An airline Captain with extensive experience of flying into Gatwick has bravely been in touch. Understandably he wishes to remain anonymous - for now. A slightly edited copy of a letter he has written to the CAA is reproduced below, with his permission.
We also reproduce the letter he received from the CAA, which many of you will also have received.
(Should anyone doubt our pilot's veracity, we can put you in touch with our lawyers).
I will try and summarise the message in this long newsletter as follows:
If the CAA want to reduce risk and increase safety in terms of the arrivals airspace, they must look at the core reason for the Go-arounds - excessive use of the runway and inadequate spacing between aircraft.
To use 'unstable approaches' per se as the root of all evil is simply wrong.
But don't listen to me, I'm just someone trying to change government policy and resist the imposition of noise ghettos across the land.
If you haven't much time, please just read what our pilot has to say and jump my introduction. We've highlighted it in blue for quick scrolling to on your smart phones.
It seems we are all being impaled on the spear of Gatwick's avarice.
The CAA say that the arrivals swathe has been narrowed by 60% and moved eastwards to reduce Go-arounds (GAs) caused by 'unstable approaches'.
This narrowing (plus incredibly low altitudes and the easyJet whine) has resulted in misery for countless thousands across West Kent, East Sussex and further afield.
However the statistics show that the very significant majority of GAs are due to the runway being occupied by another aircraft, rather than to unstable approaches.
(In 2014 there were 212 Go-arounds caused by 'runway occupied' and 102 by 'unstable approaches' - Source: Gatwick Flight Performance Team)
If it is true that the reason for the moving the ILS interception point from 10 to 12 miles from touchdown was to reduce 'unstable approaches', the fault clearly and undeniably lies with inadequate spacing between aircraft, whether on final approach or on the runway, and in turn excessive use of the runway i.e. above the runway capacity which is acceptable when such GAs occur. There is a simple solution to this problem and therefore one which the CAA as regulator should require. It is for Air Traffic Control to be less ambitious, for them not to try to maximise the utilisation of the runway to a point which causes GAs, and not to increase the runway use to a point where GAs are inevitable or even likely, with consequential increased risk and lowering of standards of safety, a consequence which is indeed recognised by the CAA
If the number of GAs is excessive, as the CAA clearly imply, those advising the CAA clearly believe something needs to be done. However, the problem of GAs and increased risk would not be solved or assisted but would, in fact, paradoxically be compounded by lengthening the distance between the ILS interception point and touchdown. This is because the longer distance on final approach - and therefore time before touchdown - by an aircraft from the ILS interception point gives encouragement to Air Traffic Service providers to seek to increase the maximum runway utilisation yet further, in the belief that more time before touchdown is available to ATC or aircraft on final approach to sort out the problem of inadequate spacing, a problem which is caused by ATC, not the aircraft or its crew.
Consequently, moving the interception point from 10 to 12 miles increases the pressure on the ATC controllers to increase yet further the runway utilisation, not to diminish, let alone solve, the GA problem.
The CAA wish to see safety increased and nobody could possibly argue with that. They cite the need to lessen the number of GAs as an objective. That too cannot be doubted as an objective. Unfortunately, the approach that those concerned including the CAA has adopted, no doubt as a result of persuasive submissions by NATS and Gatwick Airport Limited, does not tackle the root problem.
The number and proportion of GAs can only be lowered if the causes for a GA to be required is diminished. This in turn, from consideration of the GA data, can only be done by lowering the utilisation of the runway, as the cause for the clear majority of GAs relates directly to its over-utilisation.
It is to be noted that NATS and Gatwick Airport limited have in the recent past been proud of the increase in maximum capacity of the runway. Press reports have been prevalent on the subject. This has not only had the effect of increasing the potential for the number of GAs, but this can only occur at the cost of increased noise to those residents who suffer on the ground by 'vectoring decisions' in moving the minimum ILS interception point so as to accommodate such increased numbers, without any form of consultation let alone compensation.
This change has been imposed on them in effect by the airport operator, who could easily agree to accept a lower runway utilisation, consequentially fewer GAs and not having to require the moving of the ILS interception point. This is not merely unfair but unacceptable, as the CAA must agree.
The aviation industry has a responsibility to be a good neighbour.
The Government's first policy aim concerning noise in England is to avoid significant adverse noise impacts on health and quality of life. The CAA is duty bound to have regard to this policy. This is patently not being done. It is claimed that by adopting a concentrated flight path, this limits the number of people significantly affected by aircraft noise. It does nothing of the sort. It significantly increases the number of persons significantly, and indeed unacceptably, affected by aircraft noise. That is clearly to act contrary to government policy objective.
I would like to finish with three further comments on statistics.
In her letter below, Dame Deirdre Hutton, CBE, Chair of the CAA states, as if it were proof of her policy, that 'As a percentage of all Go-Arounds [caused by unstable approach] the improvement since 2011 is even starker'
Wrong data used in the wrong way to support a wrong policy.
She is using the 'runway occupied' figure (see all reasons for such above) as the relative benchmark. So the more organised chaos there is on the Tarmac, with aircraft all over the place, the greater the proportional difference she can demonstrate in GA's caused by unstable approaches!
As we demonstrated in the last newsletter, the difference versus actual flight numbers is the true benchmark.
For the calendar years 2011 (100 GAs caused by 'unstable approaches') and 2014 (103 ditto) the proportional difference was four ten-thousandths of a percentage point.
For all this pain.
Given that Go-arounds and 'unstable approaches' are now known to be blamed for our misery, we have been looking closely at the data in the public domain. These tables below are from the Flight Performance Team on Gatwick's website. Given that there is no room for statistical inaccuracy in aviation in terms of safety (and given that these figures are seemingly SO relevant to our wellbeing on the ground), why do the figures for 2008 and 2009 suddenly drop? (Ignore 2010, the year was incomplete at the time of the reports). I also note that in 2008 despite suddenly reducing the amount of Go-arounds, as a % of arrivals they went up? These stats are not a one-off blip and remain in place for every report since.
What about the current data on Go-arounds? Is it 100% accurate? Is Dame Deirdre being fed duff information upon which basis our skies are being wrought asunder?
How can we have confidence in the stats?
In that last newsletter I quoted complaints into Gatwick alone increasing over 500% for 2014 figures over 2011.
The figure for 2013 v 2014 (pre-narrowing 2,829 v post narrowing 25,440) is 'even starker' at 899.25%.
We never exaggerate in these newsletters - we don't need to.
June 23rd 2015
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