Friday, 22 February 2019

Winners and losers in flights shake-up

Winners and losers in flights shake-up

MORE aeroplanes could fly over towns and villages near Henley instead of the town itself under proposed changes to flight paths at Heathrow airport.

The airport is consulting the public on possible changes to arrival and departure patterns as it gears up to expand with a new £14billion third runway.

It has suggested a new routine for inbound flights which could reduce noise over Henley because they would be spread over a larger section of South Oxfordshire and parts of Buckinghamshire.

However, this would mean planes flying over communities to the west of the town which aren’t currently under a flight path. The number of flights over this area would also increase under one option for a smaller proportion of arrivals to come in over Essex and Kent instead of the Thames Valley.

Furthermore, some departures could take off over Henley and neighbouring villages where none currently does.

At the moment, planes land at Heathrow by overshooting the airport in the same direction as the wind then turning 180 degrees before landing.

When the wind blows from the east, about half fly west past the capital and steer sharply above Henley at about 4,000ft. The other half follow a similar pattern but turn over the countryside to the south of Reading.

This practice, known as “easterly operations”, has prompted a large number of noise complaints to Henley MP John Howell, who is urging people to respond to the consultation.

Under the new system, planes could approach the airport in a straighter line from either the north or west of Henley. Some would bypass the area completely, flying south from High Wycombe towards Marlow before turning 90 degrees towards Heathrow over the countryside between Twyford and Maidenhead.

Others could approach at between 7,000ft and 6,000ft over Watlington, Ewelme, Goring or Woodcote before dropping to about 5,000ft over Turville, Nettlebed, Sonning Common or Caversham and Emmer Green.

A number would still fly over Henley at between 4,000ft and 5,000ft but without turning, which generates more noise because of the air brakes, while the rest would fly over the Sonning, Playhatch, Dunsden, Harpsden or Hambleden areas.

To ensure all towns and villages were treated fairly, flights would follow set arrival paths which would alternate regularly to create “respite zones” where no planes would fly over for a given period.

Depending on people’s views, these could rotate every few hours so that everyone would have some respite every day. Alternatively, there could be longer but less frequent breaks.

Heathrow is also considering new take-off paths for flights departing towards the west, which happens when the wind blows from that direction.

At the moment they follow one of four fixed routes, none of which affects the Henley area as it falls between two of them.

However, these could be changed to pass over South Oxfordshire at altitudes of between 5,000ft and 6,000ft. If this happened, the routes could also be rotated.

The airport has not proposed specific paths but Henley and surrounding villages fall within the “design envelope” where they could be plotted.

This is less likely to attract complaints as departing planes would be slightly higher and travelling much faster, which reduce noise.

The airport is currently on easterly operations about 30 per cent of the time because if the wind only blows lightly from the east, flights behave as though it were coming from the west. They fly towards the Thames estuary then turn around to land over the towns and villages to the east of London.

This policy, known as “westerly preference”, could be scrapped in favour of an “easterly preference” in which the situation would be reversed.

Flights could pass over the Henley area even if the wind were blowing lightly from the west, meaning there would be a 50 per cent split as most winds blow from the west.

Alternatively, the airport could have no preference and change its operations with the wind.

This would result in multiple swaps per day and would mean no area had periods of longer than a few hours without planes flying overhead.

It could also introduce “managed preference” in which flights would shift from a westerly to easterly preference every few weeks.

With a third runway, the Henley area could expect to take 47 incoming flights per hour on easterly operations and 17 outbound flights per hour on westerly operations.

Up to 10 arrivals and one departure could be louder than 65 decibels, which is about the level of background noise in a busy office.

Mr Howell has called for planes to fly over the area at a higher altitude then descend more steeply nearer London, although this is not being considered by Heathrow.

The MP says flights should be able to pass at higher altitudes because NATS, the national air traffic authority, may abolish the “stacking” system in which aircraft queue in one of four circular paths near London before landing.

Each “stack” at Bovingdon, Biggin Hill, Lambourne and Ockham forms a descending spiral so planes leave at a lower altitude than when they entered.

Mr Howell said: “This is a chance to look at how we use airspace in a more comprehensive way and I would hope they are able to make aircraft descend at a much later stage because the higher they are, the less noise they make.

“There is absolutely no need for aircraft to descend so early in their approach and you could bring them down at nearer 6,000ft or 7,000ft above Henley.

“There are fewer concerns about departures because they are absolutely belting it and are higher, which means people are unlikely to be bothered, whereas arrivals are slowing down to land so they’re nearer the ground and remain above a given area for longer.

“People should respond openly and honestly to this consultation as it is a genuine opportunity to make your views known and to influence the design of routes into Heathrow via the Henley area.

“It is absolutely essential that people who made comments at the public meetings I have previously organised take part in this.

“Although they may feel they have already spoken up, they need to explain their concerns again to ensure they are formally logged and incorporated into Heathrow’s thinking as it develops the proposal.”

The consultation is part of a wider modernisation strategy which the airport’s owner Heathrow Airport Holdings says will improve punctuality, reduce carbon dioxide emissions and ensure capacity to meet future demand.

The company says none of the proposals is set in stone and will be shaped by the public’s comments. It is also proposing a new landing procedure called “independent parallel approaches” which would allow more efficient use of the existing two runways.

This would benefit towns nearer the airport but have little impact further afield.

The Government formally backed Heathrow’s expansion following a vote in June last year.

Mr Howell was unable to attend the vote as he was at a European Council meeting but said he would have supported it as long as it could be shown not to have a negative impact on his constituency.

Before the scheme can go ahead, Heathrow must apply to the Planning Inspectorate for a development consent order, which is required for nationally significant infrastructure projects instead of a regular planning application to the local authority. It expects to apply next year.

A third consultation will take place in the summer but this will only cover the impact on communities immediately next to the airport.

The current one runs until March 4. To take part, visit

• What do you think? Write to: Letters, Henley Standard, Caxton House, 1 Station Road, Henley or email letters@henley

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