Gatwick act on noise in a HUGE Airport Consultation week!
Tuesday I spent at Gatwick’s Noise Management Board Public Meeting in a week that sees two massive aviation consultations launched – see here & here – but it’s all about Heathrow’s 3rd runway being the Government’s preferred option for SE expansion and a complementary UK airspace policy review, with a special focus on noise and environmental impact.
Having spent a couple of years mentoring a business that specialised in managing airport noise, I have some knowledge and interest in the area (as well as being a local resident myself under one of the LGW flightpaths!), and LGW have initiated a new Noise Management Board (NMB) to try and boost stakeholder input and create workable solutions to reduce and mitigate the impact of noise on local residents and wider parties. This meeting was to present the progress made so far in implementing recommendations from a 2015 review of Arrivals, but primary areas identified for action were modifying an Airbus A320 wing fault that caused a whine, continuous descent (CDA) arrivals and minimum instrument led final approach distance reductions.
An independent chair, Bo Redeborn, led the meeting of more than 150 people, supported by expert speakers from NATS and CAA, plus LGW executives, of course. The overriding feel of the meeting prior to the open forum hour of questions at the end was that of a technical response within a very constrained set of options available. I fully understand that, as the busiest single runway airport in the world, LGW on my doorstep has many advantages but offers the risk of occasional aircraft noise. Probably not enough was said through the formal sessions about the limitations for action options, or the need to act to keep the airport profitable! There were some good informative sessions though, learning that there were around 13,000 night flights a year for example, and that there was a LGW flight tracking and complaints system, CASPER, where you could enter an online complaint about noise.
Following the formal sessions, Bo opened the meeting to the floor for questions. Despite a couple of speakers praising LGW for undertaking this initiative, many of the audience’s questions, put very ably and clearly well researched by smart people with time to spare, related to predictable complaints about ‘my village’ and ‘my house’ with little appreciation of any wider issues, or indeed the reality that they moved to the area fully aware of a large airport close by. I actually sat next to a parish council representative and had ‘disgusted of Tunbridge Wells’ the other side!
My overall view was that LGW have made a promising start, despite their disappointment of missing out on the extra runway, of engaging with their local community in a very specific way on their environmental concerns. They have promised further actions as already scheduled and as part of this meeting’s summary I shall be keeping an eye on all of the airport consultations in addition to this initiative and will report back on a regular basis. For now the lessons for us here are:
- Get out there and engage your community – especially when you have an excellent fresh opportunity with a new initiative like this
- For public meetings, try not to be too technical – here there were often great facts hidden behind airport industry technical stuff – and interpreted into lay terms at every opportunity
- Pre-empt complainers with diffusing statements and data that limits their negative impact – Bo did a good job of chairing here and that’s another lesson
- Have a knowledgeable professional chair for every meeting – audience management is a huge skill and it makes a meeting MUCH more effective
- Issue supporting documentation – there was an excellent handout of recommendation actions taken, and make sure meeting commitments are followed up and communicated – LGW have a good website presence for all these issues