Broadland councillors support engine-testing plans at Norwich Airport

A KLM cityhopper aeroplane coming into land at Norwich International airport Picture: James Bass

A KLM cityhopper aeroplane coming into land at Norwich International airport Picture: James Bass

Archant Norfolk Photographic © 2007

Councillors in Broadland have given their support to a proposed new engine-testing facility at Norwich airport, saying the economic benefits outweigh the noise concerns of nearby homeowners.

Plans have been submitted for the eastern side of Norwich International Airport, in Horsham St Faith, which include a 10m-high U-shaped aluminium enclosure to absorb the noise.

The application seeks permission to test engines any time between 8am and 8pm Monday to Saturday, and 9am to 8pm on Sunday, with high-powered testing restricted to no more than 90 minutes per day.

Although the final decision rests with Norwich City Council, Broadland District Council was consulted as a neighbouring authority, and its planning committee was addressed by airport chiefs this afternoon.

They said a wide operating window was necessary to give engineers the flexibility needed to compete in a 24/7 industry, but stressed that the use of the facility would be far from continuous, with high-powered testing currently averaging less than two minutes per day.

They also pointed to the vital importance of engine-testing to the viability of the airport and the continued success of KLM UK Engineering – employing 350 people and up to 100 contract staff – which would be the main user of the new facility.

The committee agreed to raise no objection to the application, subject to the satisfactory assessment of further data on background noise and low power noise levels.

A report to councillors says the impact on quality of life during high-power testing was likely to be “moderate” in areas like Spixworth, Old Catton and Hellesdon, and “significantly adverse” at Quaker Farm, the nearest sensitive property.

It says “In this case, it is concluded that the ability to undertake engine testing at the airport is a crucial aspect of the airport’s commercial interests and it is considered that the opportunity to continue to test engines at the airport is a significant material consideration in this case, which is sufficient to outweigh the impact on the quality of life for the occupiers of Quaker Farm.”

Peter Mahoney, finance director of KLM UK Engineering said he wanted to “dispel the myth” that aircraft were brought to Norwich specifically for engine testing, and also outlined the expected usage frequency of the new facility.

He said: “In the past 12 months we only carried out engine tests on 18pc of days. In fact, testing at high power, defined as being greater than 70pc thrust, averaged less than two minutes per day. So testing is only a very, very tiny percentage of the overall work we do.

“Aircraft are not brought to Norwich for engine testing. They are brought here for essential repair and maintenance, Engine testing is a small but essential safety element in checking the work we have done.

“Without the ability to test engines in Norwich, no airline could bring their aircraft to us, KLM UK Engineering would shut down and all our skilled engineers would be unemployed.”

Phil Gadd, property and contracts director at Norwich International Airport said: “I would urge you to take the opportunity to support an application seeking to deliver the best technology available to commercial airports to reduce noise and therefore to minimise the impact of the airport on our neighbours, whilst regularising an existing use and enabling the continued successful operation of a major aviation engineering company in KLM UK Engineering.”

Mr Gadd also urged councillors not to seek to impose added restrictions on the operating hours, “as, in a 24 hour a day, seven day a week industry, this will have an adverse impact on the viability of existing operators and, in turn, on the future success of Norwich International Airport.

Nevertheless, the council also agreed to suggest conditions including that Bank Holidays were also excluded from the operating hours.

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