Sunday, February 08, 2009

The Chimney Hoppers

Based on Clive Aslet's comments in today's Kent on Sunday, I must be one of those Thanet residents who is "Blind, ignorant or mad" and I wonder if we are in the majority?

When writing about plans for the further development of Manston, he writes:

"Every time the weekly 747, a cargo plane from Africa touches down, I say a little prayer of gratitude for the safe delivery of the town and aircrew." He adds: "Planes pass over a town of more than 10,000 souls at little more than chimney height, You can practically count the hairs in the pilot's nostrils as they do so."

Now I wasn't aware that Boeing 747s fall out of the sky over populated areas with any degree of regularity. That's not to say it's never happened but if one takes the UK as a whole, with the busiest airspace on the planet, the safety record of modern aircraft, certified to operate in the UK, is remarkably good and should hardly give cause for deep concern at Ramsgate, Hounslow or even Luton. In fact, last month's 'Miracle in the Hudson', should illustrate this quite well, what can be done with a large passenger aircraft when the engines are suddenly shut down after departure, the most safety critical time of the flight.

Large planes descending over Ramsgate are on a glide path which will ensure that their wheels touch the runway at a properly marked point beyond the threshold. If you aren't descending blind on instruments, then the red and white PAPI lights to the left of the runway will keep you on the glide path for a visual approach. That same glide path ensures that the aircraft is rather higher over the town than Mr Aslet thinks it is.

I don't doubt that aircraft can be noisy, there was a British Airways 'Airbus' doing circuits past my house much of yesterday afternoon but I challenge the implication of some hidden threat to Ramsgate posed by aircraft, doing what they have been doing on Thanet since 1916, taking-off and landing at Manston. I can't recall too many, if any complaints over Concorde using the airport for regular practise and that was noisy in the extreme

This coming Thursday we'll see an important debate on the future of the airport taking place in the council chamber and while the local papers are happy to accept the hyperbole of those opposed to any expansion of Manston, I for one, think its important for councillors of all parties and persuasions to look at the evidence and be influenced by facts and not fears; arriving at a conclusion that one hopes will benefit the people of the island as a whole.

NB. The YouTube video shows the runway for any that may be interested. Video credit to Cllr Bruce when we went to have a look at the Thanet Earth construction site last July!


Jeremy said...


Just a note on the impact of the proposed BAWC flights. Analysis of the services reveals that, of the 11 departures per week, 2 go to Koln, 2 to Munich, and 5 to Frankfurt, all pick-up points. So 9 of the 11 will not be fully loaded leaving Manston, and will not need much fuel; this will have an effect on their take-off. The 2 long-distance flights are 09:55 on Mondays to Dubai, and 09:00 on Fridays to Hong Kong. Incidentally, the latest take-off is 21:05 on Sundays, and the latest landing 18:35 on Saturdays: hardly night flights!

Michael Child said...

Simon while I agree with you that we are not in much danger from planes crashing I am not so sure about the noise and air pollution.

"Theresa Villiers described it as "a bleak day for our environment and for those of us that care about safeguarding it" after Labour gave the go-ahead for a third runway at Heathrow.

The Shadow Transport Secretary warned, "A third runway at Heathrow would inflict devastating damage to the environment and to the quality of life of millions of people and the Conservatives will fight them every step of the way."

She highlighted the negative effects that will result from the third runway:

The Environment Agency have warned that pollution from a third runway would increase the risk of serious illness and early death around the airport

MPs as far apart as Reading and Greenwich have expressed concern about the impact of aircraft noise from Heathrow on their constituents.

I am also none to happy that as Manston’s main runway has no fuel interceptor the contingency plan in an accident involving a fuel spillage, is to turn off the valves and contain it on the runway, as an aviator how do you feel about sitting in a crashed plane that is in a great puddle of fuel that isn’t allowed to drain away? Is it possible that this sort of thing could be dangerous?

DrMoores said...


The fuel spillage concern has been passed on as you requested but on a personal note I'm inclined to see the risk as being a minor one, given that any fuel spillage should be contained on the very large and broad runway surface, that landing aircraft, will on average be landing (particularly these days) with only final reserve fuel + contingency/alternate and that leaking fuel should be swiftly contained by the very efficient airport fire service. After so many years of operation, while fuel safety and the integrity of the aquifer remains a natural concern and one to be treated with the serious attention it deserves, I don't think it's one that we should be immediately worried about in relation to the 106 agreement. However, I will suspend any conclusion until I hear the results of any officers enquiry on the same.

Michael Child said...

Thanks Simon, I appreciate the aviator angle on this one, aspects of the airport that I do properly understand I know would not have been allowed if it was originally built as a commercial airport.

My concern here is mostly about the cumulative effect of the various developments at Manston, particularly on the aquifer and the desalination and pollution of Pegwell Bay, which has reached a point where the marine life is dying.

No fuel and oil interceptor on the main runway means that any spillage that goes unnoticed in a rainstorm, or anyone making the natural assumption that a drain, is a drain and pours something nasty down it, is pouring it into the internationally acclaimed wetland, that is Pegwell Bay.

There seems to be no coordination between the big projects there, the new airport access road plans show it actually going through buildings on the new China Gateway plans and that is only one example of the incongruity and woolly thinking going into developing Manston.

I have read the 106 agreement and published it on the internet today so everyone else can read it, what is evident, is that the airport are not complying with it at the moment.

Jean said...


Why is this extension necessary for 11 flights a week? If Jeremy's note is correct there appears to be no justification for this.

Jeremy said...


The current operating hours BAWC enjoys at Stansted are 06:00 - 23:30. No business wants to see a worsening of its situation. I made the point to show that there is nothing to fear from the flights (BTW, the 21:05 departure is Saturdays, not Sundays) proposed. What any operator wants is flexibility when something goes wrong, without having to pay the onerous penalties charged at Manston. This is a marvellous opportunity for Thanet. The planes are 747-400s, so comparatively quiet.

Current morning arrival times at Stansted are
Mondays 06:30 from Chicago - so allowed by Manston's S106
Wednesdays 06:30 from Madras
Thursdays 06:10 from Bombay
Fridays 06:30 from New Delhi

11 arrivals a week - 4 minutes noise in total? Trains and road vehicles made noise round the clock, and nobody says a word. Most of the "night flights" heard in Thanet are planes flying over on airways.

Jean said...

Thanks for the information Jeremy,

I fully understand why developers ask for more than they need - I am one. I also understand that they often rather expect some sensible constraints on their operations. There may well be a conveniently implied ultimatum over the 106 variations but politicians must remain resolute on a solution that works for all.

The Masterplan, page 100/101, clearly shows the noise impact on Ramsgate increasing substantially. At the very least I would hope that 'onerous' penalties that go into the community fund to compensate residents in some small way will increase in line with the inconvenience experienced. Surely, this makes up part of the mitigation plan?

We absolutely must find a compromise solution for the benefit of all and I don't see the current situation as much of one.