Edinburgh Airport chief gets grilled over flight paths

Edinburgh Airport's chief executive faced down a hostile crowd on Tuesday at a packed public meeting on controversial flight paths.

Friday, 9th September 2016, 7:00 am
Updated Monday, 12th September 2016, 5:51 pm
Edinburgh Airport chief executive Gordon Dewar. Picture: Alan Murray

Residents from Linlithgow, Bo’ness and surrounding villages such as Blackness joined MSPs and councillors in the Burgh Halls to fire questions at the airport’s Gordon Dewar.

The meeting, chaired by Lothians MSP Neil Findlay, was called by Edinburgh Airport Watch (EAW) which is campaigning against the increased number of flights over communities on different paths that is causing excessive noise pollution over communities.

The noise issue came to light during the airport’s TUTOR flight path trial which it was forced to abandon following complaints.

Edinburgh Airport Watch campaigner Helen Paul. Picture: Alan Murray

Mr Dewar assured the audience there were no new proposals on the table to change flight paths at the moment and that any plans for change would only be forthcoming at the conclusion of its Letsgofurther public consultation on Airspace Change Programme (ACP).

Mr Dewar said: “This is about growth and changing airspace and finding out what people value. Noise is obviously a big issue, but the change is being driven modernisation and additional capacity. The airspace and technology we have was designed in the 1970s and needs modernised.

“We have apologised for TUTOR and I assure you that when we propose a change we will be absolutely front and centre about it.”

EAW called on bosses to abandon changes in flight paths and its “discredited” Letsgofurther public consultation.

Edinburgh Airport Watch campaigner Helen Paul. Picture: Alan Murray

The call came in the wake of Tuesday’s meeting and after the airport was forced to announce it had lost five per cent of the responses it received for the consultation.

Edinburgh Airport say the loss of 199 pieces of data was due to their website losing online submissions to the consultation between 10.31am on Monday, August 29 and 12.05pm on Friday, September 2 throughout a planned upgrade of the site.

Bosses are making a public to people who submitted views online between this time to re-submit them.

Of the 199, 21 e-mail addresses were captured and the airport will be contacting them directly to explain the situation.

Gordon Robertson, Edinburgh Airport’s director of communications, said: “Although this is a relatively small number of responses in the context of the overall number of submissions, we are committed to ensuring that all who want to comment on our plans can.

“Despite this 21 e-mail addresses were captured and the airport has this morning responded to them directly to explain the situation and request they resubmit.

“To that end we are asking anyone whose response may therefore not be visible to us to resubmit their views via the website.

“We will extend the consultation by one week with the finish date now being Monday, September 19 and we will be contacting all stakeholders to inform them of this extension.

“We apologise wholeheartedly for this and believe that this extension offers sufficient time for people to resubmit their input.”

Residents say many additional flights over their communities remain in place, which chief executive Gordon Dewar put down to changes in wind direction meaning planes have to take off from other runways, diverting over Fife and coming back over the likes of Blackness and Linlithgow.

A spokesman for EAW said: “We call on the airport to reverse the changes already made to the airspace that are causing so much daily suffering to people across East Central Scotland from Kinghorn to Culross, Blackness to Dechmont and beyond.

“These people did not buy their homes in the expectation they would wake up one day to find themselves living under a busy flight path.

“The airport should scrap their unnecessary and discredited Letsgofurther Flight Path consultation process, that cannot now have any validity following their admission of having “lost” five per cent of the responses given so far.”

Lothians Green MSP Andy Wightman was one of many who believe the airport to cut flights, mainly domestic ones, and become part of a national transport plan that makes other forms of transport cheaper and more attractive.

MSP Neil Findlay claimed the airport’s owners, US-based hedge fund Global Infrastructure Partners, do not share the interests of local communities.

He said: “I have been convinced from day one that the company that owns the airport, which is a massive global company, is fattening up their asset for sale. They don’t hold assets for long and I am convinced that this is part of their plan here.”

Mr Dewar told the meeting the company was committed to the airport’s growth and was four years into 12-year deal.

To register a view on the impact of altering flights above Edinburgh and the surrounding areas in the public consultation, click here.

So what has changed?

When asked to explain what had changed with current flight paths from Edinburgh Airport, Gordon Dewar said: “TUTOR (trial flight path) came and went. Before TUTOR the airspace design has not changed one iota.

“But because it is so loosely defined, how you fly within it and change in its pattern and its impact. For example, the direction to go on GRICE (another flight path), which is the direction north of runway 24, is to fly to 4000ft and turn right.

“It depends on wind speed, pilots and on board computers as to when planes get to 4000ft, so they turn right over about a two-mile swathe, so if you are in Uphall it might hit you one day and it might not the next day.

“What really impacted this year is GOSAM (flight path). About 60 per cent of our flights are on GOSAM but a large percentage compared to last year are flying of the 06 runway because of easterly winds that means they ???? to go immediately again and back over Blackness and Linlithgow at about 10,000 or 11,000ft.

“So these haven’t just come off the runway, they’ve went all the way to Fife and come back again and head down towards Prestwick. That’s what’s changed because they used to go across Livingston and carry on south from runway 24 but if they are coming off runway 06, they have to go left and come back again after take-off.

“This is as well as the fact we have bigger aircrafts, different times of day and more easterly winds. It’s a safety matter, planes need to take off into the wind as it gives you more stability and lift.”