the interests of the local communities, they miss such obvious practical issues that it’s clear they’ve been produced by a lot of web-surfing rather than an actual first-hand appreciation of the area being discussed and its existing infrastructure. One could almost imagine the date was 1st April not 5th October.

Hills: For a start, the whole area around Luton Airport is very hilly, and while the report acknowledges this it seems to suggest it would be reasonably achievable to level it all off so that new runways could be planted.

Noise: The author blithely asserts that the noise nuisance from each aircraft will be reduced, massively. This assertion is utterly without foundation, and in fact because they are talking long-haul, the larger heavier planes will be inherently noisier and will take longer to climb to altitude and so the noise will last longer as well.

Trains: The suggestion is made that there would be fast trains every 5 minutes to London on the existing 4 tracks. Brilliant – that means that the current semi-fast services on which Harpenden and St Albans rely would be just swept away ?

Flight paths: The planes taking off from Luton Hooey Airport would normally be facing in the wrong direction to get to China – the prevailing wind is from the west, so they take off to the west and would then need to turn to head east – and because they’d be starting from a more southerly position, their tracks would go directly over Hemel, St Albans and Welwyn. on the way out. Fantastic proposal we don’t think!

Oil: The oil that fuels planes is a finite resource. Before long – if not already – the good people of planet Earth will have passed the peak of oil production capability and then the supplies will start to run down. So arguing for more and more increases in airport capacity rather flies in the face of the economic logic which says that dwindling resources start to get more expensive, and then the demand reduces.

Carbon: The government’s own website says that aircraft contributed 6.4% of the UK carbon footprint in 2006, and this will rise to 10% by 2020 if nothing is done to reverse the trend. Climate change is not going to be slowed down by furthering the myth that nobody can do business unless it involves flying.

Roads: Are the M1, M25 and the A1 quiet roads with very little traffic and no tendency to snarl up? Er, no. So how would they be affected by adding the combined traffic from Heathrow, Stansted and Luton airports plus further expansion? Er, very badly.

Just in case anyone is crazy enough to take these proposals seriously, we’d all better write yet again to our long-suffering local MPs Peter Lilley, Ann Maine, Mike Penning, Stephen McPartland and Grant Shapps – see Contacts Page for details.

You can find the think tank document at this link: click here

Expansion plans

The revised expansion plan for Luton Airport has been issued today 3rd Sep and can be downloaded from the airport website by clicking the link at the end of this article.

Compared to 2011 the main measures include:

  • More planes – a 58% increase in the number of flights
  • More often – frequency up 17% to one every 90 seconds at peak
  • More intrusive – the peak time at 06:00-08:30 will become longer
  • More traffic – an 87% increase in passenger capacity from 9.6m to 18m
  • More emissions – the airport ignores emissions once a plane is airborne
  • More impact – a new 4-storey carpark is to be built on the top of the hill

Mitigation Plans and Action Plans abound, but these involve monitoring rather than aggressively tackling the issues which affect local communities even with the current level of flights and passengers: noise, pollution, night flights and road bottlenecks.

The Environmental Impact statement has not yet been published, so the detail on what these proposals will mean to the local environment in terms of air quality and climate, water quality and usage, landscape and visual impact, noise and vibration, traffic and transportation is still not clear.

HALE is working closely with other campaign groups as well as local councils, however everyone can play a part by ensuring that their views are sent to the airport and to local councillors, and making other people aware of how to feed back their opinions.

Glyn Jones, MD of Luton Airport Operators, has claimed that their previous plans are “broadly supported” by 2/3 of respondents. Since many of the proposals (to improve the terminal facilities, speed up security and baggage collection and make the drop-off easier) are generally welcome, there is a risk that “support” could be misinterpreted. Local people need to make it very clear that the surrounding community experience counts just as much as the passenger experience.

A 6-week public consultation starts today, and there are some local meetings planned – see Public Exhibitions for a timetable.

Luton Airport website link describing plans with download available: click here

Comments can be emailed to:

Double whammy

Luton Airport owners and operators have kissed and made up, with a deal now signed which extends the current operating franchise to 2031 subject to an application to increase airport capacity to from 10 million to 18 million passengers per year. This represents a combination of the two separate plans discussed earlier in the year.

In almost doubling the passenger throughput, Luton Airport would add something like 100 flights a day, and would pack many extra flights into the already busy 6am-9am morning peak, delivering a plane every 90 seconds to fly over local residents.

What’s farcical is that they try to claim this is “sustainable growth” when clearly it is the exact opposite. The Directgov website has some very relevant things to say about air travel and its impact on the environment:

Air travel is a growing contributor to climate change and can have an impact on local traffic emissions and noise. You can help reduce your impact on the environment by choosing to travel by air less. In 2006, air travel accounted for 6.4 per cent of the UK’s emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), the main greenhouse gas causing climate change. Forecasts suggest that this could grow. If no action is taken, carbon dioxide emissions from aviation could make up around 10 per cent of the UK’s total CO2 emissions by 2020. 

  • consider video or teleconferencing, instead of flying to business meetings
  • think about taking a holiday within the UK
  • taking one longer holiday will have a lower impact than going on several short trips if you are flying each time

When making journeys in the UK, and even internationally, there is often the option of getting there without flying.

Click on Directgov for the complete set of guidelines.

The point about taking holidays in the UK is very important, since it boosts the UK economy if we spend our money here rather than overseas: in 2011 the balance of payments deficit due to more people going overseas for holidays than coming to the UK was £13billion. So we can all help create jobs in Britain by flying less, not more.

Public consultation on the plans starts on September 3rd and it is essential for eveybody who cares about this issue to contact their local MP and councillors to express their views, as well as responding to the consultation questionnaire when it is published.

Stealth fighter

Luton Airport’s operator LLAOL has announced its own plan for expansion over the next 15 years, to rival the one proposed by its owners Luton Borough Council. We believe they are trying to get this in “under the radar” while people are distracted in fighting LBC’s plans. Key aspects of the LLAOL plan are as follows:

More traffic: LLAOL plans to increase capacity by nearly 60%, to 16 million passengers per year over the next 15 years. That’s an extra 6 million people travelling to and from the airport each year, or 16,000 EACH DAY on the already congested road and rail systems.

More planes: LLAOL will increase the number of flights by 33%, ie 37,000 extra flights a year or 100 more flights EACH DAY, with planes coming over EVERY 90 SECONDS at peak times.

More noise: they propose to use even bigger planes which are heavier and therefore noisier. The percentage of flights above 76dbA has already DOUBLED in the last 5 years, and this trend looks set to continue.

More sleepless nights: they say the proportion of night flights will reduce, but we can safely assume that the NUMBER of night flights will actually increase, otherwise they would have made this clearer.

More hours of plane pain: very weasel words are used to break the bad news that the early morning “peak time” for flights (currently 6am till 9:30am) will be extended, and they carefully avoid being clear about whether it might start EVEN EARLIER.

More overflights: there is no commitment in the plan to avoid overflying towns and villages around the airport. Stevenage for example gets the arrivals coming in directly over the town. Hitchin, Welwyn, St Albans, Hemel Hempstead, Harpenden, Gaddesden Row are all affected NOW.

More pollution: there is already great concern over nitrogen dioxide levels in the air, and jet engines in particular create more of this pollutant. The plan talks of carbon footprint reduction at the airport but we believe they are not including the biggest carbon footprint of all – from the planes themselves!

So in summary it looks like 100 extra planes a day, 16,000 extra people a day on road and rail, planes every 90 seconds, more noise, a longer peak time, more night flights and more pollution. Thanks, Luton Airport!

To fight this, post us a reply below and contact the Airport by emailing to officially register your objections by 24th April.

In Touch?

Why would an airport operator who had caused a summer of misery to hundreds of people in local villages suddenly want to portray themselves as a good neighbour? Perhaps because there is a break clause coming up shortly in their operating concession?

For whatever reason, LLAOL has published a community newsletter called “In Touch” which makes such amusing reading that it’s even worth downloading a copy from here.

Let’s zero in on some of these In Touch comments and see just how In Touch they really are!

That’s odd – because nothing could be less transparent than the presentation of noise data in the Annual Monitoring Reports – in fact until WE made it transparent (see Noise gate) the airport themselves didn’t know that the flights were getting louder every year! So 1-0 to HALE.

Aircraft have not become quieter – the larger heavier Airbus types are in fact noisier – and there has not been an increase in flights: 2010 had fewer flights than 2008 but they were noisier. 2-0 to us.

 We’re not scoring points on this one: we want to encourage people to use TraVis and then to email when planes stray markedly from the centre line – just so you can enjoy being told that they are entitled to fly over your heads at night if they want to.

Just to be clear on this: the new Brookmans Park route proposal also involves applying a speed limit to all flights on the route, meaning that they fly lower and slower – hence generating more noise and pollution – for longer. This is certainly not flying in the most optimal way, so 3-0 to HALE.




We’re not going to award ourselves another point on this one, since it’s a bit like shooting fish in a barrel. But how can the airport claim to be taking its environmental responsibilities seriously and at the same time propose to fly planes in such an inefficient manner – slowly at low altitude for longer than needed?

We were so upset by all this prestidigitation with the truth that we decided to create “not In Touch” – the antidote to airport newsletters. Enjoy your free copy by clicking this link.


EIA poser

The HALE team has worked with HarpendenSky to raise detailed questions with futureLuToN concerning the Environmental Impact Assessment.

The questions, submitted on March 6th, are designed to ensure that the crucial EIA section of the planning application will cover the ground thoroughly. We want comprehensive information not just showing how things are now, but realistically how the impact will worsen as the planned extra capacity is used.

HALE has already proved that aircraft noise is increasing year-on-year due to the mix changing from smaller quieter planes to larger noisier types – and we have insisted the noise modelling takes this trend into account and shows accurately how the noise and pollution will continue to increase in the future as even larger planes are used.

Other key factors we put under scrutiny are the impact on road and railway traffic, water supplies – given the drought status – and the fact that nobody actually knows where the planes will be flying, since the airport operators are planning a flight-path change during 2012.

We are also probing the way that the EIA will be carried out and checked, given the inaccurate and sketchy information provided to date. The full list of questions can be downloaded by clicking this link.

Will we receive equally comprehensive replies ?

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Fact or fiction ?

The more people question the futureLuToN team at their roadshows, the more damaging are their admissions.

At the Stockwood Park consultation they admitted that they know nothing about the proposed route change which will affect departures to the west flying over Hemel. The airport operators are planning to make the planes fly more slowly – ie more noisily and with more pollution – so they can squeeze round the corner, keeping low and taking longer to pass.

None of this extra noise and the impact of lower slower flights is factored into futureLuToN noise models. They seemed quite shocked by the environmental implications of higher carbon emissions. How come futureLuToN are so disconnected from what’s actually happening at Luton Airport?

They also claim to have only just found out that the planes have got noisier every year for the last five years – presumably after HALE broke the story! Again it’s incredible how out of touch they are, since it was discussed at the airport’s Noise and Track (NTSC) meeting last December following a paper submitted by Andrew Lambourne.

futureLuToN effectively admitted that their display materials are misleading but that it was too late to change them. They could change the website though!

Is there anything which futureLuToN is telling us that is actually true ?

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HALE launch

Over 100 people packed into Flamstead Village Hall last night to attend the official launch of the HALE campaign. The event attracted significant media attention, with BBC Look East filming the proceedings for the 22:30 news.

Andrew Lambourne, presenting the reasons behind the campaign, explained “Luton Airport is simply in the wrong place for significant expansion. It’s surrounded by the towns and villages of Hertfordshire, and modern planes can’t help overflying those communities and causing noise and pollution. Night flights are a particular problem. The local transport infrastructure is not capable of supporting double the passenger traffic to and from the airport – the M1 junction 10 is already a bottleneck and the train services to London are crowded as it is.”

Tim Moss pointed out that the jobs increase is a myth, and that this is not the only way to bring extra prosperity to the region. “LBC’s proposal will cost jobs, not grow them. There will be a small increase at Luton on the passenger side, offset by a reduction in business aviation jobs as the new passenger stands take up their space. Outbound tourism also costs UK jobs overall. We have no problem with investment in the airport, in the local infrastructure and in stimulating business through ideas such as the Century Business Park. What is completely unreasonable is to significantly increase the number of flights to and from this particular airport, given its location.”

Nigel Emms, another founder member, said “MP Mike Penning supports our campaign and is fundamentally opposed to the expansion of Luton Airport. He has written to Justine Greening to ask for the planning application to be called in. The media support we’re getting is fantastic, with both Anglia TV and BBC Look East engaged, and already other campaigns are linking in to fight with us on this key North Hertfordshire issue.”

Watch this space…

Growing pains

Luton Airport started off as a small municipal airport in 1938, and its success developed through charter groups such as Thomson and Monarch in the 1960s and 70s. Ryanair joined up in 1986 but then left for Stansted in 1991, throwing the airport into financial loss. The arrival of easyJet in 1995 coupled with a big public-private investment brought a return to success, and passenger numbers grew substantially.

On the back of a 30-year operating concession, tens of millions of pounds have been invested in new terminal facilities, taxiways and stands; and the Parkway station was opened in 1999 to improve access. Now LBC wants to break that concession and invite even more aggressive investment and development.

BUT: is the airport actually located in a suitable position to continue to expand unchecked? Growth by definition means change – something is getting bigger, and its environment needs to be able to accommodate that increase in size.

Just take a look at the following charts, both (c) Crown copyright and copyright of LLAL. They show how the airport is surrounded by large urban areas, and how the flight tracks cannot help but pass over them:

These tracks also show that modern, larger, faster planes can no longer fly the originally designed routes. In the top chart they spill out over Stevenage and Hitchin, and in the lower chart over Hemel Hempstead and St Albans.

Luton Airport, because it is surrounded by large urban areas, cannot just continue to grow. Operating an airport demands a sense of corporate responsibility and sensitivity to the environment and the people who live around it. The responsible action is to say “enough is enough – let’s focus on being a better neighbour.”

There’s plenty to be done – a carbon neutral ground operations target for example. A redesign of the routes so that aircraft do not have to fly inefficiently and be operated in a non-sustainable way. A better passenger experience all round. An effective noise abatement plan. Accurate track keeping – especially at night. Quieter aircraft – not the current mix which is noisier than in 2005.

Let’s focus on those challenges at Luton Airport, rather than on a dash for cash.

Link to a more comprehensive article on Luton Airport’s history.

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Consult or Insult ?

Most passengers want to see Luton Airport improved. Congested access roads, slow check-ins and horrendous queues in security are a nightmare at busy times. Getting to your plane can involve negotiating numerous staircases. Some of the departure “lounges” feel more like cattle herding sheds. Arriving home after a tiring journey is a nightmare when the queue from the immigration hall stretches way down the corridor.

The tables need to be turned in the current “consultation” by Luton Borough Council, which owns the airport. Rather than forcing the consultation to be about doubling the number of flights, for which in return they will improve the airport, it should be about asking people how the money generated by the airport should be reinvested.

£23m per annum is returned to the coffers of LBC each year, and used to fund amenities for Luton and to reduce council tax – even though Hertfordshire towns and villages bear the brunt of the noise, transport congestion and pollution. If the money was used to re-invest in better facilites at the airport for all users, then at least there would be payback for the majority of the airport’s neighbours, rather than a small minority.

So: drop the plans to double the flights, and instead re-invest the profits in improving the user experience, reducing the carbon footprint, and being a better neighbour.