Views sought on Gatwick and London 'airspace motorway'

Aircraft taking off at Gatwick Airport NATS and Gatwick say the changes will cut fuel emissions and reduce noise for many people

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Residents near Gatwick and London City airports are being asked to comment on changes to the way planes are managed in the skies above the South East.

The National Air Traffic Control Service (NATS) wants to create an airspace network with planes flying on specific routes, similar to a motorway.

It said the changes were needed to ensure safety levels and the new system would mean less noise for most people.

But people under new flight-paths could experience more air traffic.

NATS said the changes would reduce the amount of stacking - where aircraft circle while they wait for a landing slot - that took place, put more routes over the sea and cut CO2 emissions.

Planes would climb higher on take-off and fly at a greater altitude for longer during landing.

Analysis

Passenger aircraft now use very accurate navigation technology, which mean they don't have to fly over ground based beacons.

New European legislation requires the UK to maximise this technology to make better use of the air space above the South East and the plans for this "motorway network" are their response to that.

The bottom line is that aircraft will fly in and out of Gatwick on much narrower routes, and as a result some people will see more planes above their homes and businesses.

NATS and Gatwick insist the consultation is not linked to any possible second runway at Gatwick but both acknowledge any new system would have to cope with predicted increases in air traffic.

'Noise footprint'

Juliet Kennedy, operations director at NATS' Swanwick headquarters in Hampshire, said: "The whole of the South East of England, pretty much, is already over flown by aircraft.

"What we're trying to do is to work out the best possible route structure which suits everybody, works best for the people who are living underneath the areas where the aircraft fly but also for the airlines who are flying them and enables us to meet the demands that are placed on us by all the people who want to fly."

She added: "The airspace above London is the most complex in the world and, as traffic levels increase, change is necessary to ensure safety and service levels."

Jane Vogt, former chair of Dormansland Parish Council in Surrey, said: "There's a certain amount of concentration of aircraft already and that in itself raises several questions, the impact on health, the moral issue and the environmental impact.

Graphic showing air traffic to and from airports in the South East The airspace above London and the South East is the most complex in the world, according to NATS

"We are surrounded here by an area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB), to the south of the area is the South Downs. There is already visual impact from aviation and also noise and a lot of businesses within the AONB rely on tranquillity for their business."

Gatwick Airport said it was considering a scheme called "rotating respite", which would see flight-path routes switched on and off.

Tom Denton, head of corporate responsibility at the airport, added: "This project gives us an opportunity to further reduce the number of people affected by noise, as well as focus on further reducing CO2 emissions and air quality impacts.

"Therefore this is an important time for local people and those who live within our flight paths, who now have a once in a lifetime opportunity to give their feedback and influence the future of our airspace."

The consultation on the plans for airspace routes to and from Gatwick and London City airports runs from Tuesday until 21 January 2014.

Proposals for Heathrow Airport and other London airports will then follow.

The proposals from the National Air Traffic Service would change the way hundreds of thousands of planes are managed above the South East

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