Problem of how people bothered by aircraft noise can register many complaints

The Daily Mail is shares the glee of Heathrow in locating two people who had set up their computer to make automatic complaints about aircraft noise.  This came to light, when after the clocks changed, the complaints about flights were made even before the plane had taken off….. Clearly not a proper complaint. However, the presumption is that one person should only make a small number of complaints, even if they find the aircraft noise they are exposed to is excessive. Heathrow appear to see the complaints line as for planes that are making a degree of noise that is greater than normal, or different.  For people who are upset and annoyed by the noise, they may see every plane as upsetting and annoying. Airports are delighted if the number of noise complaints goes down, so the numbers matter.  If people do not complain often, they are considered not to be annoyed. That requires people to make multiple complaints, but that takes a great deal of time and effort  – hard to sustain while leading a busy life. John Stewart (HACAN) commented: ‘I think its unfortunate that many residents felt they had to resort to these kinds of machines, but unfortunately they have been left with no choice but to have them. ….that shows how disturbed people were by the noise from the flight paths.”


The 8,000 Heathrow noise complaints from just TWO people: Pair caught out using automated software when protests were logged about flights BEFORE they took off

  • Protesters have been using automated software to lodge noise complaints
  • Two anti-Heathrow campaigners filed almost 8,000 complaints in 2014 
  • Heathrow claimed the pair failed to update their clocks since October 
  • Many of the complaints were arriving exactly one hour before takeoff 

The duo were using automated software to complain when a flight was due to fly over their homes near the airport.

But officials at the airport caught them out when they failed to take into account the clocks going back in October leading to complaints being made about flights which were still on the ground.

The airport now believes that dozens of complainants are using similar software to generate automatic email complaints when a plane was due regardless of the noise.

Scroll down for video 

Two anti-Heathrow campaigners were discovered using an automated email system to complain about aircraft noise after they failed to change their clocks in October - meaning the emails were sent an hour early

Two anti-Heathrow campaigners were discovered using an automated email system to complain about aircraft noise after they failed to change their clocks in October – meaning the emails were sent an hour early

According to airport officials, two individuals were responsible for 7,888 complaints in 2014. The airport claims that just 37 people using the automated email system have lodged more than 28,000 complaints.

The airport has seen the total number of noise complaints rise from 18,826 in 2013 to 94,114 last year.

A spokesman said: ‘We found out because when the clocks went back in October, they forgot to change the timing on their software, so we started receiving complaints exactly one hour before the plane took off.’

However, John Stewart of the HACAN group which campaigns for noise reduction around Heathrow said: ‘I think its unfortunate that many residents felt they had to resort to these kinds of machines, but unfortunately they have been left with no choice but to have them.

‘I think that shows how disturbed people were by the noise from the flight paths. But unfortunately they have set their automatic machines to send out complaints before the aircraft even arrive.

‘It is not something that we were aware of ourselves and I do have some sympathy with Heathrow. I think they were right to point this out, and I do think they recognise there is a serious problem that needs to be addressed.’

It comes as a government survey found the number of people disturbed by aircraft noise doubled in the last decade. (see below)

DEFRA, the Government department responsible for noise, said four per cent of the population – over 2 million people – now consider themselves badly affected by noise from aircraft.

Another nine per cent said they are ‘moderately’ affected.



DEFRA National Noise Attitude Survey 2012 shows extent of interference from aircraft noise in people’s lives

DEFRA has produced the results of the National Noise Attitude Survey 2012, which looked at the extent to which noise from various sources is a problem to people. They compared the figures from 2000 with 2012. They found the 4 main sources of noise were ‘Road traffic noise’, ‘noise from neighbours and/or other people nearby’, ‘aircraft, airports and airfield noise’ and ‘noise from building, construction, demolition, renovation and road works.’ Though the numbers hearing these noises has remained roughly the same, there is a strongly statistically significant increase in the proportion of respondents who report being bothered, annoyed or disturbed to some extent by these 4 noise sources. The number who consider themselves to be significantly adversely affected by aviation noise has risen from 2% to 4%, which is strongly statistically significant. DEFRA says: “it must not be forgotten that a small percentage still equates to a large number of people.” The study showed that of the 510 people who put aviation noise in the top 3 sources that “bother, annoy or disturb” them, some 33% reported interference with sleeping; 24% reported interference with spending time in the garden or on the balcony / terrace; 23% said it interfered with having the windows or doors open; 23% said it interfered with listening to the TV, radio or music; and 23% said it interfered with concentration. (Section V2.8)

Click here to view full story…



This brings to mind the case of a pensioner at Gatwick, who was taken to Court for having made too many complaints to the airport’s noise line:

NOT GUILTY of annoying the airport by complaining for 4 years about Gatwick aircraft noise

Edit this entry.

16.2.2011 (GACC)

An elderly lady was recently arrested, at the instigation of Gatwick Airport,
for lodging too many complaints with the airport noise complaints line. She was
charged with the criminal offence of using a telephone to cause annoyance or anxiety
– although she only spoke to an airport answerphone set up to receive noise complaints.

Ann Jones of East Grinstead has been found NOT GUILTY.    As Ann told the court:
“It was not me annoying the airport:  it was their aircraft which were annoying

GACC chairman Brendon Sewill commented:  “It is a disgrace that this case was
ever brought.  It has wasted a great deal of police time, court time and public
money, and has added to the suffering of an elderly lady.

Ann Jones had adopted the tactic of ringing the airport answerphone each time
she heard a plane.  Although unusual, the court decided that this was not illegal.
As Ann said:  “What is the point of having a complaints service if one can’t use
it to complain?”

The court heard that each of her calls was prompted by a specific aircraft (she
did not call during periods when aircraft were routed elsewhere) and often drew
attention to the fact that she had been woken by aircraft as early as 5.30 am.

“Many of our members are frustrated” Brendon Sewill told the court “by only getting
an answerphone, never a real person.”  The court also heard that the airport staff
were under instructions not to discuss Mrs Jones’ complaints with her nor to make
any response, and that  Mrs Jones last had a response from the airport in 2006
and was naturally frustrated and angered by the airport’s refusal to respond.

“We hope that Gatwick Airport will now find better ways of handling complaints
from people distressed by aircraft noise,” said Brendon Sewill.  “Misuse of the
legal system to intimidate complainants is unacceptable..”

Ann Jones was charged under Section 127 (2) of the Telecommunications Act 2003
which states that:

‘A person is guilty of an offence if, for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience
or needless anxiety to another, he—

(a) sends by means of a public electronic communications network, a message that
he knows to be false,

(b) causes such a message to be sent; or

(c) persistently makes use of a public electronic communications network.’

She got in touch with GACC who turned to the Environmental Law Foundation.  They
put her in touch with a top London firm of solicitors, Bindmans LLP.   She was
represented by Ben Silverstone, barrister, and by Laura Higgs, solicitor.

Ann Jones is in poor health (aggravated by aircraft noise).  She has asked that
all press or TV enquiries should be handled by GACC.  Please respect her privacy.

For further information please contact Brendon Sewill, GACC, 01293 863369 or 01293 862373

Note.  Airlines have been exempt since 1920 from legal action for the nuisance
caused by noise.  (see below)

More details at


and .

East Grinstead pensioner accused of bombarding Gatwick with complaints

By Sam
16.2.2011 (This is Sussex)


A PENSIONER who bombarded a complaints hotline with hundreds of “abusive” messages
has had a court case against her thrown out.

Ann Jones, of Southlands, East Grinstead, was accused of misusing the service
by repeatedly moaning about noise from planes flying over her house.

Mrs Jones, 67, was accused of causing annoyance, inconvenience and anxiety through
her conduct, but the case was dismissed at Mid Sussex Magistrates’ Court on Tuesday,
after the prosecution could not provide evidence of a letter allegedly sent in
response to her complaints.

Brendon Sewill, chairman of the Gatwick Area Conservation Campaign, which protests
against aircraft noise and pollution, said after the case: “It’s a disgrace for
Gatwick Airport to have brought this prosecution against an elderly lady.

“She did nothing worse than to use the complaints system provided by the airport
to record messages.

“They have caused her six months of extreme worry and ill health.”

Mrs Jones made hundreds of complaints to the airport’s Flight Evaluation Unit
between March 1 and July 31 last year, including 250 in May alone.

Staff who received the messages claimed they were “abusive”, “threatening” and

The court heard that on more than one occasion Mrs Jones left a message saying
she hoped “terrorists attack your family”.

Addressing her in court, prosecution lawyer David Holman said: “You seem to be
complaining as much as everybody else put together or more. You complain repetitively.
You make a call, put the phone down and essentially you make the same call again.”

Mrs Jones received a fixed penalty notice and a caution for harassment in 2006,
over calls to the Flight Evaluation Unit.

The court heard staff were informed by management only to reply to written complaints
and, due to Mrs Jones’ previous actions, not to acknowledge her calls.

She claimed planes were regularly straying from their designated flight paths
and “destroying” her life, by causing headaches, depression and sleepless nights.

“Aircraft noise is my worst enemy,” she told the court. Mrs Jones added that
she felt “peeved” and “frustrated” at constantly being ignored. The case was dismissed
when no evidence could be provided of a crucial letter.

Supposedly sent after Mrs Jones’ caution, it told her she should write in with
any future complaints and that nobody would respond to her phone calls.

But the defendant insisted she had never received the letter.

Ben Silverstone, defending, said: “She’s vulnerable and she’s had no response
from Gatwick for four years. She’s calling at times of the day when planes are
moving close to her property.

“She has said in extremely colourful and expressive language the failures of
Gatwick to respond to her complaints. But using a telephone instead of a letter
is not a crime.”


Noise nuisance from aviation outside the law

Civil Aviation Act 1982


Liability of aircraft in respect of trespass, nuisance and surface damage.

(1) “No action shall lie in respect of trespass or in respect of nuisance, by reason only of the flight of an aircraft over any property at a height above the ground which, having regard to wind, weather and all the circumstances of the case is reasonable, or the ordinary incidents of such flight, so long as the provisions of any Air Navigation Order and of any orders under section 62 above have been duly complied with and there has been no breach of section 81 below.”



The Air Navigation Act 1920 provided the basis of the UK’s aviation noise regulation regime, by exempting aviation from nuisance sanctions, in order to stimulate the nascent industry.

This principle was reaffirmed in the Civil Aviation Act 1982, which nonetheless set out a number of provisions for controlling noise at larger airports through a process of “designation”, which has only been applied to date to Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted. By their Section 78 designation, the Transport Secretary is responsible for regulating take-off and landing noise at these airports.

In practice, noise restrictions at designated airports have been implemented through restrictions on departing aircraft noise, controls on night flying and (at Heathrow and Gatwick, under Section 79) housing noise insulation schemes.

At other airports, the successive governments have continued to favour local resolution. Councils’ main instrument in this regard is the Section 106 Obligation, a condition that can be placed on planning permission. These Obligations can limit movement numbers, operating hours and the types of permitted aircraft. Voluntary agreements can also be reached. London City Airport and Luton Airport, for example, have agreed maximum noise exposure contours, which must not be exceeded.
… and there is lots more at