Reply from the Minister on aircraft noise

I previously wrote to Robert Goodwill MP, the Aviation Minister about aircraft noise. I have now received the enclosed response from him:

Rt Hon John Redwood MP
House of Commons

8 January 2016

Dear John

Thank you for your letter of 9 December which followed our recent meeting of 23 November ā€“ attended also by Phillip Lee and John Howell ā€“ where we discussed the impact of aircraft noise on your constituency.

As promised during the meeting, I recently arranged for Martin Rolfe, CEO of NATS, and some of his colleagues to come and discuss with me the issues that you raised around the procedural change to the Compton Gate and aircraft noise more generally.

I agree that the way the procedural change was carried out was unfortunate. While I understand this change has both enhanced safety and reduced the noise which many people experience as planes can now climb and descend at greater angles, I realise that for some people this may have led to more aircraft overflying them. It is disappointing that these people were not informed of the change before it took place and that NATS also seems to have failed to notify Heathrow of the change. I am pleased NATS has apologised for these errors and that it has committed to reviewing its processes to ensure a similar situation does not occur again.

I also discussed with NATS the issue of stacking which you raised in your letter. Unfortunately, due to the constraints on capacity at Heathrow, aircraft often have to join a stack while they wait for permission to land. Due to safety requirements, and the need to ensure aircraft are a safe distance from one another, there are limitations on the speed, altitude, and angle of descent of arrival aircraft which impose significant constraints on existing air traffic control operations.

As part of the plan to modernise our airspace, however, NATS is putting in place procedures that may allow them to control aircraft further away from populated areas of the SE of England. This will reduce the need for stacking and enable NATS to ensure that requirements for airborne holding are higher and further away than they are today. As part of its XMAN project, NATS has already made some improvements which have reduced stacking over London, but it is hoping to do a lot more by 2020.

Regarding the issue of planes being required to climb or descend at greater angles, the Government already issues noise abatement procedures to this effect at Heathrow. Most aircraft comply with these requirements, with 88% of aircraft at Heathrow adhering to the continuous descent approach requirements, rising to 96% at night. Iā€™m sure you appreciate that safety must always be the priority for aircraft and there may be legitimate occasions when it is neither safe nor possible to adhere to these requirements. As you will be aware, Heathrow is currently trialling a steeper angle of descent and the long-term aim is to incorporate these changes within its proposals for airspace modernisation.

Finally, with the exception of the Compton change which I have already addressed, NATS reassured me that there have been no specific changes to easterly departures that will have increased the concentration of aircraft over your constituents. The trials which took place in 2014 have reverted to their previous form, but there may be random variations in the frequency and type of aircraft using particular routes that may affect how noise is distributed. It should also be noted that some aircraft are able to fly routes more accurately resulting in less dispersal than previously existed. At Heathrow, this will not be due to the introduction of performance-based navigation (PBN) but can partially be explained by the increased navigational capabilities of aircraft and improvements in airspace systemisation. Nonetheless, I would like to reassure you that officials at the Department for Transport are aware of how strongly communities feel about these issues are looking into these matters.

I hope you have find this response useful.

Yours sincerely