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Heathrow flight-paths explained

NewsLocal residents have noticed a marked increase in noise from airplanes taking off from Heathrow in recent days, particularly during flights after dark.

Contrary to some reports, the change in flight-paths isn’t part of the current trial to change flight-paths – this affects towns along the normal incoming path above Chiswick, Wandsworth etc during quieter times in order to reduce delays and late-running flights.

Planes at Heathrow usually land and take-off in a westerly direction. When the wind direction changes however, so must the arrivals and departure directions of planes – taking them directly over Teddington when taking off. Recent clear skies overnight have also made the planes sound particularly noisy.

Westerly departure (normal)

Easterly departure (when predominant wind direction changes)

Although rising to operating at 98% capacity in recent years, Heathrow, along with other BAA-owned airports are currently suffering a fall in passenger numbers due to a “softening in the global economy” although few doubt that extra capacity in the London area will need to be increased sooner or later.

[Update 15/11/2011] BAA have re-iterated the recent increased plane noise over Teddington is due only to the change in wind direction and subsequent change of west-east departure routes – this prolonged period of easterly wind has also brought the recent mild winter temperatures.

By coincidence the Heathrow runway trial started on the same day that the wind direction changed (November 1st) so residents believe the trial to be the cause of more planes overhead – this isn’t the case. The trial only affects landing planes (by using both runways instead of just one) but planes do not land via Teddington airspace.

[Update 01/12/2011] Vincent Cable has written to Aviation Minister Theresa Villiers for an explanation after his office was flooded with complaints from residents complaining about the increase recent aircraft noise.

In answer to another request, a letter from BAA has been issued that explains the cause of the increased noise over the trial period along with some statistics.


20 thoughts on “Heathrow flight-paths explained

  • Sleepycr

    Hi, your analysis of the impact of the pilot study on Teddington is misleading on several levels: first we are impacted when the wind blows east and yes it has blown east a lot in the last 10 days, but we are also getting more planes at varying times because of the lack of the alternation system during the pilot, some very early in the morning and some very late at night after 11.30 pm. Planes also dont always follow the agreed flight path. Generally we get planes taking off, but are currently getting planes landing which is noisier. Richmond council are collating residents feedback with a simple question; are you hearing more plane noise? You should be encouraging residents to complete that survey honestly as the lack of rotation will indirectly affect Teddington when the wind blows the wrong way.

  • tteditor

    Hi, see above update with info from BAA

    • Andrew Edge

      Having looked at the Heathrow website details of the trial, I don’t think the above statement is correct. The website indicates that the trial will impact on Teddington, regardless of what BAA have said.

      The website states:

      “The trial will be used during both easterly and westerly operations. There will be occasions therefore when the northern runway is used for departures in an easterly direction. At present, this does not occur.”

      Looking at your maps above, you can see that if the northern runway is used for take-offs, the path goes through Teddington.

      • tteditor

        Hi Andrew, the departure path goes directly over Teddington when using North or South runways – you can see the path lines merge this way from both.

        It looks as though using the north runway means that planes don’t fly over Bushy Park so overall, switching to the North runway means less areas around Teddington area are flown over, but I’m not sure about frequency.

        According to the maps BAA supplied, south runway = 4 departure routes, north runway = 3 departure routes, so perhaps this means more flights over fewer routes (therefore on the Teddington route)? I’ll email BAA again to ask about this.

        • tteditor

          OK it was just the maps above that are difficult to read – this one makes it clearer.

          It looks like using either runway doesn’t mean changes to the taking-off route over Teddington airspace at least – in fact north runway departures sends planes slightly further north towards Twickenham before they join the southern runway route over Ham/Richmond Park.

  • Mandysj

    All I know is that I let my dogs out on Saturday at 10.33pm and during that 20 minutes over 10 planes passed over the garden, I woke up to the planes passing over at 6.30am on Sunday and this was a constant noise for about 3 hours with one going past every 5 minutes. It is awful and I called Richmond Council about it as what good will that do.

  • The operational freedom daily reports (for what they are worth) are at heathrowtrial.com.

    For instance


    shows the additional night flights after the fog day.

    I still question why the disruptive flights (which went on until 1.30 am) should be exempt from counting towards the allowed quota of night flight movements. Exempt under grounds of hardship and suffering to passengers ? What about the suffering of West London ?

  • For goodness sake, put some ear plugs in. When you moved here, did you not realise one of the world’s busiest airports was nearby? If you can’t stand aircraft noise, don’t live next to an airport!

  • light play

    Have you noticed the recent noise increase? I don’t remember June being so noisy (we moved to Teddington at the end of May). Any special reason for it? Thanks!

    • Hi, haven’t heard of any planned increase on flights for the Olympics – in fact it sounds as though there are actually less than normal to help prevent overcrowding.

      Maybe the wind direction has changed again – planes taking off over Teddington have been more noticeable lately and this has coincided with the warmer weather?

  • FYI the map that the two screenshots are taken from are to explain the government-designated NPRs (Noise Preferential Routes) as created in the 1960’s – these aren’t controlled by BAA.

    Basically almost all of Teddington is in a NPR so this means that although most planes follow the black lined routes, planes could fly over any part of Teddington according to their destination.

    When planes leave a NPR below 4,000ft they are automatically tagged by the Noise and Track Keeping System in the Flight Evaluation Unit at Heathrow.

    Easterly Departures map

    Further info/FAQ

  • There’s so been so much air traffic noise the past 24 hours – anyone have any idea what’s going on? (Message dated January 29th 2014)

    • Hi, due to the wind direction, the airport has been on Easterly operations (taking off to the East) which creates noise over Teddington as the planes take off. Hopefully the wind will change back to the predominant direction soon and it will be back to normal.

      You can see which direction the planes are landing/taking off via flightradar or checking with this Heathrow Twitter account.

  • what is going with recents planes taking over teddington and twickenham it has been non stop for the past 2 months? !!! council are you doing anything about it???????? it is impossible to get the rest as it starts from 06:00 and goes well after 23:30!!!!!

      • If the east wind continues, things might change from next Monday when a new set of easterly departure flight trials kicks in for a six month period as part of the preparatory work for London airspace modernisation :
        Heathrow hasn’t got its act together to tell us about the details of the trial (or perhaps doesn’t want to , in case we notice and complain) but the details were published in Aeronautical Information Supplement 019/2014 a couple of months ago.
        Flight paths will become much more concentrated along narrow routes and dispersion over a wide area will decrease. There should be many winners but an unfortunate few who will be big-time losers.
        I have been trying to get information on the environmental impact assessment for the change but it has been an uphill struggle. The best I have got so far are the maps in the presentation :

        • Emma McStea

          Thanks for this information we have noticed the flight are flying very low, i can literally see people in it if i had a binoculars. As a mother this has affected my children sleeping pattern, the 1 year old has been waking up crying hysterically pointing at the window especially in the morning around 6pm and her nap time at 3-4pm.

  • I agree with the above comment, if you live near an airport – there is going to be aeroplane noise whether you like it or not.


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