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.
Heathrow document says:
Trial route 3: Compton (CPT) departure route (delayed until further notice)
Heathrow document says:
Trial route 2: Compton (CPT) departure route (no mention of it being delayed till further notice )
Westerly departure trial 2
25 August 2014 – and it was due to last till 26 January 2015
People living in the Ascot area say the noise has continued over them, during westerly operations – and not only for easterly operations.
What NATS has to say:
This is the NATS page, with its apology to Heathrow, and its self-justifications
What Heathrow has to say:
Heathrow secures NATS agreement to improve communications about operational changes to air traffic control
17.3.2015 (Heathrow airport press release)
Following a change made by NATS last year to the way aircraft are directed within the airspace southwest of the airport, NATS has agreed to Heathrow’s request to urgently review the way they share information with the airport about changes which may alter the pattern of aircraft over communities living around Heathrow.
On 27 June 2014 NATS made a procedural change affecting the Compton route, [names CPT] one of the six departure routes used at Heathrow during periods of easterly winds. Heathrow was unaware of this change. The Compton route is used by 16% of departing aircraft turning west when the airport is on easterly operations, equating to around 6% of total departures. Other departure routes are not affected.
Prior to the change, aircraft using this departure route were directed across a wide swathe of airspace before moving into the next sector of airspace anywhere within a 13-mile “gateway” near Compton (hence its name) at approximately 8,000ft.
Since NATS made the procedural change, this gateway for departures has been narrowed to around 7 miles which means that aircraft are now climbing through a narrower area of the existing airspace in order to be in the correct location to go through the gateway. This has resulted in more concentration of departure aircraft activity over some areas and a reduction in others. It has also altered the position of some flights before they reach 7,000 feet, but not below 4,000 feet.
Areas affected by this concentration include Virginia Water, Ascot, Binfield and some parts of Bracknell.
For other areas, including Windlesham, Lightwater and Bagshot, the number of departing aircraft over them has reduced. This change does not affect areas to the east of the airport such as Teddington, East Molesey and Twickenham, and it also does not result in aircraft flying over new areas. It applies to one departure route only, so arrivals are not affected.
While the change to procedures made by NATS is unrelated to the airspace trials that took place last summer and finished on 12th November 2014, it does affect some of the same residents – specifically in Ascot and Bracknell.
Following the ending of the trials, Heathrow was approached by a number of residents and their elected representatives with concerns that flights were being routed differently. Heathrow asked NATS whether there had been any other relevant changes to airspace and were told that no changes had taken place. However as a result of further investigations by NATS and the CAA, the procedural change was identified, affecting air traffic in areas to the southwest of the airport.
There is no suggestion that NATS had any intention to mislead; however their failure to identify this change to Heathrow resulted in the airport wrongly telling residents in good faith that no changes had occurred following conclusion of the airspace trials in November.
Procedural changes made by to the control of aircraft above 7,000 feet do not involve airports and there is no suggestion that NATS did not follow the current agreed process. Nevertheless where procedural changes occur that may have a discernable effect to the noise experienced by residents, we would expect NATS to make us aware of the changes and their potential impact so that we can answer questions from local residents.
In light of this NATS has agreed to urgently review the way it shares information with Heathrow on any changes which may have a discernable impact for communities living around Heathrow.
The airport asked NATS to consider reverting to the prior operational procedures on Easterly departures. They have advised us that this change was made to improve the safe and efficient management of traffic departing from Heathrow and are not planning to revert.
For its part, Heathrow will continue to push for greater transparency from the aviation industry to promote trust amongst stakeholders and residents.
Heathrow has recently set up the Heathrow Community Noise Forum which brings together local community representatives, councillors, and NATS, the CAA and DfT. This will be an important platform to address matters like this.
Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye said:
“I am very concerned that NATS made this change without informing the airport or affected communities about its potential impact, particularly given its effects on some of the same areas to the west of the airport that were affected by the airspace trials we ran last year. Because of the assurances we received, we in turn told residents in good faith that no changes had occurred. That is unacceptable and I unequivocally apologise to local residents.
At my request, the Chief Executive of NATS has agreed to urgently review his company’s processes to ensure that NATS shares this information with the airport to prevent this happening again in the future.”
Notes to Editors:
For more information, please see
Like other airports across the UK, Heathrow carried out airspace trials as part of the government’s plan to modernise UK airspace through the Future Airspace Strategy. The aim of this is the more efficient use of airspace to reduce emissions, improve punctuality and reduce aircraft holding. Heathrow ran the airspace trials in conjunction with NATS to test techniques necessary to inform how airspace can be better managed in the future.
The most recent airspace trials affected aircraft departing from Heathrow to the west (i.e. on Westerly operations) and to the east (on Easterly operations). The trials took place last summer and ended on 12 November 2014. The effect of these trials was to concentrate flights along narrower corridors.
More information about the airspace trials can be found Heathrow.com/noise
NATS regrets flight path change noise impact
17.3.2015 (Air Traffic Management)
by Aimee Turner
NATS has apologised to Heathrow airport chiefs 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 the UK air navigation service provider 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 6 per cent of total departures.
It involves directing aircraft through a ‘gate’ approximately seven miles wide in the Compton area at approximately 8,000 ft; 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.
NATS said that 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.
Because the area involved is designated as a Radar Manoeuvring Area, NATS said it is authorised to ‘vector’ (direct) aircraft tactically in line with its obligations under its CAA licence to achieve safe, efficient and expeditious air traffic control.
“NATS is not required to consult on operational changes of this type as it is not moving, creating or changing routes or redesigning airways,” said NATS in a statement.
“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,” explained NATS. “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,” it added. “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.”
Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye said:“I am very concerned that NATS made this change without informing the airport or affected communities about its potential impact, particularly given its effects on some of the same areas to the west of the airport that were affected by the airspace trials we ran last year. Because of the assurances we received, we in turn told residents in good faith that no changes had occurred. That is unacceptable and I unequivocally apologise to local residents.”
“At my request, the chief executive of NATS has agreed to urgently review his company’s processes to ensure that NATS shares this information with the airport to prevent this happening again in the future.”
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.
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.”
Heathrow Airport finally provides an answer for increase in aircraft noise across Ascot and Bracknell
17.3.2015 (Bracknell News)
An increase in aircraft noise that has blighted homes across Ascot and Bracknell was due to a change in departure routes from Heathrow Airport.
Residents in Ascot protested against the increase in noise last year and more than 1,000 people attended a public meeting asking Heathrow for answers.
Frustrated residents have finally been given an answer for the increase in noise from aircraft over their homes, but may not like to learn there are currently no plans to revert routes to their previous set up.
A change was made to one route by the National Air Traffic Service (NATS) in June 2014 and led to a greater concentration of aircraft, and more noise, over areas to the south-west of the airport.
However Heathrow say poor communication from NATS meant they were not aware of the change and have apologised to residents who were repeatedly told that there had been no changes to the routes.
The airport also insists the change is not related to the Future Airspace trials which took place between August and November last year.
Unfortunately, NATS have also confirmed there were no plans for the route, called the Compton route, to be reverted back to it’s former state as the change was made to increase safety and efficiency.