RAF Mildenhall flight noise under scrutiny
RAF LAKENHEATH — Citizen complaints have prompted a British parliament member to call for a realignment of RAF Mildenhall’s runway to lesson noise over the cathedral city of Ely.
“Obviously, some of my constituents find the noise intrusive and we need to clarify if it has to be that way,” Member of Parliament Jim Paice, who represents South East Cambridgeshire, wrote to Stars and Stripes in an e-mail. “The objective, though it may not be achievable, is to shift the approach line marginally to the south of Ely.”
The complaints last week caused a flurry of interest in the local press. But a Ministry of Defence spokesman said moving the flight line isn’t an option. And, besides, lots of airports produce more noise than RAF Mildenhall.
“This is not something that will change,” spokesman Matthew Willey wrote in an e-mail to Stars and Stripes, about the landing strip location. “I should stress that many, many cities and towns have airports near them and considerably higher volumes of aircraft landing at them.”
That fact is of little consolation to John Sanders, one of the people who filed a complaint with Paice.
“There is no reason why they need to fly over the central city at all,” he said. “They contribute to both noise pollution as well as to pollution from their exhaust.”
RAF Lakenheath is home to the U.S. Air Force’s 48th Fighter Wing, which flies the deafening F-15E, while KC-135 refueling jets and special operations C-130 aircraft and MH-53M helicopters operate out of Mildenhall.
RAF Lakenheath squadron leader Jo Daniels claimed the base has experienced a “downward trend” in the number of noise-related complaints. She said that as recently as 18 months ago her office fielded as many as 10 complaints a week.
But it has fielded 49 noise complaints between August 2005 and January 2006.
“I can have a week when I get many, but I can have many weeks go by and not get one,” she said. “It’s hard to give an average number because it does vary so much.”
RAF Mildenhall squadron leader James Savage said his office averages four to five noise complaint calls a month, most due to night flights from the 352nd Special Operations Group helicopters.
There were 31 noise complaints in the past six months, Savage said.
Daniels, meanwhile, pointed to summer — when people generally have their home windows open — as a peak season for noise complaints. Throughout the year, she has a clear plan to work with British nationals who file complaints. In most occasions, a follow-up phone call is sufficient, she said.
Sometimes, Daniels crafts a formal letter to assuage concerns. In rare instances, a pilot has joined Daniels to make a home visit.
Officials at both bases stressed that they field all complaints that come into the RAF squadron leader’s office regardless of whether the aircraft is associated with their base.
Paice’s concern about the noise pollution around Ely and its historic cathedral prompted him to ask specific questions about the RAF Mildenhall airstrip.
“There does seem to be some questions as to whether the centerline for runway 11 does go over the city, which is why I am raising it with the British government,” Paice said.
Willey said that wind conditions require runway 11 at Mildenhall only to be in use 10 percent to 15 percent of the time.
“Even when runway 11 is in use, the frequency of air traffic overflying Ely is usually low — a maximum on the order of one or two aircraft per hour.”
For those left in the wake of the noise attached to a military air base, there is little left to do after filing complaints with the base and the government.
People who say noise caused actual damage can file a claim with the British government through the Ministry of Defence’s Claims Branch, which will pay compensation if sufficient evidence is provided that military flying activity caused the loss, according to Savage.