Win-Win Flight Path Changes


by Pearl Jones and John Stewart

Last week Heathrow announced that it would soon start to consult on the biggest change in flight paths since the airport opened in 1946.  It would start from ‘a blank piece of paper’.  Flight paths will be radically altered even it Heathrow fails in its attempt to build a third runway and remains a two runway airport – for details see the home page of the HACAN website:

This blog, written jointly with Pearl, a long-standing HACAN member who lives in Camberwell in SE London 20 miles from the airport, argues that the changes, if done well and creatively, could provide a win-win situation for both the industry and residents. 

I’ve never before written a blog at 11 o’clock at night with tea and a scrumptious cream scone in my hand.  But that it what I did last night when I popped into see Pearl on my way home from an election hustings in nearby East Dulwich.

I told Pearl about the constant noise from the planes as I left the East Dulwich meeting and we got talking about Heathrow’s plans. Pearl said that said that these changes could transform her life if multiple-flight paths could be introduced.  They would allow some relief each day from the all day-flying that she finds so hard to bear. 

More about how that could be done in a minute but first let Pearl introduce herself:

“It’s always rude to ask a lady her age so let’s just say I’m old enough to have two lovely children who’ve just settled into their first jobs but definitely not old enough to retire from my job as a check-out cashier at Tescos.  I came across from the West Indies 30 years ago and since then I have lived in the same estate in Camberwell.  It used to be called council housing.  Now it is known as social housing.  But it is still the same flat.  It is good for shopping and for public transport and we’ve got Burgess Park and Peckham Rye not far away.

It’s only the planes that really get me down.  I can’t afford to move away.  In fact I don’t really want to.  Only the planes make me think about it.  I sometimes dream of  just staying on in Bournemouth when my summer holiday comes to an end.

I don’t think that my friends in West London understand that we, too, suffer aircraft noise 20 miles from Heathrow.  It was never like this 30 years ago when I moved in.”

Pearl and myself talked about the way the changed flight paths, driven by new technology, Precision-Based Navigation (PBN), would help the aviation industry.  It will enable planes to be guided more precisely, saving the airlines fuel, cutting CO2 emissions, allowing air traffic control to run a slicker operation with fewer staff and giving airports more resilience, the latter critical at a busy airport like Heathrow.

The challenge for Heathrow and for NATS (the air traffic controllers) is to make sure the new technology also benefits local communities.  Twenty miles from the airport there is scope for multiple flight paths to be used to remove the curse of all-day flying from places like Camberwell and to give people like Pearl a break from the noise each day.  It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to improve the noise climate for hundreds of thousands of people.  If that happens, it becomes a win-win situation for the aviation industry and the local community.

But, according to Pearl, the rewards could be even greater for those involved: “I’ll give the people from Heathrow and air traffic control Earl Gray tea, served in my best china cups, with as many of my cream scones as they want if the can end all-day flying.  And, if they can do it quicker than before 2024 or 2025, I may even crack open a wee bottle of Jamaican rum with them.  That’s how I wooed my husband and I’m on the look out again!”


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