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Protests at London City Airport plans for expansion

London City Airport wants to increase the number of hours it flies. A Public Inquiry into the proposals is currently taking place. It is expected to conclude this month. It follows the refusal of Newham Council, the planning authority, to grant the airport permission to increase its hours.


The airport’s proposals may seem like small beer compared with, say, any plans for a third runway at Heathrow. But they have aroused widespread community opposition and well as objections from as many as eight local authorities.


At the heart of the objections is this proposal: London City wants permission to remove the weekend break that gives residents a break from the noise. Currently no planes are permitted between 12.30pm on Saturday and 12.30pm on Sunday. Residents see this as part of the deal of having an airport so close to where they live and one which overflies some of the most densely-populated areas in the UK.


London City wants planes to be able to use the airport until 7.30pm on Saturday evenings. Residents feel betrayed. Many of the local authorities feel cheated.  The fact the airport says it will only allow new, ‘quieter’ planes to operate during these extended hours has done little to quell the anger. Particularly when it has been revealed that these new planes will only be noticeably quieter in areas close to the airport, and only on departure. For everybody else overflown, the reduction in noise will be just 2-3 decibels, imperceptible to the human ear.


The reason why London City is pressing for the extended hours is that it wants to increase the number of leisure passengers using the airport. It has traditionally been a business airport serving the financial centres of Europe but, post-Covid, business passengers have been slower to return than leisure passengers. It believes, with its proximity to the City and the West End, it can attract ‘high-value’ leisure passengers. It sees extended flying hours on Saturday as a critical component of that.


Over the last twenty years or so the spotlight has been on Heathrow and its plans for a third runway. Now those are in abeyance, the focus has shifted to London City, perhaps traditionally seen as the little cousin tucked away in Docklands. So, the scale of the opposition to its plans has probably taken many by surprise.


A lot of this opposition is coming from people living many miles from the airport. There are three key reasons for this. First, being a London airport, City planes disturb a lot of people, more than much larger airports such as Madrid or Brussels. Second, City planes are low as they need to fly below Heathrow airspace. This means in some places over 15 miles from the airport they are under 2,000ft. And third, in 2016 London City concentrated its flights paths so the same communities get all the planes. Complaints jumped five-fold within a year. It is those people who form the backbone of its opposition to the current plans. How the airport must regret concentrating its flight paths!


John Stewart

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