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A study by York Aviation on the economic impact of night flights – paid for by Manston Airport's owners Infatril – has tried to quash the case for 'no night flights' arguing that allowing flying between 11pm and 7am would help bring more than 3,000 jobs to the area. Would it be fair to speculate whether this is merely the PR machine cranking up the ante, pushing the results of a study which undermines the logic of those who campaign for 'no night flights'?
Is this study really trying to imply that opposition to night flights will only keep people unemployed? With the closure of Pfizer and the loss of 2,400 jobs or more, it's easy to see how this might sway local people into feeling that allowing night flights is the sensible option, on the basis that it will magic jobs out of thin air. But is there more to this story than meets the eye? Of course there is. Would Infatril really pay for a study which contradicts their preferred business plan for Manston Airport? I say no.
From the outset, this study was probably bound to have an implicit pro-night flight stance, so we should definitely treat it with some misgivings. It even states on This Is Kent that:
"York Aviation is in the process of finalising the second part of the research which will assess the impact that the imposition of a stringent night movement policy would have on the airport's economic impact and commercial operation."
In other words, I'm willing to guess that these studies are more than likely going to lend credence to Infatril's masterplan. This first study, stressing the amount of jobs that may be created by allowing night flights, has an optimistic spin, so the second one will probably be more pessimistic, replete with doom-laden predictions intended to spook people into allowing Infatril to do whatever the hell they want. However, judging by the large amount of publicity this story has been getting, there is a risk that people will take this study at face value and lose sight of the bigger picture.
According to the latest unemployment figures, 4,382 people are unemployed in Thanet, so it's clear that jobs are sorely needed. But to take heed of a study which is eager to present itself as the saviour of the local economy may not be particularly wise, especially if an AEF study by Brendon Sewill on the “dubious statistical concepts” which airport consultants use to make future job forecasts is anything to go by. Sewill states:
“The suggestion that a new or expanded airport will create more jobs is a sure way to attract support from the public and a fair wind from the planners. Naturally airport companies and airlines make the most of this. Yet because they have a commercial interest in magnifying the number of new jobs, their figures need careful examination.”
Sewill also states the following:
“With the current recession, when thousands are losing their jobs, any promise of more jobs is welcome. Airports and airlines for their own commercial reasons tend, however, to exaggerate the number of jobs that will be created by airport expansion.”
Exaggerate, you say? For those of us who like to hear both sides of this argument, it's worth heading over to the No Night Flights website in which they argue that in comparison to job forecasts by other airports such as Gatwick and Stansted, Manston's job forecasts are by far the highest. This should ring alarm bells to people and does warrant further scrutiny.
Ultimately, we need to remind ourselves that Infatril's goal is to make a profit. What matters so much more than that is making sure the wishes of local residents are respected. Therefore, if this study really is built on hyperbolic statistics, then it's important to resist the urge to be convinced by its obvious one-sidedness. I hope people take a more balanced view on the pro's and con's of this issue rather than merely taking this study as gospel. After all, we may want jobs, but it should be on our terms, not Infatril's.