Dr Phillip Lee, MP for Bracknell, says Heathrow and NATS claims on flight paths “outrageous and unacceptable”
The MP for Bracknell, Dr Phillip Lee called staff from NATS and the airport to a meeting at the House of Commons on Wednesday 18th March, to answer questions about flight path changes affecting his constituency. He asked Jane Johnston, head of corporate affairs at NATS, and Heathrow senior staff to explain the situation of increased aircraft noise, and Heathrow’s claim that they did not know there had been a change. Since the start of the “procedural change” to flights on the Compton route, there has been a huge degree of protest by affected residents, with thousands of complaints made. Heathrow repeatedly told people who complained about noise that “trials” ended on 12th November. Only now, four months later, has it emerged that these procedural changes continued, and NATS has no intention of reverting to the previous system, before June 2014. Dr Lee was told that NATS “didn’t make the connection” between the changes, and the increased complaints. The staff told Dr Lee they were simply following procedure. Dr Lee said: “This is a wholly outrageous and unacceptable situation. Given all the publicity that surrounded the additional noise caused by the flight path trials, I find it completely unbelievable that these changes in the procedures were simply overlooked by NATS as a possible cause for increased activity over residents’ homes.”
Bracknell MP’s rage at unannounced Heathrow flight path changes
21 March 2015 (Get Reading)
By Hugh Fort
Dr Phillip Lee called staff from NATS and the airport to a meeting at the House of Commons.
Bracknell’s MP has grilled airport bosses over why people were not consulted over changes which led to hundreds of complaints about aircraft noise. He summoned Jane Johnston, head of corporate affairs at Heathrow service provider NATS and bosses from Heathrow to an urgent meeting at the House of Commons on Wednesday.
Dr Phillip Lee is furious about the changes, which led to unannounced trials of new flightpaths over Bracknell Forest last year.
The changes led to complaints from people across Bracknell over the increased noise, even after the trials finished in November.
At the meeting, Dr Lee demanded to know who was responsible for what he calls an “incredible oversight”.
He was told NATS ‘didn’t make the connection’ between the changes, and the increased complaints.
The staff told Dr Lee they were simply following procedure.
Dr Lee: “I sincerely hope this was not a deliberate attempt to mislead the people affected”.
Afterwards, Dr Lee said: “This is a wholly outrageous and unacceptable situation. Given all the publicity that surrounded the additional noise caused by the flight path trials, I find it completely unbelievable that these changes in the procedures were simply overlooked by NATS as a possible cause for increased activity over residents’ homes.
“I sincerely hope that this was not a deliberate attempt to mislead the people affected.
“It is also unacceptable that procedures can be changed without any reference to those people who will be adversely affected.
“I will be raising this immediately with the Department for Transport and, if I am re-elected in May, I will fight to ensure that all proposed airspace and procedural changes are communicated appropriately to all concerned before they come in to effect.
“In the meantime, NATS should acknowledge the distress they are causing by carrying out an immediate review of their internal processes to identify how and why this astonishing oversight happened.”
“Absolutely clear communication needs to improve at all levels”
He added: “It is absolutely clear that communication needs to improve at all levels and between all organisations and stakeholders.
“However, it should be noted that Heathrow Airport Limited appear to have been misled just as much as everyone else by NATS’ failings.”
What we know:
– Hundreds of residents were affected by aircraft noise last year during trials of new flightpaths for Heathrow Airport
– Furious Dr Lee called staff to explain themselves at a meeting at the House of Commons
– If re-elected he will fight for people affected to be consulted over any future changes.
– NATS has apologised.
– Aircraft safety is NATS’ main priority
In response to Dr Lee’s criticism, a spokeswoman from NATS said: “NATS has apologised to Heathrow Airport Ltd for not highlighting an operational change to air traffic control which has affected some of the same communities that were affected by the airport’s airspace trials which ended last November.
“Following further complaints from residents, Heathrow asked NATS if there had been any other airspace changes and we confirmed there had been none, as a result of which Heathrow made public assurances to residents.
“Following further investigations, the earlier procedural change was then identified which has led to a change in flight patterns over some communities to the south and southwest of Heathrow.
“In June 2014, NATS changed the way air traffic controllers direct aircraft within an area of existing airspace.
“This change only applies when the airport is on easterly operations, and affects only the Compton route which accounts for around 16 per cent of departures, or six per cent of total departures.
“It involves directing aircraft through a ‘gate’ approximately seven miles wide in the Compton area at approximately 8000ft; this ‘gate’, previously 13 miles wide, allows NATS to improve air traffic management in the area, enhancing safety and efficiency.
“This new procedure involves NATS (NERL) in terminal control in Swanwick climbing aircraft more quickly out of Heathrow on the Compton route and more clearly separating them from Heathrow inbound streams that in the past they would have had to transit underneath at low level.
“There is a net safety benefit of doing this through greater systemisation of the airspace and a clearer separation of inbound and outbound flows of traffic.
“There is also a net benefit to the public as a whole, as these departures now climb more efficiently, reducing overall ground noise.
“The area involved is designated as a Radar Manoeuvring Area. NATS is therefore authorised to “vector” (direct) aircraft tactically in line with our obligations under our CAA licence to achieve safe, efficient and expeditious air traffic control. NATS is not required to consult on operational changes of this type as we are not moving, creating or changing routes or redesigning airways.
“Our first priority is safety, and we also seek to use existing controlled airspace in the most efficient way to provide expeditious service to users.
“The change is in line with the Government’s Aviation Policy Framework, which states ‘limit and, where possible, reduce the number of people in the UK significantly affected by aircraft noise’.
“We have therefore explained to Heathrow that we are not intending to revert to previous procedures.
“There is no suggestion that NATS did not follow the current agreed process.
“However, we have already taken steps to ensure more robust processes are in place to share relevant information with Heathrow so that they are aware of any changes that may be noticed by local residents.”
Windsor MP, Adam Afriye, says on NATS/flightpath fiasco, Heathrow has either been wilfully misleading or incompetent
Following sustained pressure from Adam Afriyie, MP for Windsor, Heathrow finally admitted changes to flight paths that have inflicted more flights and greater noise on residents in Ascot, Binfield, Bracknell Forest, Cheapside, Sunninghill, Warfield and other nearby areas. John Holland-Kaye, CEO of Heathrow, wrote in a letter to Mr Afriyie: “I recognise that as an airport community we have let you down in this instance. We need to do better to be a good neighbour and I would like to unequivocally apologise to you and your constituents.” Commenting on the letter, Mr Afriyie said: “I am deeply concerned on behalf of the residents who have suffered from extra aircraft noise without so much as a warning…What beggars belief is Heathrow’s insulting accusation that residents were imagining the extra noise! … Heathrow must take the blame for misleading residents and being dismissive of their concerns. And I now call on Heathrow and NATS to release all flightpath data on arrivals, which Heathrow is yet to disclose to me….Heathrow has either been wilfully misleading or rather incompetent. Heathrow and NATS have serious questions to answer and must be held to account in Parliament.
Heathrow says it did not know flight path changes were continuing – blames NATS for not telling them
Heathrow and NATS had flight path trials during summer 2014, which ended on 12th November, due to intense opposition. See details. But complaints have continued and people have been adamant that the trials have not ended. Heathrow has given assurance after assurance that the trials have ceased, implying people are imagining the noise – or have become over-sensitive to it. Now Heathrow and NATS have had to apologise. Heathrow says it did not know the trial affecting the “Compton” route to the south west and west of Heathrow had not ended, as NATS had not informed them. As NATS and Heathrow work closely together, that is very hard to believe. Even if it could be credible, it reveals a markedly dismissive attitude to the thousands of upset residents, who have complained week after week. The airport had made no apparent effort to establish the facts, for many months. The areas particularly affected by this change are Virginia Water, Ascot, Binfield and some parts of Bracknell, which are experiencing a concentrated flight path. John Holland-Kaye said: “Because of the assurances we received [from NATS], we in turn told residents in good faith that no changes had occurred. That is unacceptable and I unequivocally apologise to local residents.” However, NATS say they changed the route to improve the safe and efficient management of traffic departing from Heathrow and they are not planning to revert to previous procedures.