01/13/2011

2010 Geneva Airport report: the dark side!

The airport spin doctors have, as usual, reported only the positive aspects of 2010 airport statistics. There were, however, various negative aspects!


In reading the glowing statistics carefully chosen to represent the successful previous year at Geneva airport, I was reminded of the words of an old song, which are

You got to accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative

Unfortunately, there were a fair number of negatives, none of which appear to have stimulated any commentary from the airport management. The main one was clearly the disastrous performance of easyJet in mid-summer, leaving thousands of their passengers to suffer long delays, cancellations and re-routing to a different airport, and forcing thousands of residents living around the airport to listen regularly to aircraft passing overhead after midnight. Somehow, there appears to have been absolutely no commentary from the airport management on this. However, I am going to talk about a slightly different subject: the number of aircraft which are particularly noisy.

As a brief sumary,an examination of the details of the airport movements in 2010 shows that the number of noisy aircraft using the airport is actually growing, in particular in the noisier categories. This growth is also relatively higher for the night movements (+20%)  than for those of the daytime.

All jet aircraft are placed in one of five noise categories, numbered according to the Greek numerals I, II, III, IV and V. Of these, Class I is the noisiest and class V the least noisy. The aircraft pay landing fees partly as a function of their noise class, plus special surcharges for takeoffs after 10pm. In theory, these charges are supposed to encourage companies to fly to and from Geneva with their least noisy aircraft. The Geneva Airport web site even states the following :-

To date the reduction in the proceeds of the noise surcharge despite the increase in air traffic shows that the aircraft which fly to and from Geneva have become less and less noisy.

In reality, however, this statement has been untrue for several years: the proceeds have remained essentially unaltered since 2004, except for a drop in 2009 corresponding to the global recession. It is hardly likely to drop for 2010, since there have been more aircraft in classes I-IV combined in 2010 than in 2009. Worse, there has been an almost 20% increase in the number of these noisy aircraft during the night. This confirms the opinion of many that the surcharges, which are often derisory in the context of the total expenses and income for night flights, are simply seen by the companies as a payment giving them the right to operate these noisy aircraft at night.

The aircraft noise classification system was introduced in 1980. According to the airport web site,

These classifications are periodically reviewed to take into account technological and fleet changes.

This statement on a periodical revision is misleading, however: the last revisions were in 1994 and in 2000. Rather like saying that February 29 periodically occurs on a Sunday! The result of not having had any review since 2000 is that about 90% of the movements of jet aircraft using Geneva airport are in Class V, and this has been true for the last 6 years. Clearly, however,local residents know that these 90% of aircraft actually do vary considerably in their noise imprint.

So will there one day be a new definition of the different classes, dropping some of the noisier class V aircraft into class IV? Well, there is actually a proposal for an update to the Swiss classification system which is being evaluated. The problem is that it would not actually have much effect on getting airlines to change their medium range aircraft currently used by most airlines (e.g. the Airbus A319 fleet of easyJet), because new technology replacements are not expected until the end of this decade. It would, however, result in a financial bonus of over 10 million Swiss Francs per year for Geneva airport (and double that for Zurich airport). Thus, it is not likely to see the light of day very soon.

In my view, this simply confirms that the longer you wait to deal with a situation, the worse the situation is likely to become. However, I have a simple solution.

Introduce the new classification system and use the 10 million CHF per year to compensate property owners around the airport for the depreciation in property value that they are subjected to by the growth of air traffic at Geneva airport.

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