Flightpath Win a Victory for Local Communities

Yesterday, (Monday 29th October) the Civil Aviation Authority announced that it would not be approving Edinburgh Airport’s plans for eight new flightpaths, which were set to have major impacts on most of East Central Scotland, including along the Forth Coast in my region of Mid Scotland and Fife.

This is a huge decision. It draws a line under three different consultations and over two years of uncertainty for communities around the airport. I must firstly give a huge congratulations to all the community groups who fought these plans – in particular to Edinburgh Airport Watch, the community councils in North Queensferry, Dalgety Bay and Limekilns, and to the 19 other community councils who participated in round table meetings I hosted and who contributed to an open letter we sent to the CAA last year.

Credit must also be given to every individual, family and household that got in touch with myself, other MSPs and local councillors to raise their concerns. MSPs often receive mass email campaigns, with identical letters on a specific subject, co-ordinated by a particular campaign group. However, it's rare I receive hundreds of personalised, carefully considered emails, as I did with this issue, explaining how these flight paths would impact on people’s health, safety and wellbeing, and also how let down people felt by the process. Your correspondence was vital in getting more MSPs and more parties on side with the campaign, so well done.

The reasons given by the CAA in their rejection letter to Edinburgh Airport are very telling indeed – you can read the letter in full here.

The plans were not rejected on a ‘technicality’. It was because the final routes and flight numbers submitted were significantly different to those laid out to the public in the multiple consultations. The CAA said that “the magnitude and severity of the defects mean that stakeholders have not been able to consider and respond to the actual proposal put forward to the CAA for consideration”.

In other words, the airport consulted on one thing, then applied for another. I’m not suggesting that Edinburgh Airport set out to deliberately mislead the public in their consultation process – it may have simply been a desire to rush through the plans in time for a proposed cut in air passenger duty, leading to a lack of oversight. However, the final result clearly showed a lack of regard for the thousands of people who took part in their consultation in good faith, thinking their concerns would be taken into account.

The issue of flight numbers was particularly alarming. On one path (Route B2), following the stage 2 consultation, the airport said they were planning to use it on average only 6 times a day in 2018, rising to 7 times a day by 2024. In their application to the CAA however, the airport said this route would be flown 69 times per day, rising to 74 times by 2024. A massive increase, by any measure. Increased flight numbers or changes of use were submitted for three other routes, including E7a which was set to fly over the villages of Aberdour, Dalgety Bay, Inverkeithing and North Queensferry in my region.

I commend the CAA for listening to the concerns of the public over this fundamentally flawed consultation, and taking the time to thoroughly examine the process. This is the sort of industry scrutiny that we need.

We realise, however, that this won’t be the end of the story. Edinburgh Airport have already said they will press on with their plans, though the CAA have made it clear that they must begin the whole process from scratch, this time using new, tougher guidelines over airspace change consultations.

The Scottish Government has shown repeated support for Edinburgh Airport, and the aviation industry in general. It backed the UK Government’s plans earlier this year to build a third runway at Heathrow, following Heathrow operators sponsoring a free bar at the SNP conference in the last few years.

They have also tried to press on with plans to cut, then scrap, Air Departure Tax – the only tax currently levied on the aviation industry, with plane tickets being exempt from VAT and airline operators not paying any duty on fuel.

And then there is the existential crisis that is climate change. The International Panel on Climate Change reported earlier this month that we have only 12 years left to make the major policy changes needed to limit the damage to our planet caused by carbon emissions. You can guarantee that cutting, not expanding, aviation needs to be part of that policy mix.

Edinburgh Airport admitted themselves during the consultation that their projected growth was based around domestic flights – services to London, Birmingham and Manchester that can and should be replaced with an affordable and efficient rail service.

The battles that local communities face in defending their quiet skies and clean air in the face of yet more flight paths directly ties in with all these wider issues. Until we have a frank conversation about air travel, and a comprehensive national policy on aviation, these battles will continue for years to come. There is a limit to how much we can fly – both physically, given the location of our major airports at the heart of central Scotland, and environmentally, as we face up to the major changes we need to make in how we travel.

The Scottish Greens will keep making the case for change, and we will be at the side of local communities once again when the next fight begins.