May 2020 

Thanks to a 90% reduction in flights from Luton, and a predominance of Easterly winds, our skies have been beautifully quiet in recent weeks. The pandemic is not the way we would have chosen to have arrived at this situation. We are all experiencing an element of pain in the restrictions placed upon us, either from the anxiety of not seeing our loved ones, right through the stress of uncertainty and illness to the loss of somebody close. What follows is intended as an update on recent events. We acknowledge that for many, aircraft noise is no longer a top priority.  

The Post Implementation Review 

The disappointment of the PIR remains an open wound. It is so disappointing that all of comments made by STAQS members, our local politicians, our local MPs, other campaign groups were dismissed without consideration. The complaints apparently were “as expected” – although what those expectations were was never explained. Before the airspace change was approved for use in 2015, the Environmental Report into potential impacts noted that the concentrated flight path flew directly over Sandridge village. They specified that noise monitoring should be conducted after implementation to determine if the impact of the airspace change was “perceivable”. The noise monitoring was conducted in 2017, and relied on average LASmax noise levels for specific aircraft types. These values were then compared with noise measurements taken in 2014. The data offered for 2014 is clearly incomplete – none of the lower noise levels (from aircraft that would have been dispersed from the track centre line) were included, resulting in a higher than expected average noise level. The truncated histogram is clear for all to see – it is hard to believe that the so-called experts at the CAA did not question its validity. But, even if the noise results for 2014 had been complete, a comparison of two sets of “average” noise levels cannot be used to make a statement about noise levels at a location, since they do not take into account the number of aircraft producing that noise level on a daily basis. The number would be the same regardless of whether one plane per day flew the route, or 150. Somehow, the CAA believes they can use an inappropriate noise metric, and an incomplete set of noise measurement data provided by the airport, and state that noise levels in Sandridge did not increase as a result of the airspace change. This despite claiming success in concentrating flights along the track, and acknowledging that average altitudes had reduced. The CAA dismisses our genuine comments on the consequences of the change – and treats us like idiots. 


Planning applications before LBC to amend “Condition 10” and permit an additional 1 million passengers per annum  

At the turn of the year, these were high on the agenda – today they take a low priority, as neither will be breached this year, courtesy of COVID 19 and the resultant collapse in flight numbers. Both applications are still in the pipeline, and there has been some new supporting documentation submitted by LLAOL explaining how they will ensure future compliance with the amended noise contours. It includes some carefully selected figures for the noise reductions on offer from the NEOs and new engines on Boeing aircraft. Highly questionable – as with careful selection it is also possible to show that the newer aircraft offer no noise reductions at all! In addition, it is unlikely that Airlines will be hurrying to buy new planes in the near future as they seek to recover funds. Collapse of revenue for Luton Borough Council With flight numbers plummeting, income for the airport has collapsed – and with it so will dividends to LBC. The aviation industry is cyclical in nature – the wisdom of investing so heavily in the airport has been questioned many times. Now the “all or nothing“ approach has caught them out and left a gaping hole in the budget. LBC has request £50 million from the government, so it looks as though the taxpayer may well be bailing them out. However, it’s worth pointing out that LBC does own the airport outright – valued at about £500 million, pre coronavirus – and also owns land and property around the airport, which could be sold to raise funds to maintain council services. We understand that they intend to submit an emergency budget in July – it remains to be seen where their priorities lie.  

Postponement of the Development Consent Order application to the Planning Inspectorate  

The previously published timescale was to submit the final DCO application to the planning inspectorate in June of this year. Unofficially, we knew that the programme had slipped and that September, or even early 2021 was more probable. The LLAL website now contains a statement that the application has been postponed – with no new date given. We are keeping an eye on this. 

And finally – a commentary on the aviation industry STAQS was formed as a consequence of the increased levels of aircraft noise blighting our district, and that remains our reason for being. We take no pleasure from the plight our airlines, and airports, and particularly their employees find themselves in at this time. We have enjoyed a period of blissfully quiet skies – but the price is not one we would have chosen. We extend our sincerest sympathies to all those that have suffered loss – and extend our thanks to those in our NHS and caring services that are working so hard at personal risk to look after us.  

However, following aviation news closely as we do, a number of points are noteworthy.  

For some unknown reason, our government has made available a £300 million loan to Wizz Air – a Hungarian airline, and one of the most financially secure in Europe – at just 0.6% interest. It was reported that Wizz were already so cash rich they could survive an aviation shutdown of 21 months duration without needing to fly. And how do they repay this generosity? By aiding the breaking of the lockdown. In an interview with the BBC, Wizz CEO Mr Jozsef Váradi suggested that some people are now flying to visit relatives, to their second homes or because "they just want to break out of the current lockdown". There can be no dispute that aviation spread COVID 19 around the world at breakneck speed. The SARS pandemic of 2003 caused fewer than 1,000 deaths, and was arrested in time to permit the contact tracing approach to contain the virus. A World Health Organisation report into the pandemic in 2004 highlighted the role aviation played in spreading the virus around the world, and concluded travel restrictions would need to be quickly enforced if future virus outbreaks were to be contained. Unfortunately, we didn’t learn from this warning from history. Even into March 2020 the International Civil Aviation Organisation were lobbying governments around the world not to impose restrictions on air travel. At the time of writing, the UK remains the only country in the world not to have either a travel ban, health checks on arriving passengers, or mandatory quarantine periods. These things would be hugely unpopular with the airline bosses – but if it enables us to eradicate the virus sooner, and get our economy moving again with a safe return to work, school, opening our pubs and restaurants and seeing our loved ones again – surely these things are more important?

February 2020 - update

Post Implementation Review (PIR) into the RNAV Airspace Change

The Civil Aviation Authority has finally published their Post Implementation Review into the airspace change made in September 2015, which concentrated Luton aircraft departing for destinations to the East.

The CAA website summarises the report with the following:

Post implementation review conclusion

The CAA has completed the Post Implementation Review (PIR). The CAA concludes that following the implementation and operation of the RNAV-1 SIDs via Brookmans Park and a review of the PIR data by the CAA, the impacts of the change are as expected, and as portrayed in the CAA decision of 13 August 2015. The CAA has, however, noted that some radar vectoring is occurring before the St Albans to Harpenden railway line. As a result of this review, the CAA has made two recommendations to the sponsor which are detailed in the report.

In respect of the change proposal to introduce Runway 26 RNAV-1 SIDs via Brookmans Park, the CAA confirms that no modification of the RNAV-1 departure designs is required by LLAOL.

Upon publication of the PIR report (CAP1882), the process in respect of this change is concluded and the change is confirmed.

The full report can be downloaded from the CAA's website by clicking here.

For those on the extreme edges of the route centre line, the references to reducing vectoring of aircraft before the railway line may provide some comfort. However, for those under or adjacent to the nominal track this would cause even greater concentrations.

For many of us who have invested so much time trying to convince the airport and the CAA that this airspace change is adversely affecting our everyday lives, this comes as a bitter blow. It is particularly upsetting to read that the complaints from individuals detailing the impact on their health and quality of life were “entirely as anticipated”.  Many references are made to the increase in aircraft movements caused by the expansion of the airport, for which the CAA is not responsible. The report was published this morning, and we all need a short period to evaluate the implications of this decision, and what options, if any, we have for the future.

During the year

We met with
  • 2 of the 3 Under Secretaries of State for Aviation that have held that post
  • Officials from the Department for Transport
  • Our then MPs, Anne Main and Bim Afolami
  • St Albans District Council
  • Other campaign groups
We also had an opportunity to make a presentation to the new Independent Commissioner on Civil Aviation Noise (ICCAN).

We have lobbied Hertfordshire County Council to make them aware of the environmental damage LLA is doing to our county.

Responded to consultations on the Heathrow third runway proposals
Made objections to LLAOLs ongoing application to LBC for a variation to Condition 10 of their planning permission.

Attended meetings of the London Luton Airport Consultative Committee (LLACC) to argue our case that this district is being unfairly exploited in pursuit of profit for LBC.


Despite this busy calendar

There are serious issues remaining that require vigilance to defend our tranquillity – and health and sanity – into the future.

The third runway threatens 50% more flights in and out of Heathrow. Where will they fly and at what altitude?

All routes in and out of all airports are being reviewed and converted to PBN routes. Our experience of PBN has been a disaster. Although this process isn’t scheduled to be completed until 2024, it has already begun: We have to remain involved to represent our locality.

The breaching of planning “Condition 10” and LLAOLs application to increase the noise limits remains ongoing. This is fundamental to our grievance – if Luton Borough Council had not pursued such aggressive growth from the airport operator, its own planning conditions would not have been broken!

There are short terms plans to increase capacity beyond the 18 million passenger limit that was supposed to exist until 2028, and push millions more passengers through the existing terminal, annually.

The Development Consent Order application, to build a second terminal and increase flights to increase passengers numbers to 32 million (and beyond if LBC have their way) is a major threat to this area, as over 50% of Luton departures fly over our district towards central and northern Europe.

Our request to you

Our officers and committee members freely give their time and incur personal expense to represent our cause. There are however, other expenses that contribute to our effectiveness.

Maintaining a website, printing of leaflets, and most predominantly, procuring legal advice on presenting argument, costs money. We have to date reduced the cost of legal advice and representation by sharing costs with other campaign groups – but it remains a significant expense.

Therefore please renew your subscription and help our cause for a further year.

The basic annual subscription that we ask is £10 per member, but everybody’s circumstances are different. If you are able to contribute a greater amount, it will be used prudently and your donation will be acknowledged.

Please renew your membership

  • you can make your subscription renewal / donation by making a payment via the PayPal account on the subscriptions page.
  • or
a bank transfer to St. Albans Quieter Skies
Sort Code 23-05-80
Account Number 24239955

Thank you for your support.

P.S. If you have neighbours, friends or family who share your concerns for our environment, please share this page with them and encourage them to look at our website, join our Facebook group, and hopefully Join STAQS.

Luton Airport Operators Application for a variation to “Condition 10”

The Operators at Luton Airport (LLAOL) were granted planning permission by Luton Borough Council (LBC) in 2013 for an expansion programme to accommodate 18 million passengers per year in 2028. This permission was granted with a whole raft of conditions, some of which related to noise, and one in particular limiting the maximum “average” noise during a 16 hour day, or an 8 hour night. This condition – via a confusing saga of renumbering as other conditions have been amended – is now known as “Condition 10”.

In the summer of 2017 the maximum permitted area of the night noise contour was exceeded – there were too many noisy night flights, and the airport operators were obliged to introduce a number of measures to reduce the number of aircraft movements during the night period, 2300 – 0700. Some of these restrictions were extremely unwelcome to the Business Jet operators, who seek 24 hour operations, arriving and departing as and when clients require.

The measures proved to be inadequate, and the night noise contour was again exceeded in the summer of 2018.The airport operator has blamed this breach on the late arrival of aircraft scheduled to arrive in the day time period, but delayed. What they fail to say is that they operated exactly at their daytime noise limit during the summer of 2018, and so if those flights had not been delayed in the numbers that they were, the airport would have been in breach of the daytime noise contour limit as well.

In the spring of 2019 the airport operator (LLAOL) submitted an application to its owners, Luton Borough Council, for a “variation” to condition 10, to last for 5 years. (By which time they hope to have more, quieter, jets – and in any event there might be a whole new suite of conditions in place by then, covering expansion to 32M passengers per annum)

“This application now seeks to formalise a position whereby breaches are effectively permitted for a number of years” –are the words used by Luton Borough Councils own independent noise consultants – Cole Jarman – to summarise their assessment of the application for the variation in May 2019.

The application to vary the planning condition – the purpose of which was to “protect residential amenity” will be open for public comment on Luton Borough Councils planning portal until 12th September 2019.

STAQS believes that the breach of the noise control condition can be attributed entirely to the mismanagement of the connection between noise from the current generation of aircraft, and the growth in the number of available flights. Why should residents on the ground be subjected to increased noise levels caused by mismanagement of airport growth? STAQS is strongly opposed to the granting of any variation to the original planning condition.

Are you affected by noise from planes using Luton Airport?

Did you know that Luton Airport has recently revised its flight path, and many people's houses sit close by or underneath?

Did you know that Luton Airport is in the midst of an aggressive expansion campaign – with a 50% increase in the number of flights anticipated by 2020?

Why the sudden increase in aeroplane noise?

In late 2015, Luton Airport launched a revised flight path utilising RNAV technology. RNAV enables the departing aeroplanes to track a much narrower band, which is directly above parts of North St Albans, Jersey Farm and Sandridge.

Previously, such areas were subjected to occasional aircraft noise, however, since the implementation of RNAV and the growth of Luton airport, noise in these areas has, and will, become part of daily life.

The prevailing Westerly wind means that aircraft fly this revised route approximately 75-85% of the time. When the wind is in the other direction, however, you may notice fewer flights. .

Living under a flightpath

The implications of living under a flight path are well documented and can be life-changing:

  • Stress and mental issues caused by the noise
  • Increased risk of cardiovascular disease (as reported by the British Medical Journal)
  • Respiratory and other illnesses due to increased exposure to air pollution
  • Depreciation in the value of your home .

Who we are

St Albans Quieter Skies – STAQS – is a group of residents concerned about noise pollution from aircraft that use the corridor between St.Albans and Harpenden. Most of these aircraft are departing London Luton Airport, taking off into the prevailing westerly winds but then turning back en route to destinations in northern and eastern Europe. The group was formed following a public meeting in September 2016, following months of unprecedented noise across the area throughout the summer.

Very few of us had any prior knowledge of aircraft routes and operational procedures. It has been a steep learning curve, but we discovered how the sudden increase in air traffic was the consequence of two significant factors.

The first of these was the introduction by Luton Airport of changes to the departure route. This required aircraft to use a GPS based technology called RNAV to fly the aircraft more precisely than ever before along a theoretical “motorway in the sky” towards a navigational beacon near Brookmans Park.

Previously, pilots had flown this route in the traditional way which introduced a degree of variability in the tracks flown, RNAV lets a computer fly the plane, and so the track keeping is more precise but more annoying to those on the ground.

Coupled with this change, Luton Airport has been achieving unprecedented growth. Plans originally approved in 2013 to grow the airport towards 18 million passengers per year in 2028 were in full swing and the airport has continued to experience annual growth of between 10% and 20%. While this is a major boost for the revenue of the Airport and consequently its owners, Luton Borough Council, it has almost all been achieved by increased flights along the routes to central and eastern Europe, which, for the 70% of the time when the wind blows from the west, requires them to fly this route.

Traffic has increased by 75% since 2013 – the planes have got larger to accommodate more passengers, which means they have got louder, and the average altitude has got lower.

Many residents over flown in this corridor now feel that they are carrying an unreasonable proportion of the noise being generated by flights from the airport. Luton Airport operates 24 hours a day, and has a considerable number of night flights carrying passengers and cargo.

We are very proud of the fact that we have as members elected representatives from all three main political parties working together for the benefit of the community. We understand that the management of a congested airspace is complex, especially when safety has to be the number one priority. However, the noise burden now being borne by the residents over flown is unreasonable, and we seek to work with our political representatives, airspace regulators, and the airport operators in order to secure a more equitable solution.

Stay informed – join STAQS

Sign up to STAQS!  St Albans Quieter Skies (STAQS) is a campaign group representing residents of Sandridge, Jersey Farm, Marshalswick, North St Albans and Wheathampstead.

Chaired by Sharon Hollingsworth, the group has held a number of recent meetings researching why the area has become so badly affected by the issue, and exploring options that might provide some relief in the future.

STAQS was recently accepted as a member of the London Luton Airport Consultative Committee (LLACC) and is seeking input from local residents.

If you are affected by the noise you are invited to join STAQS:

Please ensure you share this information with your neighbours. Failing to act now could see St Albans blighted by aeroplane noise and pollution for years to come. Remember, if you are disturbed by a noisy plane, complain! .