BALPA questions effectiveness of Heathrow 3.2 degree approach trial – noise might even increase?

Heathrow has started a 6 month trial of some aircraft approaching the airport at a 3.2 degree angle, rather than the usual 3 degrees. Its intention is to make a small reduction in aircraft noise.  But BALPA, the  pilots union, has commented that this may actually be more noise, not less. The steeper angle means pilots will need to be aware of how this will affect the handling of the aircraft and will have to adapt their flying accordingly. Though modern planes are quite capable of landing at 3.2 degrees, the plane must be at a specific height and speed and configured correctly when it reaches 1,000ft above the airport.  If it does not meet the criteria the landing must be aborted. It is possible the 3.2 degree approach could result in more go-arounds. That would cause more noise, more pollution and an increase in workload for both air traffic controllers and pilots. Planes would also need to slow down earlier in their preparation for landing. Using speed brakes, lowering the undercarriage and using flaps to reduce speed could possibly increase the noise levels further out on the approach to the airport.  Some aircraft may have to use full flaps for landings, which will increase noise due to higher power settings required to counter the extra drag.
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Balpa questions effectiveness of Heathrow noise reduction trial

Heathrow will allow certain aircraft to increase the angle they fly as they approach the runway from tomorrow as part of its noise reduction blueprint.

But UK pilots have questioned how effective the trial change from the international standard of 3 degrees to 3.2 degrees will be.

They have concerns that this scheme could possibly increase noise for Heathrow’s neighbours rather than reduce it.

The steeper approach to Heathrow will be different from the accepted standard around the world. Pilots will need to be aware of how the increased angle will affect the handling of the aircraft and will have to adapt their flying to take it in to account, according to the British Airline Pilots Association (Balpa).

Balpa stressed that flying a 3.2 degree approach path in a modern aircraft is not a problem in itself as most are certified for approaches of more than this and pilots are more than capable of adjusting flying techniques to cater for it.

When coming in to land an aircraft must be at a specific height and speed and configured correctly when it reaches 1000ft above the airport. If it does not meet the criteria the landing must be aborted.

Balpa warns that the adjustment to a steeper angle could mean an increase in the number of aircraft failing to meet the criteria and having to go around and begin the approach again.

That would result in more noise, more pollution and an increase in workload for both air traffic controllers and pilots.

The change will mean aircraft need to slow down earlier in their preparation for landing. Using speed brakes, lowering the undercarriage and using flaps to reduce speed could possibly increase the noise levels further out on the approach to the airport, according to Balpa.

Speaking ahead of the trial, which runs until March, Balpa flight safety specialist, Steve Landells, said: “UK pilots want to use their millions of hours of flying time to work with airlines, airports and air traffic controllers to minimise pollution and noise, but pilots are concerned that this particular trial could in fact increase those problems.

“Most aircraft are certified for approaches in excess of 3.2 degrees and well trained British pilots have the skills to tailor their flying to allow for the steeper angle.

“However, deviating from the international standard will mean the approach to Heathrow is unusual and will fall outside a pilots everyday experience.

“They will need to use a selection of skills from their flying toolkit to adapt their approach. Balpa wants to ensure pilots are well rehearsed in the changes and offered appropriate information and training to counter any problems.

“The aim of the change is to reduce noise, but a steeper approach may actually add to the problem. For example, some aircraft may now have to use full flaps for landings which will increase noise due to higher power settings required to counter the extra drag.

“For any trial to produce meaningful data there needs to be a representative sample taken. Balpa looks forward to seeing how many different aircraft and airlines take part in this trial.

“Pilots are keen to work with the aviation industry to help find ways to reduce noise impact, and look forward to analysing the results.”

http://www.travelweekly.co.uk/Articles/2015/09/16/56620/balpa-questions-effectiveness-of-heathrow-noise-reduction.html

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Two comments below the story:
We already make every effort to make our approaches as quiet as possible. One example amongst many – we avoid level flight below 6000 feet to keep engine thrust as low as possible, flying what we call a ‘Continuous Descent Approach’. BALPA are not attempting to thwart quiet ops, I believe, they are just suggesting that the 3.2deg trial may not produce a net decibel reduction, which is the ultimate objective and is in all our interests.
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I think the question for BALPA is this: “Given the importance of noise reduction, what suggestions would pilots make to minimise noise impacts?”
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Earlier:

Heathrow trial of some planes using 3.2 degree approach (not 3 degrees) starts 14th September

Heathrow airport knows it has a massive problem in trying to persuade people that adding a new runway would not greatly increase the amount of noise that residents around the London area are exposed to. So it has various ideas about how it might manage this. It is starting a trial 14th September (ending on 16th March 2016) for planes to approach the airport at an angle of 3.2 degrees, rather than the normal 3 degrees. Heathrow says this is optional and airlines can take part if they like. They say this will only affect planes on the final approach into Heathrow (approx. 10 nautical miles from touchdown), and will be trialled on westerly and easterly arrivals. The claim is that a plane 10 miles away from touchdown would be 215 feet higher. So around Clapham a plane might be at 3,400 feet rather than at 3,185 feet. With less height difference near the runway. That really does not make a huge amount of difference to the noise perceived. Heathrow says planes will continue at 3.2 degrees right up to landing, though not in bad weather. However another possibility is a “2 segment” approach, where the plane levels off to 3 degrees for landing. “Even 3.2 degrees could interfere with the ability to use low power/low drag and reduced landing flap techniques.” The 3.2 degree approaches have been used at Frankfurt and residents do not report any significant benefits.

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