George Monbiot and Heathrow hooligans make a lot of noise about nothing
“The Heathrow ‘hooligans’ are our modern day freedom fighters,” says George Monbiot in the Guardian. We think of a freedom fighter fighting for choice, glory and human endeavour. Monbiot’s freedom fighter is someone who wants to stop you taking a package holiday.
They have been reviled as vandals, hooligans and lunatics. But to me, these people are heroes. The 13 women and men on trial this week for cutting through the perimeter fence around Heathrow airport and chaining themselves together on a runway were excoriated by police, passengers and politicians. (One of the defendants in the case is a member of the cooperative society that rents my house.) If convicted, they all face a possible prison sentence. But there are two trials here: the legal proceedings in a local magistrates court, and a test of something much bigger.
Aviation enjoys some astonishing exemptions from the civilising rules that constrain other sectors. Other industries must limit the noise they make; but aircraft, thanks to an obscure clause in the 1949 Civil Aviation Act, are exempt.
Wrong. Says the Government:
Noise is regulated to some extent at all UK airports. This can include noise limits and restrictions on night flights.
Gatwick Airport has more:
The rules for night time
Until 1962, the government had no policy on night noise, and airlines were free to fly into and out of the airport at any time. Since 1962, in response to increasing community concern about noise, the government has tightened the rules…
The night time rules apply from 23:00 until 06:00. There is also a ‘shoulder period’ at either end of the night, with slightly less strict rules – that is 23:00-23:30 and 06:00-07:00.
From 23.30-06:00, the rules allow for a limited number of flights and a limited amount of noise over the whole summer or winter season. The number of flights is based on a points or ‘quota’ system relating to each plane’s noise levels.
On top of the quota system, there is also an absolute limit on the number of flights permitted at the airport. Under the quota system, the airport has a total number of ‘quota points’, which are then used up by night time flights. Different types of planes use up different numbers of points, depending on how noisy they are.
The noisiest aircraft use 16 points of the quota, and they’re called QC16s (QC = Quota Count). The next noisiest have eight points – QC8s. As planes get quieter, their points get smaller until the quietest planes have just half a point or are exempt altogether.
During the night quota period the noisiest types of planes are not permitted to be scheduled. Because there is a limit on the airport’s total quota of points for night-time flying, this system encourages airlines who want to fly at night to use the quietest aircraft.
Monbiot is utterly wrong, then. There rare rules governing noise at airports.
He then utters:
Airlines operate in a legislative vacuum, a transnational, extralegal limbo, accountable nowhere and to no one. As a result they threaten everything that was agreed at December’s climate talks in Paris.
No shareholders. No staff. No laws. Nothing and no-one.
You can do a course in aviation law at the Air Transport Association (IATA), which begins by telling anyone:
International air transportation is governed by a complex and fragmented system of global regulatory agencies
Being an expert on such things is far simpler at the Guardian.