A spin at the airport

The Geneva airport environmental report, now available, makes a huge effort to show the airport as environment-friendly. However, it leaves many unpleasant facts unspoken.

Like all large organisations, Geneva Airport has some very accomplished spin doctors, who manage to emphasise the good things while hiding the bad things. The newspapers, plus the TV teletext, can then write articles whose title makes the airport look good. This newspaper thus writes that the environment is a priority for the airport, whilst Le Temps talks about the airport taking green measures. On close inspection, however, it becomes apparent how much of the report merely glosses over several much less pleasant facts, sometimes by presenting them in a manner which can easily be misread.

The most notable spin is to say that measures imposing surcharges on less modern aircraft and on take-offs after 10pm are inciting companies to use modern aircraft for services to Geneva by. This newspaper quotes Marc Mounier, chief of the legal and environmental division, as saying that 95% of movements are now with new generation aircraft, and implying that this large percentage has been in part because of these surcharges. The TV teletext page even suggests that this surcharge on late take-offs is new, whereas it has in fact existed for some years.

The reason, however, that 95% of movements are considered as being effected by new generation aircraft is because the generations classification was made back in 2000. As such, a new generation aircraft which takes off just before 11pm pays a surcharge of just 100 CHF: hardly a sum likely to incite the owners of the aircraft to look for a replacement. Even when an older generation aircraft takes off late, the surcharge is ridiculously small in  comparison to the other airport charges. Thus, for the last few years, the cross-section of aircraft using Geneva airport has remained essentially unchanged, showing that the surcharges are merely being considered as a payment for the right to continue to use noisy aircraft and operate late flights. In addition, the so-called new generation aircraft can land up to half past midnight without any night surcharge whatsoever: I leave you to guess the colour of almost all of those late landings.

This ridiculously old classification, established back in 2000, establishes 5 different noise classes. According to the airport web page

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

In fact, a new classification proposal exists. However, it is not being implemented because, as admitted by the airport authorities, it would require that the airlines pay very much more than at present: they would have no option because there are not likely to be new narrow-body aircraft to replace the current Airbus A320 or Boeing 737 aircraft, which account for a large fraction of all movements, before 2025. There just might be quieter and more efficient engines before then, but when they will arrive and whether the companies will change to them (re-motorisation!) is unclear.

So, for the moment, we are stuck with the current aircraft. When you factor in the statistics which say that the number of movements of large jets is currently increasing at an annual rate of 10%, whilst that of night flights is increasing by around 15%, it should be pretty obvious that for the past few years the noise due to aircraft is not decreasing, nor is it likely to decrease for many years. I had hoped to analyse the latest noise measurements from the microphones of the airport, but the airport has not released any noise figures for some months now (there is surely a very good reason, of course!).

The airport authorities make much of the fact that many residences around the airport, including in France, are being soundproofed at their expense (actually, from the money paid into a special environmental fund by the airlines running noisy or late flights!). While definitely not a bad thing, this is not a fight to reduce noise at source, but rather a way to reduce the impact of the noise in some cases. However, when I recently sat on a terrace in Genthod in the late evening, listening to the noise of a constant stream of late landings overhead, I wondered how many people would like to close their bedroom windows at night in Summer to avoid the noise (and probably swelter in bed!).

It is certainly true that the airport is doing its best to minimise a certain number of environmental problems, and I welcome that. However, we should not lose sight of the main problem: more and more aircraft making more and more noise, especially later and later at night. For how long will we allow this megalomaniac expansion of around 10% per year before crying out that

enough is enough!


19:25 Posted in Noise around Geneva airport | Permalink | Comments (0) | |  del.icio.us | | Digg! Digg |  Facebook

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