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.
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.
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.