Report for Heathrow shows the Compton route is indeed being flown differently and more noisily than before

People complaining about Heathrow flights on the Compton route have been adamant there have been changes,  planes are over different areas and they are lower. Heathrow has said, month after month, that these people are mistaken.  Now research carried out by consultants have shown there are indeed changes. The report says there has been an increase in traffic from 2007 to 2015 – from 65 flights per day to 89 per day. There has been an increase in the proportion of flights using the northern edge of the departure route rather than across the 3km swathe. There has been an increase in the number of heavy aircraft (e.g. 747s and A340s) using the Compton route, and many are now going to ultra-long-haul destinations, so are very heavy with fuel; these planes are now lower over areas near the airport – and therefore noisier.  The consultants say the Compton route was designed before huge planes like the A380, which has difficulty flying it. Though Heathrow is meant to fine aircraft that do not stick to the NPR, this has not been happening. The planes cannot stick to the route – but are still using it as if they could. A very unsatisfactory situation.  Heathrow says it will be working with NATS and members of the Heathrow Community Noise Forum this year to “revisit the procedures used on the Compton route.”


Heathrow vows to take action over ‘illegal’ flights

28 FEB 2016
BY ROBERT CUMBER  (Get West London)

The airport’s own research shows many more large aircraft are flying outside their permitted route and at lower heights

Heathrow has vowed to address the problem of ‘illegal’ flights, after a study showed increasing numbers of heavy aircraft are straying from their designated departure route.

Bosses at the airport have promised to work with residents of Ashford and surrounding areas, who have complained of a huge rise over the last two years in the number of planes flying low over their homes, which lie outside the approved flight path.

An investigation by Heathrow showed many more large aircraft like Airbus A380s have been flying beyond the permitted corridor, and at significantly lower heights than before, in recent years on the Compton route.

The airport says the problem is specific to that route, used by planes departing to the east from the southern runway and banking to the west, towards the US.

Route not designed with larger planes in mind

As with all departure routes, aircraft are meant to follow the “noise preferential route” (NPR)– a 3km wide corridor designed in the 1960s to minimise disturbance for those living near the airport.

But Heathrow says the Compton route was not designed with today’s larger planes like the A380 in mind.

Heathrow Airport.   This map shows the Compton route, which is marked by orange lines
It says those heavier planes – many of which are heading to the USA’s west coast, so are laden with fuel – cannot climb as steeply and struggle to stick to the corridor, much to the annoyance of those living below.

Kevin Young, who lives in Ashford, says it is like a “bombing raid” some days, with more and more planes flying low over his house in the past two years, despite it lying outside the flight path.

‘Like a bombing raid’

“The noise over the last year in particular has been unacceptable. These planes have full thrust on because they’re trying to gain height quickly but they’re not able to,” he said.

“It’s like a bombing raid some days because there are so many planes passing overhead and they’re flying so low.”

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) says aircraft are required to follow the specific flight path unless directed otherwise by air traffic control.

The regulator states that an aircraft’s ability to follow an exact route is affected by factors including wind and the plane’s weight.

Airports have the power to fine airlines whose planes fail to comply, and the Government is able to ban those consistently flouting the rules.

Heathrow setting up working group to look at options

Heathrow says it has chosen not to impose fines as the Compton route was not designed with today’s aircraft in mind and they are often directed by air controllers to leave the path before reaching 4,000ft.

However, Mr Young claims that if planes are not able to follow the route they should not be allowed to choose that route in the first place.

Heathrow Airport  These charts show how many aircraft, especially A380s, are flying outside the permitted flight path

He says they should only be allowed to veer from the path without getting fined if it is for unforeseeable safety reasons.

Heathrow says more than 90% of flights keep to their designated departure paths but the Compton route has been a headache for many years.

Although the number of flights deviating from the permitted route has not risen in the last couple of years, it says, there has been a significant increase the number of A380s flying low over areas outside the corridor.

It insists the issue is a priority and it is setting up a working group with local residents to look at all possible options.

A Heathrow spokeswoman said: “Heathrow is aware of the long standing issues with the Compton departure route during periods of easterly winds.

“Working with industry partners and local community representatives, we will be reviewing the procedures used on the Compton route over the next few months, in order to address the concerns raised by residents.”

You can see the full report here .


Heathrow’s website says: 


Compton flight analysis – February – 2016

Over the last few months, there has been an increase in the number of residents from Ashford, Middlesex contacting us about flights using the departure route that passes over this area (known as the Compton route) during periods of easterly operations (i.e when there are easterly winds). Residents are concerned that there has been an increase in flights flying outside the departure route.In response to concerns we asked independent consultants, PA Consulting, to carry out some detailed analysis to assess whether there have been changes to flight patterns or altitudes over the last few years, and in particular to ascertain whether the procedural changes made by NATS to the route in 2014 had an impact to flight patterns below 4,000ft.

Broadly the findings show that:

– There has been an increase in traffic from 2007 to 2015 – from 65 flights per day to 89 per day, however over the last 3 years this has been remained fairly static;

– There has not been any increase in the proportion traffic flying outside the departure route however there is a higher concentration of aircraft flying towards the northern edge of the departure route, and therefore closer to areas like Ashford;

– There has been an increase in the number of heavy aircraft (e.g. 747s and A340s) using the route;

– There has been a large increase in flights going to ultra-long-haul destinations from 2011 which means aircraft will be carrying more fuel, and therefore heavier on take- off;

– There has been a decrease in the average and minimum height of aircraft over the analysis area (approx. 200ft) coinciding with the increase in large aircraft and long haul destinations.


The full report can be downloaded here

While the analysis confirms there hasn’t been an increase in flights outside the specified departure route, we are fully aware that there are long standing issues with flights using the Compton route route during periods of easterly winds.

In comparison to Heathrow’s other departure routes, the percentage of aircraft flying keeping within the prescribed 3km swathe (up to 4,000ft) of the Compton route is much lower than others.  The main reason for this is because the route involves a 180 degree turn which modern fleets find difficult to follow. In addition traffic departing on this route have to be tactically managed by NATS air traffic controllers to avoid the arriving aircraft from the holding stacks to the south.

This year Heathrow will be working with NATS and members of the Heathrow Community Noise Forum to revisit the procedures used on the Compton route.

For more information please contact us on                                              or by calling 0800 344844.


Earlier Teddington Action Group also got evidence that they have been suffering from more aircraft noise, despite months of denials from Heathrow:


Teddington Action Group show – from Heathrow report – that they are now suffering more aircraft noise

Residents in Twickenham and Teddington have been aware of greatly increased aircraft noise from Heathrow, over the past year. However, Heathrow have for months insisted that the noise has not increased. Now an independent report commissioned and paid for by Heathrow, by PA Consulting has shown that the residents are right.  Examining data between November 2011 and May 2015, the report confirms that planes – especially the heavier, noisier types – are flying lower than previously over the area, in greater numbers and concentrated within flight paths. Also that the periods of greatest disruption are increasingly late at night and early in the morning. Rather than being associated with the 2014 Flight Path Trials, which saw record numbers of noise complaints from residents, the report states that these developments merely reflect the general trend of fleet development and air traffic movements. TAG say they have more of the noisiest long haul planes flying over lower than before, sometimes at little more than 2,000 feet in Teddington and 1,400 feet in Twickenham. Worryingly, if this disruption stems from new flight trends, it is only likely to get worse, and for many other areas overflown by Heathrow planes.