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Aircraft noise is no longer just a West London problem – new study published

6.3.2010   (HACAN press release)
A major study outlines why things have changed and what can be done about it.
There are maps  on the attached report (and links below)  to illustrate the current
situation across London, and links to a short video which illustrates the situation
in Vauxhall in South London.
A major study has been published by HACAN which outlines practical measures which
would reduce aircraft noise for countless numbers of people living under the Heathrow
arrivals flight paths (1).       The study was commissioned in response to the increasing
number of complaints about Heathrow noise HACAN received from people living many
miles away from the airport and who used not to be affected.  
The study, carried out for HACAN by the Aviation Environment Federation (AEF),
concentrated on those places some distance from Heathrow where aircraft noise
has only become a serious problem in the last decade or so.     During this time
aircraft noise has steadily got worse in areas such as Vauxhall, Clapham, Brixton,
South East London, Docklands, parts of North London and, to the west of the airport,
places beyond Windsor.   The report has identified the reasons why this has happened
and suggests remedies.   Some of these remedies, such as a steeper approach path,
would also benefit areas closer to Heathrow.
HACAN Chair John Stewart said, "No longer is aircraft noise just a problem for
the traditional areas of West London and Windsor in the vicinity of Heathrow.  
It has spread far and wide across London and the Home Counties.   The tentacles
of Heathrow reach to areas over 30 miles from the airport.   The Department for
Transport has tried to hide what has happened.   This shows what has taken place
and comes up with some answers."
The report found that the major reason for the spread and increase of the noise
lies in the fact that aircraft have started joining their final approach to Heathrow
much further out than previously.   For many years planes coming from the east
used to start their final approach in West London in the Barnes area.   But from
1996 onwards they increasingly have joined their final approach path many miles
further east.   This has resulted in a concentration of flights over areas such
as Stockwell and Vauxhall.   A survey carried out by HACAN last year found that
as many as 39 planes an hour were flying over Vauxhall, causing a significant
deterioration in the noise environment.
The report identifies the reasons for this:
·             There has been a change in the ways planes come into land.   Traditionally,
aircraft landed in a step-by-step manner until they joined their final approach
path over Barnes in the east (and just beyond Windsor in the west).   But, under
the system most of them now use, called Continuous Descent Approach (CDA), they
descend at a smoother 3 degrees instead of using the steps.   This reduces the
noise from the plane slightly but, in order to get the steadier descent, it may
require planes to join their final approach earlier on.   It is for this reason
that from the mid-1990s aircraft started joining their final approach path in
South East London and beyond, and in Henley-on-Thames in the West.          
·             The situation has been made worse by the increase in the number of planes
in recent years.   This has resulted in aircraft noise becoming a problem in areas
of North London such as Highgate and Finsbury Park and triggering complaints from
across East London, from places like Docklands, Bow and Beckton.
A Beckton resident said, "There is no way I should be affected by Heathrow aircraft
but in recent years they have become a real problem for me."
Ghislaine Stewart, who lives at Vauxhall said, "We have lived in this house for
over 20 years.   Yet it is only in recent years that aircraft noise has become
a problem.   In fact, it has become unbearable.   We didn’t move to the planes;
they moved to us.   There was no consultation.   There has been no compensation."
The report recommends:
The introduction of a steeper approach path (glideslope).   At present it is 3
degrees.   The study cites research from the international aviation industry which
says that a 4 degree glideslope is feasible, even for the biggest planes.   A 4
degree glideslope could cut the area where people are disturbed by noise by 21
– 35%.   This would have benefits for areas closer to Heathrow as well.
The introduction of curved CDA approaches.   This would overcome the problem of
needing a concentrated arrivals corridor over east and central London with planes
joining their final approach path many miles from the airport.   The European Commission
is actively looking at the possibility of curved CDA approaches.   But, in order
to get over the problem of concentration and the associated burden of noise, several
curved approaches would need to be introduced.        
The Government reconsiders its policy of concentrating flight paths.   The report
concludes that the Government’s noise objective which focuses only on the number
of people affected "is simplistic and out-of-date, and may even act as a constraint
on improving the noise situation around many airports." A more equitable system
could reduce the noise levels from intolerable to well below the threshold where
it would be noticed.
Tim Johnson, the Director of the Aviation Environment Federation, the author
of the report, said, "The report has positive suggestions on how the situation
can be improved.   It won’t happen overnight but unless a start is made change
will not happen.   That is the challenge for the next Government."
Notes for Editors:

(2.07 MB     24 pages)

The report only deals with landing aircraft.   It did not look at take-offs.

Maps  on  the report  (from BAA’s website) – showing the flight paths when planes
land from the east and from the west, on an average summer day.

Easterly arrivals map (2.4MB PDF)

Westerly arrivals map (2.3MB PDF)

The flights paths (in 2008) of planes landing at Heathrow.     In a typical year
a west wind blows for around 70-75% of the year.   That is when planes land over
London from the east.
Video clip about living in Vauxhall, south London at
“Under the Fligth Path Crossroad”