AN increase in aircraft noise above Henley has been blamed on a change in the weather.
Between September and November last year, more planes than usual passed over the town as they landed at Heathrow airport.
The Civil Aviation Authority says this was due to an unusually high number of days in which the wind blew from the east, forcing pilots to deviate from their usual route.
The airport, which has two runways, has an average of 650 arrivals and 650 departures between 4.50am and 10.50pm every day.
Pilots always land against the wind, flying in the same direction during the initial descent then turning and heading into the wind for the final approach.
When the wind blows from the west, they land by flying eastwards past the airport then turning over London, a pattern known as “westerly operations”. This route is typically used about 70 per cent of the time as it is also used when there is no strong wind in either direction.
However, when the wind blows from the east, about half of incoming planes fly westwards past the airport and turn around directly above Henley and the other 50 per cent of flights follow a similar pattern above the Wokingham area.
This pattern is known as “easterly operations” and means a plane flies over Henley roughly every three-and-a-half minutes.
The CAA says planes were on easterly operations for 53 per cent of the time in September and November, which is far more than usual.
By contrast, easterly operations were in use for just 12 per cent of the time in August, 14 per cent in October and 29 per cent in December. Between February and June, the figure ranged from 12 per cent to 40 per cent and the average for the whole of last year was 31 per cent.
The CAA’s statement follows a series of complaints from residents who contacted the Henley Standard and Henley MP John Howell.
They complained the noise from the planes seemed worse than usual and said their sleep was being disturbed.
Nigel Pike, of Friday Street, Henley, first noticed an increase in noise while on a camping holiday at Hurley Riverside Park in September.
He said: “The planes were incredibly close overhead and we were woken up at about 5am or 6am.
“We first thought ‘this must be a terrible place to live’ but then someone told us it had only just started.
“After that we noticed it was happening in Henley as well. There used to be one every minute and sometimes you could see as many as three planes in the sky at once. I could hear it inside my cottage while watching TV with the windows and doors closed. It woke me up at 6am and kept my daughter awake in the early evening.
“This was not something that had occurred previously and I have lived here for 17 years.
“You could hear the planes from time to time outside but even Concorde wasn’t this obvious.
“It does seem to have cleared up a bit since last year.
Jane Warby, of Rotherfield Road, Henley, said she was disturbed by the sound of the planes’ air brakes as they turned.
She said: “It was awful in November. You could see the next plane coming before you lost sight or sound of the previous one. It wasn’t just the fact that there was engine noise — you would hear a loud scream which I presume was the air brakes being applied.
“You can put up with that sort of thing every once in a while but you really notice it when it’s constant over several days. We need to understand why all these planes should turn over Henley rather than open countryside, where it would not affect such a large population, and whether it can be changed.
“If nothing is said or done, Heathrow will surely assume we are compliant and will feel free to plan future increases over Henley to make things even worse.”
Mr Howell wrote to Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin requesting the explanation from the CAA.
He said: “There are always a few complaints about aircraft noise in Henley but there had been a noticeable increase.
“The people who contacted me were troubled early in the mornings or when they were trying to sleep at night. I also noticed an increase in noise. There seemed to be more planes than usual circling overhead at a fairly low altitude.”
A Heathrow spokeswoman said: “Over the past few months we’ve been in an unusually long period of easterly operations.
“The wind normally blows more often from the west so this is just a weird occurrence where it has changed its mind for a while.
“Our westerly operations benefit the people of Henley as fewer planes fly over the town.
“However, it has always been overflown to some degree as it is on one of four holding stacks that have been in place since the Sixties.
“We charge noisy airlines more to land here and publish quarterly noise figures to promote good practice. We want to reduce the amount of noise for everyone.”
Representatives from the CAA and Heathrow airport have agreed to attend a meeting to discuss the issue at the Christ Church Centre in Reading Road, Henley, on February 26 at 7.30pm.