A supporter’s concerns about pollution

A concerned supporter shared this article with us for everyone to read.

What ever happened to Biggin Hill airport?

Churchill commented in his 1947 Battle of Britain remembrance speech at Biggin Hill Airport (BHA) that “Our hearts go out in lasting honour and affection to the fighters who leapt into the air and clawed down the hideous killing that threatened our very existence”.

What would Churchill make of today’s Battle of Britain Airport where the large increase in commercial jet aviation has become an unpleasant reality for residents that threatens our wellbeing along with the peace and tranquillity of our surroundings?

The land and properties under the flight path of Biggin Hill Airport (BHA) includes Keston Village, Keston Park, Downe, Crofton, Farnborough Village, Farnborough Park and Petts Wood; much of which is designated as a conservation area, with protected trees, woodland and abundance of wildlife all of which are adversely affected by the continuous noise and pollution from low flying Jets and helicopters.

Biggin Hill Airport is located in the London Borough of Bromley. The freehold has been owned by the council since 1974. The primary reason it was purchased was to ensure the airport’s long-term success whilst at the same time protecting the interests of residents from across the borough and those living under the flightpath.

If only the above were true. Biggin Hill Airport has been allowed to prosper at the expense of the 90,000 residents that live under the flight path of the airport. Council tax payments from residents living under the flight path far exceeds rates and other payments made by the airport.

Residents living under the flight path have a longstanding use of their property that is now disrupted by the frequent noise of jets taking off and landing. Movements can exceed 100 per/day. This number does not include helicopter movements that are not recorded on Webtrak, BHAL’s recording system, and for this reason, BHAL are failing to monitor their performance, under the agreed Code of Conduct.

The tranquillity of the area that for many years had not been disrupted by the sound of aviation from BHA has been eroded since 2016 by the introduction of large jet planes.  These now include Boeing 737 and the larger Bombardier 7500. Aviation noise was a part of the environment for many years, but this was from small single or twin propellor planes and smaller jets, which have much lower noise levels and were limited in size by the shorter hours, that precluded intercontinental flights from the US, for example, and the Permitted User clause that prevented the sale of individual tickets and grouping of passengers.  The direct consequence was that large aircraft were not required.

Moreover, the Council and BHA removed the method of monitoring aviation noise by individual measures in 2016 and replaced it with the 16 hour LAeq measurement that is an average measure. This has allowed BHA to fly large noisy jets over property in the knowledge that the noise monitoring system would not reflect the true impact of noise created by the single noise event of a large jet aircraft passing low over our homes.

The Government’s Aviation Policy Framework states that average noise exposure contours (which is what we have now) are important to show historic trends. However, the Government recognises that people do not experience noise in an averaged manner and the value of the LAeq indicator does not necessarily reflect all aspects of the perception of aircraft noise. For this reason, it is recommended that average noise contours should not be the only measure.  Instead, the Government encourages airport operators to use alternative measures which better reflect how aircraft noise is experienced in different localities.

Under the (Noise Action Plan) NAP agreement, BHAL agreed to diminish the noise disruption experienced by Bromley residents. This condition has not been met, and noise disruption has increased since 2016 due to the introduction of large jets and increased numbers of helicopters using the airport.

Prior to the extension in operating hours the annual movement of aircraft was 46,600. Most flights (35,100) were from light aviation with only 11,500 from small business aviation. Light aviation or Club Aviation is now only 5,000 movements p/a. The movement of helicopters was less than 2000 in 2015, this has increased to 4000, with BHAL planning to further increase the number.

The Council are fully aware of activities that have breached the lease, NAP and MIL (Management Information Letter), all documents which came into effect when the extended hours were agreed. The introduction of a new route to the R03 runway is a prime example. The new runway was essential to allowing the extended operating hours. We now know that the CAA is not going to allow the request. We also know that BHAL were aware that it would be unlikely to be approved by the CAA when they made the promise.  We were all misled.

What happened to the promises made by BHAL to the council and residents when BHAL applied for the extension in operating hours in 2015? The airport claimed that aircraft would: stay higher, making a direct and quieter approach from the south-west.  The airport managing director, said:

“These changes will bring benefits to all residents living around the airport; North, South, East and West.  Residents living to the north-west such as in Farnborough and Petts Wood will have 30 to 35 per cent fewer overflights, whilst residents to the west and south-west will have aircraft much higher than is the case today and making much lower noise on our new guidance system”.

Biggin Hill Airport Limited (BHAL) promised planes would be higher and make less noise. This has turned out to be false. Planes now fly lower and are much noisier than the previous planes that were predominant before LBB granted the extended operating hours.

BHAL also promised to be a good neighbour. Would a good neighbour constantly disturb your peace with loud noise? Would they pollute your environment with fuel emission all for the sake of profit? The thirst for more profit is no evil, but in the case of BHA, residents are living in an era of profit over the human rights of people located under the flightpath of the airport.

Then there is also the question of pollution for residents and in particular children in schools that are frequently crossed by large low flying aircraft. There are numerous articles covering the subject of emission from Private Jets. Comments below are taken from a few relevant articles, including Transport & Environment, British Med Central (BMC) and The Guardian.

Emissions from jet aviation are a significant contributor to climate change and amount to one billion tonnes of carbon dioxide each year, accounting for 2.5% of global emissions. Private jet travel is responsible for 50% of the global aviation emissions.  An average private jet journey emits 10 times as much greenhouse gases per person as the same trip on an economy class flight and 50 times more than a rail trip. If we focus on Business Jets used at BHA, research shows that when it comes to a midsize jet, such as the Cessna Citation Sovereign+ or Embraer Legacy 500, it is typical for the aircraft to produce around 2 tonnes of carbon emissions per flight hour.

The total warming impacts from private jet flights from UK airports amounts to just under half a million tonnes of CO2 each year. BHAL proudly promote the fact that they are one of the biggest private jet airports in the UK, without reference to the harm created to residents and the environment due to the increase in fuel pollutants and carbon emissions.

Fuel pollution from jet planes may well affect the health of those living under the flight path of an airport. Jet engine emissions have physicochemical properties similar to diesel exhaust particles, with similar adverse health effects. Fuel pollution is highest at take-off and landing when the jet uses most of its fuel and the risk to health is greater when planes fly low over residential property. Jets landing and taking off at BHA frequently pass at low altitude (408 – 728 ft AGL) over residential property with little regard to the wellbeing of those living under the flight path.

Airspace Change guidance published by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA, 2018) notes that “due to the effects of mixing and dispersion, emissions from aircraft above 1,000 feet (~300m) are unlikely to have a significant impact on local air quality”, and it is therefore appropriate to focus on emissions from sources at ground level.

DEFRA do not agree with the statement. The Air Quality Expert Group of DEFRA say in their report of 2018 entitled “Ultrafine Particles (UFP) in the UK” that at “a location such as Heathrow Airport, where aircraft tend to approach the airport from the east (flying over the London conurbation), there is potential for considerable exposure to UFP from aircraft”.

Planes using Gatwick and Heathrow fly between 3,000 to 7,000 ft AGL, which will aid dispersion of pollutants. Planes at BHA frequently fly much lower than 1,000 ft ASL over residential properties when taking off and landing and there are reports from residents regarding the smell of fumes when pilots rev their engines prior to take off.

Planes flying at 1,000 Ft ASL will be lower to the ground as shown in the table below.

Area Height ASL* Planes @ 1000 ASL* Planes @ 1200 ASL*
Petts Wood 272 Ft 728 Ft Above Ground Level 928 Ft Above Ground Level
Farnborough 361 Ft 639 Ft Above Ground Level 839 Ft Above Ground Level
Tatsfield 722 Ft 278 Ft Above Ground Level 478 Ft Above Ground Level
Keston 427 Ft 573 Ft Above Ground Level 773 Ft Above Ground Level
Downe 591 Ft 408 Ft Above Ground Level 608 Ft Above Ground Level

ASL* Above Sea Level

The introduction since 2016 of super large jet planes (Bombardier 7500) flying low over residential property has increased the risk of exposure to emissions.

An article in the Bio Med Central (BMC) written by Bendtsen, K.M., Bengtsen, E., Saber, entitled A review of health effects associated with exposure to jet engine emissions in and around airports. Environ Health 20, 10 (2021) covers much of the information given in this document on the effects of jet engine emissions.

BMC who carry out a peer review of all articles conclude that there is evidence that jet engine emissions have physicochemical properties similar to diesel exhaust particles, and that exposure to jet engine emissions is associated with similar adverse health effects as exposure to diesel exhaust particles and other traffic emissions.

Jet engine emissions contain large amounts of nano-sized particles, which are particularly prone to reach the lower airways upon inhalation. Size of particles and emission levels depend on type of aircraft, engine conditions, and fuel type, as well as on operation modes. Exposure to jet engine emissions is reported to be associated with a person’s proximity to running jet engines or proximity to an airport.  As such, for residents living close to or under the flight path of low flying aircraft there is an increased risk of exposure with the increased risk of symptoms associated with fuel emissions.

The increase in pollution from helicopters since 2015 is a worry for residents living under the flight path. Helicopters are a significant source of particulate air pollution and a major cause of poly aromatic hydrocarbon particles (PAH) that are a harmful component of particulate air pollution. There is a long-term health effect associated with PAH that cannot be overlooked. Helicopters emit approximately 3 times more CO2 emissions than a typical car and are categorised as a main source of local air pollution around airports.

BHA has reached an approximate total of 4,000 helicopter movements in one year and are seeking to increase the number. None of these movements are essential, they only serve the rich that can afford a helicopter and do not wish to use public transport.

Short term exposure to jet fuels is associated with temporary neurologic effects in humans including headaches, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, fatigue, problems with attention and memory. No one knows the effect of long-term exposure to fuels from low flying jets for residents living close to an airport just as no one understood the effects of asbestos, milled cotton and spraying of crops until people started to be affected by lung and other diseases associated with the production and use of these materials and chemicals.

For those living close to an airport who can smell the fumes, articles from various publications comment that studies found fuels can enter the body through the lungs, digestive system tract or skin.

The problem for those living under the flightpath of BHA is the low height above ground level (AGL) of the large jet planes and helicopters crossing our homes and schools. Jet planes can fly as low as 400/500ft AGL. Many planes and helicopters circle properties for long periods before landing generally at a height of between 1,000 to 1,200ft ASL. BHAL wish to increase the number of jet planes and helicopters using the airport and to introduce fare paying passengers. None of this is in the interest of residents living under the flightpath of the jets.

The council’s policy to achieve net zero carbon by 2027 and the council’s Air Quality Action Plan make no reference to the level of air pollution created by unnecessary low flying planes and helicopter movements departing and landing at Biggin Hill Airport. Bromley council are the Landlord for the airport and have a duty of care to residents to take action to decrease the level of air pollution and increase in carbon emissions created by the aircraft landing, taking off and flying low over residential property.

The increase in movements of large jets planes will increase fuel emissions and exposure to diesel exhaust particles for those working and living close to an airport.

The reported adverse health effects of jet engine emissions are recognised to be similar to those caused by exposure to diesel exhaust and more studies by LBB and BHAL of exposure and of toxicological mechanisms are necessary if LBB are to continue allowing low flying jets and helicopters to cross residential property. It is time for the council to make good their promise to protect the interests of residents from across the borough and those living under the flightpath.

Based on the accumulated knowledge so far available within many legitimate publications, we believe that measures to reduce harmful emissions and exposure levels from low flying jet planes using BHA should be evaluated and applied by the council.