Old aircraft pollute late at night!

Last week this paper asked if Geneva airport was the principal polluter in the canton. The response of the airport spokesman was rapidly shown to be rather inexact!

The article followed a statement from the environmental association Noé21 that the CO2 emissions caused by the kerosene loaded into aircraft at the airport have been increasing considerably (and will have increased again in 2011, probably by around 10%). The response of the airport spokesman, Bertrand Stämplfi, was given with the title

Plus de vieux coucous (no more old bangers!)

In this response he was quoted as saying that flights between midnight and 6am are forbidden, and that noise surtaxes are inciting airlines to change to more modern, quieter and less polluting aircraft.

The (lack of) truth in this argument was immediately demonstrated late on the night of Saturday, 7 January, when the weekend flight to Mauritius took off over 40 minutes after midnight. The aircraft used, an Airbus A340-312 built in 1994 and now operated by Air Mauritius, is almost certainly the noisiest regularly scheduled passenger aircraft currently operating at Geneva airport.

So why was it so late? Because the incoming flight left Mauritius over 5 hours late, landing in Geneva just after 11pm. Despite the admirable attempt by the airport personnel to turn this aircraft around as quickly as possible (disembark 300 passengers, refuel, embark 300 passengers) it was never going to be possible to get it out again before midnight.

So this remark about flights forbidden between midnight and 6am? What it means is merely that normal commercial flights cannot be scheduled during this period. However, there is a 30 minute grace period after midnight for flights which are running behind schedule. But, you say, it took off after this grace period! Well, that was legal because the airport is allowed to give special dispensations in cases which are unforeseeable and extraordinary. The fact that this case could already have been foreseen when the aircraft left Mauritius for Geneva is left to one side.

20120108_Vernier_MK075.JPGWas it noisy: yes! It was the noisiest aircraft yet registered in Vernier this year: over 90 decibels at the ARAG noise station in Vernier. I cannot guess how many people were awoken there, but I know that being awoken at that time is highly disagreeable!

And the remarks that noise surtaxes are inciting airlines to change to quieter aircraft? Not Air Mauritius, which has been operating this type of aircraft for many years (I have records which show that it was in use during the 2004/2005 winter).

My personal view is that as soon as this likely delay was known (which would have been Saturday morning) the airport should have anticipated this event and obliged Air Mauritius to make hotel pre-reservations for the passengers departing Geneva (of whom a good number could have remained at home). This would have been a much better incitement than the surcharge for the late departure, which many people see as merely a payment by the airlines for the right to make late night noise.

Of course, Bertrand Stämplfi will certainly have contacted this newspaper to correct what he said!

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