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Tuesday, 30 July, 2002, 14:06 GMT 15:06 UK
Your Beat the Systems queries
John Stewart is chairman of Heathrow Association for the Control of Aircraft Noise (Hacan) ClearSkies

The report on John Stewart's campaign against Heathrow night-flights prompted a huge response - here he answers a selection of your views.

Ray Howell, UK, says: Misdirected energy! Far greater of an intrusion in all our lives are the lorries, buses, hooters and worst of all, the motorbikes with their 'detuned' silencers that are so noisy you just feel shocked as they roar past. London is not a city where you go for peace and quiet!

John Stewart replies: Ray, noise is an odd pollutant. People respond to different noises in different ways.

For some people, as you say, lorries or motorbikes are the real problem. For others it is loud music. For our members it is the drone of the aircraft.

It might interest you that we have become founder members of the UK Noise Association which includes campaigns against the sort of noises you identified.

And you can get peace and quiet in London! Many people, even in inner and central London, have peaceful back gardens.

Roland Depper, UK:I live within five miles of East Midlands airport which, until 2000, was a reasonably quiet airport dealing with European business and holiday flights.

Since then a massive DHL facility has been built and the runway has been extended to the extent that our quiet rural peace is now shattered at all hours of the day and night by 747 cargo planes.

I take sleeping pills when I have an early meeting so as to get a good night's sleep but I am beginning to question the wisdom of this as I'm sure long term usage cannot be good for me.

The owners of the airport, who also own Manchester Airport as well, are supposed to compensate us for our loss in house value but to date have ignored the letters of our solicitors. What can we do to either speed up the compensation process or, even better, get them to stop the nightly 747 convoys?

John Stewart says: Roland, there is a local residents' campaign in your area. Worth trying to contact them. Ring 0207 248 2223 and ask for their details.

If the owners of the airport continue to stall, I would try embarrassing them into action by talking to the local press. You have a good story to tell.

Nic Fordham, UK: As a resident of Sipson, whose house will disappear under the 3rd runway if it is approved, I would like pressure groups such as Mr Stewart's to stop their protests.

Due to the proposal of a new runway I can now not move from my house as no-one will want to buy it.

If protests and public inquiries are stretched out, then I will be stuck in my house until the situation is resolved and I would rather know as soon as possible if I am to lose my house or I will regain the possibility to sell it.

As far as I can see the protests will have little affect (T5 is still going ahead) and if a new runway is going to enhance the local and national economy of the area then it should go ahead - progress for the many should not be disrupted by the few.

John Stewart says: Nic, clearly we don't want to make the situation any worse than it is for residents around airports and under the flight path.

But your local residents' association doesn't share your pessimism. They work closely with us and, indeed, are members of Hacan ClearSkies.

We feel that, working together, we can defeat the third runway proposals.

Terminal 5 was lost, but we feel we did get out of the inquiry a cap on the number of flights at Heathrow. I don't agree with you that a third runway at Heathrow is necessary for the economy.

The economy of West London is already overheating.

Kev, UK: You live in London, it's noisy and busy. That's why I don't live in London!! There are jobs in other parts of the country. Much much more should be done to make the engines quieter - it's the older jets that are the problem.

John Stewart says: Kev, I like the day-to-day sounds of a city, but not the constant drone of aircraft overhead.

Are you really saying that myself, and many like me, should be driven out by the aircraft noise? You are spot on when you say that much, much more should be done to make aircraft quieter.

Unfortunately, the aviation industry is resisting this. I think they will only develop the technology needed for quieter planes if they are put under pressure from governments. And governments will only act if they feel under pressure from the likes of us!

Jim Cooper, England: Buy a house next to an airport and then complain about aircraft noise...duh!!!! Unless you bought your house prior to the second world war (when almost all airfields were built), you have no more to moan about than me complaining about the noise from increased road traffic including Mr Stewart's noisy truck.

John Stewart says: Jim, I don't think read the interview too carefully. The area where I rented my flat was not next to an airport. In fact, it was about 15 miles from Heathrow.

When I moved into the area over 20 years ago, aircraft noise was not a problem. What happened was that, to cater for the big increase in the number of planes using the airport, the government extended the flight paths without any consultation with local people or the local authorities.

The aircraft noise came to me; I did not move to the aircraft noise. And, Jim, I don't have a truck!

Ian Pittock, England: This is not just a London thing. We live near Wokingham in Berkshire, about 15 miles WSW of Heathrow.

The flight path seems to have been changed since we moved here as we get noisy, low flying jets over us, some of these wake us in the morning.

This is not something I would have expected so far out from Heathrow. These planes should be gaining height more quickly than this.

John Stewart says: Ian, you are quite right. What happened in London also happened in Berkshire.

Over the last few years planes are flying lower and further out. A few years ago the government extended the flight paths to cater for the big increase in the number of planes using Heathrow.

There are many airports built at considerable distance from cities, like Washington DC, no aircraft noise over Georgetown! But the US doesn't have the population density that we have in Europe.

Wherever you put an airport in the UK it's going to disturb someone, especially in the over-populated south east.

Richard Blackwell, UK: Solutions, more smaller airports, at larger distances from cities? Do we need more planes, demand suggests we do.

How about a tax rebate for all people that have aircraft noise over 75 dB, funded by the airlines responsible?

John Stewart says: Richard, you raise a number of interesting points. Population density is a problem in the UK. Smaller airports is maybe a feasible way forward.

Difficult to say if we need a lot more expansion as demand is being artificially stimulated right now.

Fares are as cheap as they are because the annual subsidy to the aviation industry in the UK is put at 7bn a year. This comes from the fact that there is no tax on aviation fuel, there is no VAT on airport tickets or the purchase of new planes and the industry does not cover the costs of the noise and air pollution it causes.

Your idea of a tax rebate is one I know the government has thought about. Speaking personally, it wouldn't help as the extra money wouldn't compensate me for the way that aircraft noise has come to dominate my life.

Hugo, England: Why not play the noise of the aircraft outside MPs homes? Give them a taste of what it's like.

John Stewart says: Hugo, I like the idea! Part of the problem is that many MPs really just don't know how much of a very real problem aircraft noise can be.

Simon Dell, UK I live in Salford Greater Manchester some 12 miles from the airport. While the aircraft noise is not intrusive it can be annoying, especially with older aircraft.

It seems that while people want modern transport and a booming economy, we are not able to deal with the consequences of our basic wants and wishes.

Many people live in the flight paths and air lanes and suffer terribly, but many also tolerate it and actually block it out.

It's not easy to judge on this one. I guess that somehow Heathrow should be moved - it won't be but that's the answer.

And as with most of the UK these days, we are realising that decisions made many tens of years ago were short-sighted and ignorant - a basic flaw in our thinking as a nation.

Good luck to Hacan, although he is not going to win.

John Stewart says: Simon, thanks for your good wishes! I hope, though, I'm not as pessimistic as you about our chance of winning something!

You outline the dilemmas very well: short term decision-making and the difficulty of balancing people's desire to fly and have a strong economy with the terrible downside for other people.

With the big increase in the number of people flying in recent years, the downsides are becoming more marked.

But change can happen. If you look back over history change can happen. A hundred years ago women didn't have the vote and we had just stopped sending small boys up chimneys.

David Taylor, Switzerland: I am puzzled why Mr Stewart, as a land-based transport adviser, singles out air transport for his anti-noise campaign. There are thousands of people who live near busy motorways, other roads and railway lines.

Last summer I had the misfortune to live adjacent to a railway line, and the trains, especially the noisy heavy goods trains, continued through the night, not just from 5.30am.

Spare a thought also for night shift workers who must endure noise throughout their rest period.

John Stewart says: David, I also campaign on other noise issues. Hacan ClearSkies was a founder member of the recently-formed UK Noise Association. I recently wrote a report for them on traffic noise.

You are right to pinpoint the particular plight of night workers who are required to sleep through daylight hours which can be very noisy. That is one of the reasons why I believe campaigns for an over all reduction in noise levels, from whatever source, are required.

D M Stirling, UK: John Stewart is talking absolute nonsense. The approach to Heathrow has passed over Clapham since the airport opened in 1946! I have flown into Heathrow many times over the last 30 years and have often looked down on Clapham Junction station.

How can he claim he had not heard any aircraft before 1996?

John Stewart says: Mr Stirling, I should have made clearer that I live over a mile east of Clapham Junction - but still in the area known as Clapham.

I've had good friends in the Clapham Junction area for many years. We have always accepted that from Clapham Junction westwards, aircraft noise was a problem as the planes began their final descent to Heathrow.

But a recent meeting we had with the air traffic controllers confirmed that noise only became a problem in areas to the east when flight paths were extended in the mid-1990s to cater for the increased number of flights using Heathrow.

Brian Milner, UK When they were planning Terminal Four, they promised if it were permitted there wouldn't ever be a Terminal Five.

Now they've reneged on that promise I don't trust them anymore.

John Stewart says: Brian, nor do I! After Terminal Five, the government agreed to a cap of 480,000 on the number of flights at Heathrow. Less than a year later they are considering the option of a third runway which would bring over 600,000 flights a year.

Richard Bagnall, UK Has Mr Stewart ever flown on an aeroplane?

John Stewart says: Richard, yes, I have and I still do occasionally on business. But, since aircraft noise became such a problem for me, I have made a point on not flying on holiday.

See also:

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