John Redwood losing patience with inadequate responses on aircraft noise from John Holland-Kaye

John Redwood, the MP for Wokingham, has been in correspondence with Heathrow’s CEO John Holland-Kaye, about the considerable increase in aircraft noise that his constituents have been subjected to since mid 2014. Mr Holland-Kaye has replied, setting out a long list of possible improvements to how much noise Heathrow flights might produce.  John Redwood replied: “The changes that NATS made, without consultation, in June 2014 to the Compton Gate have resulted in incessant noise over the Wokingham area due to the concentration of flights over one area, rather than their dispersal. The various mitigating effects that you have described to me over the past months appear good in theory but they are having no effect on reducing the noise level above our houses. I have no wish to engage in a continuous dialogue or await some new consultation. What I and my constituents wish to see is a return to the pre-June 2014 dispersal and Gate policies. It is difficult to see why Wokingham would wish to support an expansion of the airport if this matter cannot be put right promptly.” So, roll on the consultation by the CAA this year, and then the other by the DfT, on aircraft noise and airspace change.



Reply to CEO of Heathrow Airport re. aircraft noise

Dear Mr Holland-Kaye

Thank you for your letter of 15 December.

The changes that NATS made, without consultation, in June 2014 to the Compton Gate have resulted in incessant noise over the Wokingham area due to the concentration of flights over one area, rather than their dispersal. The various mitigating effects that you have described to me over the past months appear good in theory but they are having no effect on reducing the noise level above our houses.

I have no wish to engage in a continuous dialogue or await some new consultation. What I and my constituents wish to see is a return to the pre-June 2014 dispersal and Gate policies.

It is difficult to see why Wokingham would wish to support an expansion of the airport if this matter cannot be put right promptly.

Yours sincerely

John Redwood


Comment by Tim Henderson
Posted January 2, 2016

It might be worth quoting from the “Operations – Proof of Evidence” HAL.MB.P.1 that the Heathrow team recently submitted to the Planning Inspectors presiding over the recent Appeal Inquiry hearing regarding the works to end the Cranford Agreement.

“3.8.3. Furthermore, the Civil Aviation Authority (Air Navigation) Directions 2001 (as amended), published under Section 66(1) of the Transport Act 2000 set out the circumstances when the CAA must also seek the approval of the Ssecretyary of State for “changes to the design or to the provision of airspace arrangements, or to the use made of them”, namely where those changes would have a significantly detrimental effect on the environment or where they would have a significant effect on the level or distribution of noise and emissions. The Directions included within the definition of “airspace arrangements” “changes to air traffic
control procedures, or to the provision of navigational aids or the use made of them in air
navigation”. It follows that a number of operational changes involving airspace change,
changes to ATC procedures or navigational aids will trigger the involvement of the SofS
and the consideration of environmental information before any decision can be taken on
their implementation.”

Andrew Haines, Chief Executive of CAA, has argued that changes due to NATS vectoring choices are not changes that are subject to the formal Airspace Change Process (see

It is noteworthy that Heathrow does not appear to accept this .


Letter from CEO of Heathrow Airport

I have received the following letter from the CEO of Heathrow Airport, addressing the points raised in my conversation with a pilot last month:

The letter from John Holland-Kaye – (presumably dated 15th December?):

Thank you for your letter dated 23rd November.  I am grateful that you continue to engage in a constructive dialogue with us on these important issues.  With regard to the recent conversation you had with a pilot, I would make the following comments in response:

Aircraft altitudes on departure

Heathrow’s departure routes and procedures regarding climb gradients were designed in the 1960s.  As modern aircraft fleets have replaced older technology, we have seen a steady increase in aircraft altitudes.  Indeed, the recent analysis undertaken by independent analysts PA Consulting shows that over the last five years, there has been an upward trend in the altitude of departures over Wokingham. [It would be good if they would publish this data, in comprehensible form, for all to see. AW note]. This is what we would expect with modern aircraft fleets.  However, further improvements beyond this will be limited in the short term because of the airspace constraints that NATS work within.

Heathrow’s airspace is one of the most congested in the world due to:  the proximity of four other major airports (Gatwick, Stansted, City and Luton); the location of the four holding stacks; and the interaction between arriving and departing traffic.  Taken together, these mean that until changes are made to the whole of London’s airspace through the Government’s modernisation programme, it will not be possible to increase further the height of aircraft.

As part of any future changes to climb gradients, the noise impacts of steeper climb gradients will have to be considered.  There will always be trade-offs.  While getting aircraft at greater altitudes more quickly may benefit some, it will also result in increased noise for others. [ie. it is even noisier for those living near the airport, who are already subjected to the worst noise. A benefit?  AW note].

Aircraft altitudes on arrival

The majority of aircraft coming into land at Heathrow already perform what is known as a Continuous Descent Approach or CDA.  This is a procedure aircraft perform after leaving the holding stacks, from approx. 6,000 feet and before they lock onto the final approach (the last 10 miles or so when aircraft line up in a straight line into the airport).  It involves aircraft maintaining a steady angle of approach when landing at the airport, as opposed to stepped approaches which involve prolonged periods of level flight. [And then engine thrust too.  AW note]. 

Continuous Descent Approaches reduce noise because they require less engine thrust and keep the aircraft higher for longer.  Some 87% of arriving aircraft currently use CDA at Heathrow.

In order to achieve the objective of keeping aircraft higher before they reach the final approach, there are a number of ways this might be possible in future.  The first is to introduce a steeper final approach angle, which would mean aircraft approach the airport at a higher altitude.  Currently the approach angle of the final approach (known as the Instrument Landing System) is set at 3 degrees.  This means that depending on the point that aircraft join it, they will be at a set height from touchdown.  We are currently trialing a slightly steeper approach with a view to increasing it further in the future.  [This omits to say the steeper angle is only 3.2 degrees, which makes virtually no difference, and is largely for PR purposes. AW note].

We are also investigating the feasibility of what are called ‘segmented approaches’.  A two-segmented approach adopts an intermediate approach phase flown at a steeper angle, before transitioning back to a standard 3 degree approach.  This would potentially provide noise benefits further out during the approach phase, without affecting the final approach phase.

Diverging flightpaths

Aside from the procedural change that NATS made in 2014 to the Compton route, which has meant more flights over areas in the Wokingham area, there have not been amendments to procedures that change the way aircraft are directed.

For areas closer to Heathrow, improvements [meaning technical advances. AW note]  in aircraft navigational technology has meant there is a trend for aircraft to be more concentrated with the established departure routes. [By improvements, he means that GPS-type technology enables planes to navigate more accurately – it has not meant any improvement to those living under the newly concentrated routes. AW note].

In areas further away from the airport, including areas in your constituency, the independent analysis shows that there is still a degree of natural dispersal once aircraft are over 4,000 feet (the point that they can leave the departure route).  Nevertheless, it confirms that there has been an overall increase in aircraft numbers passing over the area which will account for the increased over flight some people experience.  [No explanation is given of why there are now greater numbers. Heathrow is, in theory, almost “full”.  AW note].

Our view is that in planning future airspace changes, the industry should explore how new precision technology could be used to create alternating departure routes that would provide period of predictable respite from noise for residents. [Is there evidence that this is what people over flown actually want?  Has research been done?  AW note].  Currently aviation policy [DfT policy. AW note]  favours concentration over dispersal, although we understand that, as part of a consultation on airspace policy next year, it will seek views as to whether this is still the right approach.  It will be important that you and others make your views known during this process.

Arrivals management

Regarding better planning of arrivals, NATS has just adopted a new operational procedure – known as ‘XMAN’ – that cuts the amount of time that aircraft circle in holding stacks.  This is done by slowing down traffic in their en-route phase when delays are anticipated on arrival.

Traditionally NATS has only been able to influence an arriving aircraft’s approach to Heathrow once it enters UK airspace – sometimes only 80 miles from the airport.  This limits the opportunity to manage the flow of traffic and can result in additional time spent in the holding stacks. [Bearing mind the location of Wokingham, this seems to be irrelevant to Mr Redwood’s constituents’ problem.  link   AW note].

Under the XMAN system, if delays in the Heathrow holding stacks begin to build, air traffic controllers in the Netherlands, France, Scotland and Ireland are asked to slow down aircraft up to 350 miles away from London to help minimize delays on arrival.  Absorbing delay in the en-route phase, when aircraft are higher and more efficient, saves fuel and CO2 while minimising noise for the communities living beneath the stacks.

I would be happy to meet to discuss these issues in more detail.

Yours sincerely

John Holland-Kaye

Chief Executive Officer.

This was an earlier letter:

Letter from Chief Executive of Heathrow Airport about noise

Dear Mr Redwood

Thank you for the constructive meeting last month. It was useful to discuss some of the issues raised by the recent Airports Commission recommendation as well as the airport’s operations today and how we can be a better neighbour to your constituents.

I am grateful for the constructive manner in which you have raised a number of important issues on behalf of your constituents. As a consequence of our engagement with you and other local Members of Parliament, Heathrow has developed a Blueprint for Noise Reduction which aims to address many of the concerns you have raised over the past 12 months. These are set out in the briefing paper I’ve attached.

At our meeting, we discussed the Government’s Future Airspace Strategy which seeks to make fundamental improvements to airspace structures in the longer term. The modernisation of airspace creates the potential to restructure airspace to reflect the capabilities of today’s modern aircraft. This will address some of the more significant changes to you want to see, including increasing aircraft altitudes on departure. Although these structural changes are a few years away, in the meantime, we will continue to work with NATS and the airlines to find innovative solutions to managing noise and continuing to reduce Heathrow’s noise footprint.

I will ensure that you are kept fully informed about any future trails or proposed changes to flight paths. Your continued input into this process would be very welcome.

Kind regards

Yours sincerely

John Holland-Kaye
Chief Executive Officer


Briefing for Rt Hon John Redwood, MP for Wokingham – Aircraft noise, Heathrow

Blueprint for Noise Reduction

Heathrow’s Blue print for Noise Reduction is a list of practical steps to reduce the impact of operations at the airport today on those living under flightpaths around the airport.  It was developed following engagement with local politicians and in response to concerns raised by local residents.

The relevant commitments Heathrow have made that will improve the noise climate for residents in Wokingham include:

Continuous Descent Approach

Aircraft approach airports in two stages.  The first part, which happens over areas such as Wokingham on easterly operations, is as aircraft make their way from the holding stacks to the final approach.  Pilots can make this stage less noisy by descending at a steady rate in what’s known as a continuous descent approach (CDA).  The alternative – coming down in steps with periods of level flying in between – is noisier because aircraft fly at low altitudes for longer.

The use of CDA has been increasing over the last few years and over the past 12 months Heathrow has been working with those airlines that perform below average.  This has seen some very encouraging results and last month saw the best ever performance of CDA with 89% of all arrivals at Heathrow using this procedure.  This is benefitting the Wokingham area by keeping these aircraft higher for longer.

Fitting Quiet Technology to A320s

The Airbus A320 family of aircraft accounts for 55 to 60% of the aircraft that use Heathrow.  They’re efficient aircraft but they emit a distinctive high pitched whistling sound when the aircraft are about 10 to 25 miles from touchdown, over areas such as Wokingham.  It’s now possible to retrofit a component that reduces the noise from each aircraft by around 6 decibels.

I have written to the Chief Executives of all airlines operating the A320 into Heathrow, encouraging them to adopt the new technology.  Some have already done so and 80% of the fleet is expected to be retrofitted in the next 18 months.

Early Phase-out of the Noisiest Planes

Some aircraft are noisier than others.  The oldest and noisiest are classified as ‘Chapter 3’ aircraft.  Airlines already pay ten times more to fly Chapter 3 planes to Heathrow than they pay for the quietest aircraft.  Although the number of ‘Chapter 3’ aircraft in use at Heathrow is decreasing each year, based on last year’s movements there are still around 3,600 of these aircraft which we know are disruptive to residents.

Heathrow aims to become the first large European airport to be completely free of ‘Chapter 3’ aircraft and we are working with the airlines that still use these aircraft to encourage an early phase-out.  We will be able to report progress against this later this year.

Late Running Aircraft

The last scheduled flight of the day leaves its stand at 22.50.  For a variety of reasons aircraft may leave later, which can be very disruptive for local communities.  Sometimes late departures are unavoidable.  We are working with NATS to reduce operational bottlenecks that lead to delays and late flights.

We are keeping a record of all late-departing aircraft so that we can track the least punctual airlines and are working with the airlines that run late most often to help them keep to schedule.

Segmented Approaches

While not officially included in the Blueprint, we have been working with British Airways to explore the concept of ‘segmented approaches’ which potentially offer additional noise benefits, particularly for communities further away from the airport such as the Wokingham area.

Segmented approaches are where the aircraft has an initial steeper approach path before transitioning to a lower angle for the final approach to the runway.  For example, this might be going from 4.5 degrees to 3 degrees.  This would mean aircraft would be higher over Wokingham than is the case today.