Airspace change proposals for Luton arrivals

Luton Airport and NATS are working on proposals to alter the airspace design north-east of the airport to separate the tracks and holds for Stansted and Luton arrivals. Doing this will give each airport more capacity, and it is being billed as a safety issue to fast-track it through the CAA system. The question for people on the ground is: what will be the impact on where I live?

The key structural change is a proposal to create a new holding stack for Luton, likely to be positioned in the St Neots / Grafham Water area, with aircraft at around 7500ft. From there the arrivals will be routed via a point near Dunton 1.5 miles east of Biggleswade at around 6,000ft and onwards to line up with the runway as their descent continues.

When the wind is in the east, the existing lower level descent tracks are shown by dispersed orange lines, and the proposed new concentrated options by dark blue lines:

Each dark blue line represents a concentrated track option -some call them ‘motorways in the sky’ – and these should really be shown a lot thicker and bolder. Because noise radiates out sideways, there’s not a lot to choose between them when the options are close together.

When the wind is in the west, the existing lower level descent tracks are shown by dispersed mauve lines, and the proposed new concentrated options by dark blue lines:

Each dark blue line represents a concentrated track option -some call them ‘motorways in the sky’ – and these should really be shown a lot thicker and bolder. Because noise radiates out sideways, there’s not a lot to choose between them when the options are close together.

For people on the ground, bearing in mind that increased numbers of aircraft are likely to be flying in these patterns over time if we cannot put a stop to expansion proposals, the key considerations will be the changes caused by:

  • where the tracks will go compared to where they go now
  • the effect of track concentration as opposed to dispersal
  • which of the concentrated options look good or bad and why
  • whether different concentrated tracks should be used on different days

We are being asked to seek the views of members living in the affected area as to what concerns or preferences they may have. It has been emphasised that although the new and old paths look similar, the effect of concentration can profoundly change the noise experience on the ground. When we asked the airport if concentration was mandatory they said (with the jargon translated into English):

“All the options are still on the table, this includes concentration and dispersal. From our point of view we would like to see a form of concentration implemented as this will allow for a more seamless transition into overall airspace redesign and it has multiple benefits, for example we can reduce the population overflown, look at respite options, it provides predictability for both communities and operators and it also reduces the communication between Air Traffic Control and the aircraft whilst enabling increased precision on Arrival Management tools. This is all part of a systemised airspace that is mentioned in the CAA’s Airspace Modernisation Strategy.”

LADACAN’s view on this is that switching to concentrated flight paths on other routes and at other airports risks people near the concentrated track perceiving many more flights, whilst others go from hearing some to hearing none. When we asked the airport for some noise heat-maps they said:

“At this point in the process we haven’t analysed the noise footprint of any of the routes, this comes later in the process as part of the options appraisal stages. These designs are still very high level and can still change. The purpose of this engagement is to take the community representatives on the journey so they can see how we have arrived at this list of options.  Based on these options, we’d like to know what is important to LADACAN members and if they have any other suggestions, recommendations or questions. It is not to explore the pros and cons of each option, that will come during consultation (CAP1616 C28: “…the CAA will not look for discussion on the pluses and minuses of each option – that should come during consultation – but will seek evidence stakeholders are content that their views have been captured and taken into account by the change sponsor.”)

We can explore how we describe potential noise impacts later in the process as part of the noise analysis for the consultation.”

So bearing in mind there will be a more formal consultation later, we are being asked at this stage to feed back the views of LADACAN members on what is being proposed. Please look carefully at the images above and the bullet points for consideration and then email any comments or suggestion to ‘info at ladacan dot org’ by 17th September.