Night flights face

Court's verdict on aircraft noise may amplify litigation

Published: Thursday 28 February 2002

The British government is set to appeal against a European Court of Human Rights ruling that has criticised frequent night flights at London's Heathrow airport. The reason: it could cost the taxpaying public a whopping US $2.9 billion. Significantly, it is felt in official circles that the grave financial implications of the order have forced the treasury to subordinate environmental issues to economic ones.

The court observed in October 2001 that the government had ridden roughshod over the rights of the residents near Heathrow, the world's busiest international airport. The decibel level stipulated by regulations on night flights violated the right to respect for private and family life. The eight residents who brought the action were each awarded about US $5657.

The department of transport, local government and regions in the UK is, however, wary of the wider ramifications of the directive. It has calculated that between 100,000-500,000 other people living around Heathrow could also claim damages as a result of the court's order, depending on the qualifying criteria used to calculate the maximum permissible level of noise. This would send the compensation bill shooting up to US $2.9 billion. The amount could be even higher if residents near other airports followed suit.

Though it is unusual for the British government to appeal against judgments delivered by the European court, yet the economic repercussions of the verdict may reportedly force the authorities to adopt such a course of action. This despite stiff opposition to the proposed move by Margaret Beckett, the British environment secretary. She believes that the appeal could be construed as the government putting environmental concerns on the backburner.

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