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After successful pilot, Stansted Airport takes first steps to tighten more flight paths

Departing on Westerly Noise Preferential Routes (7101226)
Departing on Westerly Noise Preferential Routes (7101226)

Bishop’s Stortford residents are set to benefit from changes to flight paths over Stansted Airport.

Bosses at Manchester Airports Group, which owns the hub, have submitted a 'statement of need' – essentially a request to make a change to airspace – to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) for preliminary approval to proceed.

Chief executive Ken O’Toole told a meeting of the Stansted Airport Consultative Committee (STACC) watchdog: “The modernisation process is essentially a transition from traditional ground-based navigation aids to make greater use of satellite guidance.

"The successful application of satellite guidance to two of our departure flights paths has enabled aircraft to fly with much greater accuracy and consistency, and we anticipate there will be similar opportunities as we now move towards updating the remainder of our departure and arrival flight paths.

“We expect this transition to take place over the course of the next three years, in a highly integrated way with other airports and NATS (National Air Traffic Services).”

In response to the Government’s newly published Aviation Strategy Green Paper, NATS says: “The design of today’s airspace originated in the 1950s for a different generation of aircraft capability and air traffic technology. To better handle today’s traffic levels requires making best use of latest and emerging technologies to manage noise, reduce carbon emissions and increase capacity.”

Departing aircraft are deemed compliant when they remain within a 'Noise Preferential Route' corridor up to 3km wide until they have achieved a minimum height, usually 4,000ft, when they can be vectored onto a more direct heading to destination by air traffic control (ATC).

It took eight years to implement the first changes, which required airline pilots to corner like Formula 1 drivers and narrow their tracking over villages like Hatfield Heath and Hatfield Broad Oak from a 1,500m-wide swathe to a 500m path between the settlements.

However, STACC member Cllr Keith Artus, an Uttlesford district councillor for Broad Oak and the Hallingburys, said that he was hopeful future adjustments could be implemented far more quickly. He is also chairman of the Stansted Airport Advisory Panel.

As part of its efforts to cut disturbance for those living under flight paths, Stansted bosses have also submitted the final draft of their Noise Action Plan to Defra (Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) for approval.

Mr O’Toole told STACC that civil servants are still waiting for ministerial approval of action plans from airports across the country and MAG will publish Stansted’s final plan, alongside a summary document, once approved.

* Stansted has followed its biggest airline customer, Ryanair, in making a complaint about NATS and disruption to flights, particularly last summer. CAA figures show that Stansted experienced 52% of all air traffic control delays caused by NATS in the London area in January to March 2018; Gatwick had 10% and Heathrow had none.

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