From aviation and on the eve of the general election, a clear example of corporate power- the sly force perhaps behind most of the problems people experience in Britain today. It has emerged that the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) under the Chairmanship of Dame Deirdre Hutton, Google defined ‘Queen of Quangos’, allowed Gatwick Airport to reduce its flight safety standards. At the same time, the CAA maintained that the changes to flightpaths were actually in the cause of safety improvements, which is in fact the opposite of the truth. It is often the case that large organisations, including Governments, name a process or policy by the opposite of its primary effect with the sole purpose of confusing and misleading the general public.
The CAA is yet another formerly public body that was part privatised. It was set up with a remit to protect the public but now simply operates as part of the aviation industry PR machine.
When Gatwick Airport Ltd proposed its ‘stabilisation trials’ (otherwise known as ACD55 trials), the CAA together with NATS where told to ‘revise’ the vectoring choices for flight paths: and they did, without question, without any public consultation taking place. To the east of Gatwick Airport this means Gatwick’s planes now routinely fly straight over the more heavily populated area of central Tunbridge Wells. The reason given for this change was to reduce the number of ‘fly-arounds’ for the airport. When planes are made to stay in the air longer, circling downwards in a stack, it’s a known safety issue that can lead to unstable approach patterns for planes. However, suspicions about this stated reason behind flight path changes were fuelled when Gatwick Airport Ltd consistently refused to reveal historic information showing the proportion of fly arounds due to the runway not being clear versus those due to unstable approaches.
Now there is incontrovertible proof of something long suspected – the proportion of fly arounds at Gatwick Airport actually increased to 0.39% from an eleven year average of 0.34% as a result of the ‘stabilisation trials’; the vast majority of these unstable landings are because the runway has not been clear. Gatwick is a busy airport but it has not yet reached capacity. Simply put, Gatwick wanted these flight changes so that they could increase the number of plane landings during the more lucrative landing slots – more planes per hour at certain times of day – to increase company profits. So once again the ‘stabilisation trials’, unlike the name of them suggests, were a process whereby Gatwick Airport could achieve more unstable planes, not less.
Gatwick Airport Ltd is owned by a hedge fund and pays no Corporation Tax in Britain. Its CEO, Mr Stuart Wingate, recently sent an open letter to resident associations and councils around Gatwick Airport explaining that the changes in the flight paths are in respect of Government policy.
I believe him.
(For more information on this issue please go to http://www.gatwickobviouslynot.org/ )