Loutsa up in arms over airplane noise

The municipality of Artemis, the seaside area of Loutsa on Attica’s eastern coast, lies literally in the shadow of approaching or landing aircraft and their noise. The locals are up in arms because, they say, regulations governing flight paths are being violated and the Civil Aviation Authority (YPA) is responsible. «Sometimes, the planes fly just 50 meters above the houses. We can even see the passengers through the windows. We can’t get any sleep,» Artemis resident Nikos Markou told Kathimerini. «Don’t forget that most air accidents occur within 6 miles of an airport,» he added. On August 12, the eve of the Olympic Games in Athens, an Iran Air plane that had just taken off and was flying over Artemis began to spit fire and was convulsed by explosions. The aircraft was forced to make an immediate landing. Sources in Artemis Municipality say the plane did not crash because it was almost empty. The incident was hushed up because of the Games. City Councillor Costas Apostolakis says the noise and pollution are unbearable. «When it’s busy, there’s a plane every 10 minutes, and once a minute at rush hours.» Last Tuesday at midday, he said, a 370-ton, four-engined Olympic Airways plane flew just above the house: «It blotted out the sky.» And noise is not only the only problem. «My lungs are sensitive,» he explained. «When there’s a south wind I can’t breathe. The sky ‘rains’ kerosene.» The municipality and local residents have filed a suit which is awaiting preliminary investigation; a date has been set for an expert’s report. They claim that the flight paths stipulated by the Greek Aeronautical Manual issued by YPA are not being complied with. Many aircraft either take off from the western (03 L) or the eastern (03 R) runways of the Eleftherios Venizelos Airport at Spata, and when they have gained a little altitude, turn abruptly to the east and fly low over Artemis to save time and money. But the mandatory flight paths are as follows: On takeoff from 03 L, the plane is to rise to 4,000 feet, fly 12 miles then turn east toward Karystos and continue. In this way, planes are not a nuisance to developed areas. When they take off from 03 R, which is closer to Artemis, the pilot flies over a narrow strip of Artemis at 1,000 feet, then turns east for Karystos. The two flight paths, especially the first, have little effect on the town. But they are not complied with. Moreover, the eastern runway – which takes the planes right over Loutsa – is used for approximately 80 percent of takeoffs during the day. The demands by Artemis residents for greater use of the western runway have fallen on deaf ears. Locals also protest that the special measures of the official Noise Reduction Procedures are being violated. While from 11 p.m. till 7 a.m., all takeoffs must be from the west runway (excepting emergencies, VIP and hospital flights), residents’ sleep is often disturbed by the noise of airplanes. Even the statistics from Athens Airport’s environmental service – which the residents question – indicate that 10 percent of takeoffs and 21 percent of landings at night during the first six months of 2004 were on the eastern runway. That means at least three-four flights a night. Apart from anecdotal evidence, residents have the data from sound meters installed in the area by Athens International Airport SA to record the sound of the airplanes. The records show that many planes fly over Artemis at times and places when they should not be there. The level of noise recorded as they fly over is extremely high, 80-100 decibels or more, which raises questions about the effects on human health. Residents are also concerned about the nearby ancient site of Brauron. Before the airport was built, it was said that the noise would not rise above 15 dB, but a portable recorder 2 kilometers north of the site, showed levels of 108 dB. Another aspect of the problem is flights by old, very noisy aircraft (such as the Boeing 737-200), which belong to the category defined by the second chapter of a European directive that have been prohibited from flying in Europe as of January 1, 2003. Although YPA insists that it has implemented this legislation from the outset and does not permit such aircraft to land in Greece (except in VIP or medical cases), residents complain that second-chapter aircraft – especially from Eastern European airlines, and the affiliates of some Western airlines – continue to land. «On Tuesday, I happened to see a Tupolev 154 go by,» said Markou, one of those who took legal action. «In 2003, there were thousands of flights by such aircraft.»