Yes we can: the story so far… Infratil need Manston to be very busy; night flights are a bad thing; and the daytime flight paths must be designed to be as people-friendly as possible. So what happens next? Step aboard the time machine of your imagination, and gracefully swoop into the future…
Let’s suppose that Infratil have impressed everyone with their keenness to encourage clean and quiet planes to fly as cleanly and quietly as possible, at considerate times of day, where there are least people. Marvellous. I for one would be proud to brandish their commitment as an example to airport operators across the country. But how could I prove that their high ideals were the real deal?
This very question was addressed in the 2005 Alan Stratford & Associates report to Thanet District Council when they were reviewing the S106 agreement with PlaneStation:
To properly manage noise and environmental matters related to the operation and future growth of the airport, it will be essential to have in place a rigorous and comprehensive monitoring process. This needs to be adequately resourced, in terms of equipment and staff, and have in place clear and measurable targets and standards which have been mutually agreed, with related penalties for non-compliance. Demonstrable monitoring and enforcement is essential, also, in regard to the confidence within the surrounding communities that the airport’s activities are taking place under the influence and control of the Council.
Simply put, monitoring is the only way of being sure whether we are getting lots of dirt and noise, or little dirt and noise. Anyone who is not constantly working towards the latter needs to be taken out and flogged. In a constructive, educational and empowering way.
There are established and reliable technologies available for monitoring the presence and immediate environmental impacts of carbon dioxide and other gases, fumes, particulates, droplets, leakages and spillages. Given the towns at either end of the runway; the surrounding farmland; the underlying aquifers; the commercial sea fishing; the internationally important conservation areas; and the Isle of Thanet’s vulnerability to climate change, it’s in everyone’s interests that these monitoring systems should meet or exceed the highest statutory requirements. I don’t doubt for a moment that there would be no shortage of advice and support from Natural England, CPRE Kent, Kent Wildlife Trust, etc, etc. It’s all just there for the asking.
Noise and location are obviously closely linked. The Civil Aviation Authority has clear guidelines for what constitutes best practice for noise monitoring – at least two fixed microphones at each end of the runway, and at least one mobile microphone for measurements further from the airport. Historically, Manston’s noise monitoring has been sub-standard – as far as I know it’s still not up to scratch. Their radar has also been very basic, relying on a PSR system.
Primary Surveillance Radar (PSR) is akin to a bat’s echolocation: the transmitter emits a powerful pulse, some of which is reflected back – the reflection and the delay indicate the direction and distance of an object.
Secondary Surveillance Radar (SSR) is more like a conversation. The transmitter sends a question and a transponder on the plane replies with information gleaned from the cockpit instruments. Again, the delay in the answer arriving indicates the distance; the answer itself confirms the distance and identifies the aircraft, location, speed, bearing, height, etc.
To monitor adherence to agreed routes and altitudes, SSR is essential. An airport can buy its own SSR system, or hire SSR feeds from a third party. In a recent phone conversation, Matt Clarke of Infratil said that Manston currently rents SSR feeds from the MoD. However, TDC don’t seem to be aware of this:
TDC’s Airport Working Party’s recent minutes state “It was understood that at the outset of a new service featuring some night-time aircraft movements, the secondary radar capability necessary to operate web tracking would not be affordable. However, an appropriate threshold of business levels ought to be established for its introduction.”
Similarly, “Noise abatement routes can only be monitored if secondary radar capacity is provided. This represents a considerable investment which cannot be justified by current aircraft usage. A threshold of aircraft usage should be set for its introduction.”
The impression I get is that in their conversations with TDC, Infratil are quoting a figure of £2½ million for their own SSR system (probably accurate) and using this as an excuse for not getting it yet, and thereby being unable to monitor their planes. This is, at best, disingenuous. For low volumes of traffic, it makes sense to hire a feed; when volumes increase sufficiently, the cost/benefit equation will tip in favour of buying their own. It’s a straightforward commercial decision – this is the cost of doing business.
Infratil are doing themselves no favours by trying to avoid monitoring by hiding behind the largest quotable cost. They have a duty of care to everyone on the ground, and everyone in the aircraft, to know exactly where everything is in the airspace over East Kent. Quite frankly, if they’re even hinting at not taking this seriously, they’re not fit to run an airport.
So there we have another solid pillar for the S106 Agreement: the immediate provision and consistent use of excellent monitoring equipment. Common sense demands it. TDC are perfectly within in their rights to request it. If Infratil were shrewd, they would forestall the issue by taking advice from the relevant aviation and environmental bodies and installing top notch monitoring systems. It wouldn’t be hard for them to present it as evidence of a green conscience, willingness to be a good neighbour, etc. It could win them friends. Everyone needs friends.