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Maurice Byford

Clipping: thisiskent

IN THE letters page of the Isle of Thanet Gazette over recent weeks there have been passionate letters supporting the proposal by Infratil for night flights over Thanet as a means to expand the airport services at Manston. While I support the proposal of expansion and the attempts by the airport to attract an airline to operate out of Thanet it is clear to me that the proposals set out for the night flights option are extremely misguided.

Night flights may not be answer for jobs

Maurice Byford

Clipping: thisiskent

IN THE letters page of the Isle of Thanet Gazette over recent weeks there have been passionate letters supporting the proposal by Infratil for night flights over Thanet as a means to expand the airport services at Manston. While I support the proposal of expansion and the attempts by the airport to attract an airline to operate out of Thanet it is clear to me that the proposals set out for the night flights option are extremely misguided.

One of your contributors, Wendy Fry, had the temerity to call detractors “moaners” and suggested that if you purchased a property on the flight path then you should ‘put up with the consequence of noise’. As someone who has lived here for over 26 years, when I moved into the area the airport was still operated by the MoD and night flights were extremely rare.

When it became a commercial airport it was on the firm understanding that night flights would not occur. So I am afraid I find it very objectionable that supporters of the proposal would condemn and denigrate the likes of myself for finding argument against the expansion when clearly the objection against me and others like me is wholly inaccurate.

Currently I reside in the Palm Bay area which is technically outside of the “flight path” and “noise contour”. During the day we can hear planes taking off and landing at Manston, indeed when modern jets were in situ we could regularly hear them testing the engines. So the absurd notion by Infratil that only a few thousand homes are going to be affected by this night flying is wrong. The fact is that the majority of Thanet will be affected by this decision.

A 737 at one mile out and 4,000 feet generates 78db noise on the ground. A plane at take-off generates 140db which is 10db louder than a pneumatic drill heard from 10 paces away (figures courtesy of Environmental Protection UK). The University of Bern produced a comprehensive research paper conclusively linking heart stress problems and psychological impairment to people living within the vicinity of an airport that operated night flights.

Additionally research carried out by the University of Southampton proved that night flights consistently affected sleep patterns in adults and that the acceptable number of decibels for disturbing was far lower than originally claimed by airports in their “acceptable flight contour readings”.

In fact as proved by London University in a research document conducted on behalf of the DoH it was proved that noise levels of 40db were sufficient to disturb the sleep of children and 40 to 45db in adults. The noise levels predicted for those in the flight path will be at least 57db, more likely 70-80db. For the furthest reaches of Thanet it will be between 40 to 60db. Depending on house insulation, it is likely that at least half the residents of Thanet will be affected by this proposal.

It was also conclusively proved that with 15 per cent of subjects there was a noticeable deterioration in cognitive function, in particular it was noticed that most affected children suffered greatly from listlessness and attention deficit at school as a direct result of night-time flying.

So, maybe I am a “moaner”. Personally I think I am just “concerned” and with good reason. Do I want to see Manston a vibrant and growing airport recruiting huge numbers of people from within the local area? Yes I do. But there is a problem.

If you take time to read the business plan submitted by Infratil there is no guarantee or commitment to growth in the right areas, instead it is “assumed” that by allowing night flights that the airport would then be able to attract airlines to the area. There is absolutely no prior agreement or commitment that this would happen by a third party and no guarantee that additional investment would be forthcoming. In fact as evidenced by other small airfields that have completed this process they have systematically failed to encourage airlines or external travel companies to use their airfields over the traditional London or city-based airports.

In an industry that is currently in contraction it is pure wishful thinking to assume that just by the precedence of being able to offer night flights that travel operators and airlines would flock to Thanet. The airport at Bournemouth was able to attract airlines and travel operators first and then moved to night flying later as the airport grew. In fact the only airports to move to night flights before they had operators remain dedicated cargo airports like Southend and Doncaster. Manston, it appears, is to be the exception to the rule.

So where do the 6,000 jobs come from as evidenced from the business plan? Interestingly, the jobs will come from external, related and subsidiary providers. NOT from Infratil. In fact Infratil only commit to 110 new jobs, which makes perfect sense for a small-scale cargo airport. The other 400-plus jobs only come into being after Infratil have attracted this elusive tour operator and airline.

Then what happens if Infratil fail to attract additional business to Manston, do the night flights stop? No, because a precedent has been set and Infratil now have a reasonable income from the cargo services and have planning permission for night flights. The benefit for Thanet is negligible at best, horrific at worst. We have already seen from the debacle of the banking bailout the cost of incompetent officials in their inability to apply restrictions and conditions to a business gift to aid or assist.

Yet again we are faced with the prospect of poor planning and no accountability for the sake of promises that will in all likelihood, given the current economic state, fail to deliver. What is worse the children and the health of the population of Thanet are to suffer because of a vague promise and “it could happen” attitude by the airport owners. Once more we bear the brunt of dubious decisions by our elected and paid officials.

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