Changes to flight paths

A New Type of Flight Path Coming Our Way 

Over the next few years Heathrow will see the biggest change to its flights paths since it opened in 1946.  It will happen whether Heathrow remains a two runway airport or if a third runway is built. 

Changes to flight paths are happening at airports across the world, driven by new technology.  Ground-based systems are being replaced by satellite-based systems.  This is a world away from simply replacing one flight path with an alternative one.  

Essentially SATNAV of the air will be coming in.  It is called Performance Based Navigation (PBN).  In essence, it means that aircraft can be guided more precisely as they land and take-off.  Flight paths will be along a few, predicable, concentrated routes.  This will allow more aircraft to use an airport, save on fuel costs, possibly reduce CO2 emissions from each aircraft, improve the resilience of airports and probably cut the number of air traffic controllers required.

In January Heathrow will be consulting on the second stage of its plans for new flight paths.  Earlier this year it asked for views on the key things people wanted from flight paths.  By a big majority people rejected concentrated flight paths flying over the same communities all-day long.  People wanted to see new areas avoided if possible but also wanted predicable breaks from the noise.

Heathrow are designing the flight paths to reject all-day concentrated routes and to give people respite even if that may mean some nears are impacted.  In January, as part of a major consultation, Heathrow will be asking us for more detail about the sort of flight paths we want.

The choice of new flight paths, though, will constrained by the new technology.  PBN flights will be along narrow predicable routes.  That is not up for grabs.  So dispersing the planes across a wide area will no longer be an option.  What is an option is the creation of multiple narrow flight paths which, if rotated regularly, would mean each local community could enjoy guaranteed periods of respite which many don’t get – and yearn for – at the moment.  Heathrow has committed itself to rotating flight paths.  The limiting factor will be the number of flight paths which can practically be created in the busy airspace of the South East. 

The consultation in January will be our next chance to help shape our future flight paths.

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