Bristol Airport has applied to the Department for Transport (DfT) to be designated a ‘co-ordinated airport’, a status given to highly congested airports in the UK . It would give Bristol Airport complete freedom to schedule night flights across the year, with the declared intention to increase summer night flights. The DfT has opened a consultation inviting comment until June 26th (extended from April 3rd).
The only airports with ‘co-ordinated status’ at present are the London airports (Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, London City and Luton), Manchester and Birmingham. Bristol Airport is currently ‘partially co-ordinated’ (for summer seasons only during 2300 – 0659 hours), limited to 3000 in the summer season and 1000 in the winter season within any one year.
Reasons to reject the application for ‘co-ordinated’ status: SBAEx has submitted a full response to the quasi-technical consultation. In sum we make the following points:
An invalid application
Bristol Airport should not be granted ‘coordinated airport status, allowing permission to operate flights all hours in all seasons, for the following reasons:
.1 The Airport application is based on the assumption that the current capacity level has been increased by its recent planning application to North Somerset . In fact, the application was refused (10 February, ratified 18th March 2020). So current capacity remains at 10 mppa not 12 mppa as proposed . The consultation is therefore based on a false assumption and is invalid.
.2 The consultation document recognises that ‘the Bristol Airport night restrictions are fixed in the planning condition. Therefore, there is no mechanism to change or remove the restrictions except by a new planning permission.’  The airport is already partially coordinated in the summer months to maximise night-time flights so the only way to become fully coordinated is to remove the condition set under the planning consent of 2011.
.3 It is not possible to verify the Airport’s fleet projections. Only the airlines have the power to deliver quieter aircraft . In fact quieter aircraft should be used to reduce existing levels of night noise and not as an excuse to increase night flights.
.4 It is likely that Bristol Airport will appeal the planning decision within the next 6 months which will result in a public inquiry, where these issues would be discussed in detail. Any decision in advance of an appeal is premature.
The adverse impact of increased night flights on local communities
Local communities are oppressed by current night flights and increased night flights within the summer months or any other period within the year will further harm the health and well-being of local communities. This impact is supported by the body of scientific evidence showing health problems stemming from sleep disturbance and deprivation .
The democratic decision taken by North Somerset Council to reject Bristol Airport’s planning application has been supported by local Members of Parliament and many, many parish councils and community groups on the grounds that the harmful impact on health, well-being and the environment cannot be justified by the claimed economic benefits. As the Leader of North Somerset Council, Cllr Don Davies, has definitively stated: ‘the detrimental effect of the expansion of the Airport on this area and the wider impact on the environment outweighs the narrower benefits to Airport expansion’.
The impact of the international events
Even before the Corvid-19 pandemic there were strong socio-economic grounds for challenging Bristol Airport’s claim of congestion. At present it still has around 15% potential for growth before reaching the existing cap of 10 million passengers per annum. The rapid growth in public awareness of the global climate emergency are likely to lead to a diminution of demand, together with the unpredictable consequences of Brexit. National and international protocols, agreements and legislation in the pipeline are also likely to discourage demand-led growth in aviation, particularly from tourist travel. 85% of Bristol Airport’s passenger traffic is leisure-based.
Now the Corvid-19 pandemic has created circumstances in which the Airport is highly unlikely to reach capacity levels in 2021 or even in the foreseeable future. As one small indicator, the Airport has just recognised that the newly-completed administration buildings are a white elephant and put these onto the (non-existent) market for letting. This possibly contravenes the bounds of permitted development under which the building was constructed.
On planning and wider socio-economic grounds there can be no case for granting Bristol Airport co-ordinated status.
Based on original research and comment by HB, with thanks.
(1) As concluded by the Mott MacDonald Report, ‘Demand and Capacity Assessment Report 2019’.
(2) 18/P/5118/OUT submitted to North Somerset Council. It’s also worth noting that the consultation for the Airport’s Noise Action Plan was held in 2018, before the Airport submitted its planning application to North Somerset Council in December 2018.
(3) under application 09/P/1020/OT2
(5) Suggested in the airport application 18/P/5118/OUT and the MMR, which states ‘Aircraft operating at Bristol Airport are expected to get quieter in coming years with the introduction of new types such as the A320neo and B737Max’.
(6) See for example, comment from the World Health Organisation recognise noise as an ‘underestimated threat’ that has significant Public Health effects. http://www.euro.who.int/en/health-topics/environment-and-health/noise/data-and-statistics