Back in February I was invited to speak at the UC Davis Aviation Noise & Air Quality Symposium in Palm Springs. My subject was around community engagement and how modern aircraft navigation technology can provide respite from noise for those living under airport flight paths.

You might be familiar with the trial we ran last year with Heathrow Airport and community group HACAN, in which we created ‘no fly zones’ that would alternate from week to week. The idea was to try and provide predictable respite from noise by ensuring our controllers funnelled arriving aircraft only through the designated zone.

The trial had mixed results. 100,000 people were given some respite from aircraft noise, but equally we found those who were not regularly overflown before experienced more noise. It was a lesson in the delicate balancing act that needs to be observed when trying to address the issue of aircraft noise around an airport.

noise repite trial

So in December we started a new trial, this time focused on departures while taking advantage of the latest aircraft navigation technology.

Together with Heathrow, we designed new Standard Instrument Departure routes that allow departing aircraft to not only climb more quickly, but also follow a defined route much more accurately.

The secret is the use of precision navigation.

A day of Heathrow departures before the introduction of P-RNAV.

A day of Heathrow departures before the introduction of P-RNAV.

Precision RNAV, otherwise known as RNAV1 is a capability that uses the aircraft’s Flight Management System (FMS) to fly routes with an accuracy of 1 mile or better. In practice this is a minimum standard and the aircraft actually fly very much more accurately than that. The advantage over conventional procedures is that routes can be designed to optimise trajectory for fuel burn, noise, air traffic control capacity and safety without being constrained by the position of traditional ground based navigation aids.

With aircraft being able to follow a defined route much more accurately, it is possible to concentrate them over a smaller area, radically reducing the number of people exposed to aircraft noise. The problem of course is that those under the new departure route could potentially experience more noise.

Heathrow departures using P-RNAV.

Heathrow departures using P-RNAV.

The best solution is obviously to create routes that carefully avoid populated areas, but when that’s impossible we can look to create multiple routes that can be used alternately in order to provided assured and predictable respite.

That’s exactly what we’re currently trialling at Heathrow until June. As you can see from the radar tracks, it is already having quite an impact.

I look forward to sharing with you the full results later in the year.


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This is totally unfair system, instead of people having one or two planes in a day, the poor people under the new route get all 60 say. To be under low flying planes on a constant stream in unbearable, you can’t live beneath. Who ever thought this idea had only one agenda, to get more planes in the skies as possible to profit the airports and airlines. It is not for the benefit of the people with constant stink of jetful, emissions, health risks and noise, noise, noise, every minute with no respites!


Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment.

The Performance Based Navigation trials we’re currently involved are about making the UK’s skies quieter, greener and more efficient. They form part of the Civil Aviation Authority’s Future Airspace Strategy that aims to transform our airspace into something that’s fit for the 21st Century. Greater use of PBN technology makes best use of today’s modern aircraft and engine capabilities, meaning aircraft can climb more quickly, descend later and follow routes with much great accuracy, all of which reduces noise and CO2 emissions.

While I absolutely appreciate this means a greater concentration of aircraft, there will be many people who would previously have been overflown who will now be free of noise almost entirely. For those that do live under the flight path, PBN gives us the opportunity to introduce meaningful and predictable respite routes, something that would have been impossible in the past using traditional technology.

I know the current trials aren’t pleasing everyone. We are listening to the feedback and know getting the final routes right will be very important, but this is vital work that could ultimately benefit hundreds of thousands of people across the country.





stuart spencer

Hello Ian,
You state nats will ” ……… create routes that carefully avoid populated areas” So why was this idea NOT been applied to the adnid pbn trial at Gatwick airport? And further, why do the 3 new routes proposed for runway 26 all fly close to population centres that were NOT previously subjected to significant noise. (Rusper, Warnham, Slinfold, North Horsham) Your corporate elevator pitches are out of sync with what you are actually doing. Please review.

Stuart Spencer




And why were multiple respite flightpaths designed for the original DOKEN trial pictured above – but the latest Heathrow trials do away with any attempt at respite and just have one route for each departure choice ? Or was the feedback from that trial such that multiple respite wasn’t an advantage ?

When will trial results be published ?




I am trying to find out why in the last 6 months my home town of Winchelsea in East Sussex has suddenly gone from being a wonderful quiet rural village to a place blighted by constant aircraft noise. For the last 8 years we have had occasional aircraft at a high altitude but now we have constant aircraft at low altitude. I do not know how to find out the precise cause of this because it seems we get aircraft to/from both LGW and LHR. Can anyone suggest where I can find out or the reasons and if there is anything we can do about it ?



Simon Byerley

Ian I would be excited to hear how you propose to engage with us in West Kent (Bidborough and Penshurt) to use new navigation systems to provide us with meaningful respite seeing as we are the most densely populated area of the High Weald and have in the last 18 months have experienced a dramatic and intolerable rise in concentrated low level air traffic?

Paul –




Did you ever think that the volume of flights LGW and LHR are targeting are unrealistic even with the grand concentration ideas your are proposing and therefore requires relocation of an airport to location which can support the volumes these private companies desire in terms of infrastructure and air and noise pollution? There is absolutely no acceptable respite pattern possible when for even one part of one day someone is expected to endure aircraft noise and pollution directly overhead at 70-90 SECOND intervals 18 hours a day. Noise is not an INCONVENIENCE, it is a HEALTH HAZZARD.




This constant new noise comes from high level flightpaths too. In South Herefordshire and Monmouthshire we have gone from a few flights to up to one every 3 minutes on many days since autumn 2014. The constant variation from flight noise to low ambient level drives some to distraction. It seems totally unfair that flightpaths can’t be broadened to share the burden.




It’s more than a year since Ian’s blogpost which ended with him saying he hoped to share the full trial results “later in the year”.

Which year ? 2014 has passed by with no report………..



D & w

We have lived in a village on the North side of Kent Downs near Faversham for 30 years, with an occasional aircraft passing overhead. Over the last 18 months we have had continual noisy aircraft passing above us, particularly early mornings and up to and after 11pm. Why is the unpopulated estuary not being used more ? The planes seems to accelerate over North kent too now. Please inform people living in a wider area other than london, the trial new flight paths and findings .




Tired of hearing this same old incantation recited.

“The Performance Based Navigation trials we’re currently involved are about making the UK’s skies quieter, greener and more efficient. They form part of the Civil Aviation Authority’s Future Airspace Strategy that aims to transform our airspace into something that’s fit for the 21st Century. Greater use of PBN technology makes best use of today’s modern aircraft and engine capabilities, meaning aircraft can climb more quickly, descend later and follow routes with much great accuracy, all of which reduces noise and CO2 emissions.”

It’s not about the the many but what U do 2 the few.




Whatever pnav rnav is supposed to deliver it certainly can’t rightly aim to deliver more noise to people on the ground. Lower, slow, trajectory flights are on these concentrated routes. These are much more than flight paths 4 d changes: climb rate, height, position, speed, thrust, flaps, landing gear . These mean much more noise.




Ian, I read your response to GACC. To say the current trials “aren’t pleasing everyone” is an understatement! I live in what used to be a quiet rural environment near Petworth in West Sussex. Now thanks to Gatwick Airport and NATS I live in one of the “noise ghettos” that you have both created. PBN is most definitely not being used to provide respite in my area. I have read publicity from NATS and GAL that talks of meeting the Governments’ requirement to reduce the number of people affected by aircraft noise and direct aircraft away from populated areas. Actually this approach is rubbish. I lived for 25 years in Chiswick, West London directly under the flightpath into Heathrow. After a while you never heard the aircraft as the noise disappeared into the general background humm of the city. It was not that intrusive. However, in a rural environment the effect is devastating. Unlike in Chiswick, in the country noise travels further and wider either side of the aircraft’s flightpath, the total effect is much more devastating to those underneath this motorway in the sky. I hope that when you complete these trials you will include work on the long lasting effects to residents of exposure to increased noise and pollution levels, the effect of sleep depravation and increased stress levels plus a QRA on the increased risk to innocent people on the ground of a major incident occurring as a result of aircraft passing overhead every two minutes.




To quote part of your response to GACC, “for those that do live under the flightpath, PBN gives us the opportunity to introduce meaningful and predictable respite routes, something that would have been impossible in the past using traditional technology” If this is really the case, could you please explain to me why, despite living over 20 miles from Gatwick I now have aircraft flying low over my house every two minutes from 0530 in the morning until past midnight without any break or respite. This has only happened since you and GAL introduced PBN without any consultation in early 2014. Prior to that we hardly saw a plane in this village, let alone heard one. As I am typing this note, it is 5 minutes past midnight and noisy aircraft are still passing very low overhead every few minutes.




Hi Ian

It has been over a year since your comment that getting the route right is very important. Since we were one of those blighted by constant aircraft noise in Teddington we are keen to learn when the right routes will be published?

Increasing the impact for a few to 100% can hardly be justified by reducing the impact to the many by 10%.





We were “ginea pigs” in your experiment and the noise increase was totally unacceptable how you can even assume listening for hours on end one aircraft after another for 6-8 hours is a way to treat people then you need a serious dose of common sense. The Thames Valley is going to have 50,000 more homes over the next twenty years so extending Heathrow is madness.




Ian, you, along with Brendan Kelly, should come around to my house and experience first hand what your actions have done.

A once quiet rural setting is now like a war zone. Literally. But worse, as we have no way of deterring the planes YOU are routinely flying over us. They do not need to be on the route in to Heathrow they are following as it adds miles to the journey, they could turn much sharper and fly straight in. Also, they definitely don’t need to be under 5,000 feet 18 miles out. Planes are much more capable than your approach and departure routes ask of them.

We used to wake at a normal time (not 05.30) and discuss normal things – definitely not spend the time we do now discussing NATS, CAA (weak and ineffective) and the airports you have re routed over us endlessly.

We would then get a peaceful night sleep from a decent time without midnight flights affecting us. How things have changed because of your collective inability to implement technology properly.

Respite that we never previously needed would be a small crumb. You need to sort this out properly unless you are happy to have a legacy of broken people living beneath the new routes you have introduced.

Third runway? The mind boggles!



Molly Jay

Wow. Just stumbled on this site from California in the States, where our equally airline-interests-only-focused FAA has spent the last few years rolling out its new PBN program “NextGen” in communities around the nation with no environmental impact studies, no public hearings, no public participation, “letter-of-the-law-only” notifications (i.e., one-day published notices 2 years in advance that they were considering changing flight routes, published in newspapers’ “legal notices” sections) … net result being most of us in affected communities had no idea anything was happening until we woke up one morning to find super-concentrated aviation highways had been built over our homes.

I live in the Santa Cruz Mountains in northern CA, about an hour, some 60 miles, and 2 counties away from San Francisco Airport. We bought our home in this rural mountain community PRECISELY because we wanted to live in a very quiet location. We gave up a lot of urban conveniences (e.g., good Internet access, short commutes, inexpensive homeowners insurance, etc.) to live here because we prioritized quiet.

As of March, we are now getting approximately 300 planes a day flying over us, mostly to/from SFO (but also from Oakland Airport, and some heading toward San Jose) on one of three nearby intersecting PBN routes. Sometimes, hours can go by without a single break in the ugly droning, grinding engine noise overhead.

The change from our once stunningly quiet rural, wooded environment is staggering and heartbreaking. We are literally being driven out of our home. We can’t have windows open anymore … we can’t stand to be outside. In the time it takes me to gather up groceries from the car and walk from our detached garage to the house, three planes can go by overhead. So our deck and gardens have become unusable. And of course, being inside isn’t much better. The low-frequency vibrations that don’t attenuate in air and can’t be blocked pass easily through our roof and double-paned windows and create unpleasant physical sensations (buzzing at the top of the spine or base of the skull). We are woken multiple times a night.

And we aren’t alone. Thousands and thousands of people around our nation are suffering horribly because of these concentrated PBN flight paths. The airline industry and the captured agencies that “regulate” them are spinning them as wonderfully green and actually reducing noise and pollution — solely because they concentrate all the noise and pollution over narrower areas. The real goal is to save the airline industry billions by shortening the flight routes (saving fuel) and is to create a system that allows the airlines to pack even more planes into the sky. We’ve been told PBN will allow them to reduce space between planes from 6 miles to 1. So that those of us who are now suffering from having ALL the traffic over us will be made to suffer even more horribly as the years go on.

How have all of our governments become so corrupt and so uninterested in the plight and lives of their citizens? Why are the interests of for-profit businesses the only ones our governments seek to protect? When will this stop, and what will have to happen before it does?




Molly Jay, you have expressed word for word what I would like to say. We live in rural Herefordshire – for the same reasons. The small valley we live in which was once so peaceful, now seems to bounce the concentrated flightpath aircraft noise from one side to another. My kitchen door is now shut all day, we don’t open windows and I am so attuned that all I can hear is approaching and receding aircraft.



Gary Hughes

We to have expereinced a significant increase in aircraft noise and we are ~100 miles form the nearest airport and are trying to work out why, even our MP has no idea.

My guess is that it is due to PNAV.

We have always had a few aircraft passing over head at ~30,000 ft which produce a feint rumble. This summer we have been experiencing ~100 aircraft a day at 3-5 minute inervals at much lower altitudes (~20,000 ft) and conseqently significantly increased noise that we have prevously not experienced. This also goes on until 11.30 at night and keeps us awake.

We live in an area with no noise pollution, so this change is very significant.

Like many here this has been imposed upon us without our knowledge, or engagement. I am therefore staggered to understand how someone can effectively build an avaiation highway over our property. If it were a motoway (which would have similar noise impacts) this would not be the case.

I simply do not understand why a change was necessary as previously aircrfat noise was never and issue in our part of Kent but now it verymuch is. Therefore if people want a quite life then I suggest we go back to the old way, as the new way simply mean sthat a whole new set of previously silent people WILL be maing a fuss about aircrfat noise. Better to let sleeping dogs lie.




In April 2014 Ian said

“I look forward to sharing with you the full results later in the year.”

It is now October 2015 and I still don’t think we have had a NATS perspective on what passes for the reports on the Heathrow RNAV trials from last year.

Has Ian changed his mind and now doesn’t want to share the results ?

Thank you for your comment. I thought that the reports were a good reflection of the Heathrow led trials. We continue to work with the airports and the Sustainable Aviation coalition to explore what more we can learn from the trial’s program to inform future noise management initiatives.

The reports are on the Heathrow website at:'s-airspace-trials




The situation in West Sussex goes from bad to worse. At the time of writing it is Sunday night at 2319 and with work in the morning I am struggling to sleep because all I can hear overhead at just over 2,500 feet is the shrill and whine of aircraft being directed over our previously quiet village by NATS. The scene painted by Paul, Simon and Molly Jay amongst others is so very familiar. People’s lives are being blighted and despite talking a good game, nobody in the aircraft industry seems to care. If NATS and GAL really care about what they are doing, they would revert back to the original flight paths pre PBN and not continue to persecute those who live in the countryside by operating concentrated, narrow flight paths directly over their heads.



Roger Brooks

So what do the airports gain from PR-NAV’s, you do not fly the planes nearer to each other. Gatwick has one runway it does not need PR-NAV, it does not enable more planes to take off. Even if they have two runways horizontal separation will not decrease. If you have 3 runways then yes it makes sense. This bright idea blights house in specific areas and swells the coffers on non UK based shareholders. The public should have been consulted, they were not



M Roberts

Our home is over 40 miles from Gatwick airport & yet we suffer noise from planes that we never heard or saw until 2015, because they simply did not fly over us then.
We sympathise with all of those people who have suddenly gone from living in a quiet environment, to having aircraft noise forced on them 24hrs a day/night and all year long.
We have lived in a peaceful Sussex village close to the sea and in June 2015 all of that changed with Gatwick flighpath changes (denied by CAA & Gatwick but now their denials have been revealed to be LIES).
There was no consultation because the CAA deemed that the changes were not “formal” therefore no consultation was necessary.
We have no recourse in Law and no right of appeal – thank you to the great UK Government for that.
More and more people all over the country are having their mental and physical health put at risk by the noise pollution – let us call it what it is – NOISE POLLUTION.
Defra cannot understand “why?”, when aircraft noise is falling (statistically at any rate) more people are upset about it; perhaps it is because more people are actualy being affected than their (flawed) statistics would have us believe? We wonder how bad it will have to get before the DfT/Govt starts to listen to the “little” people who are being treated with scant consideration?
Perhaps we need to take to the streets? for “When injustice becomes law, rebellion becomes duty”.




For the past 6 months, there has been a noticeable increase in number of aircrafts flying over/near Canterbury in Kent, AND at a much lower altitude than before, leading to a discernible increase in aircraft noise for Canterbury residents.

I have been a resident of Canterbury for more than 15 years and for the past 6 months, there has been an obvious increase in aircrafts flying over/nearby our town. These aircrafts are also flying at much lower altitude than before, and they are now very visible in the sky. Sitting in the garden is no longer a pleasure, nor can we leave the windows open at night, despite the heat we have had for weeks. The aircraft noise starts around 6am and continues till 11.30pm, and often near midnight, and we can hear and see very clearly them flying at low atitude and climbing very noisily every 2 minutes or so, often 2-3 aircrafts flying at the same time in the sky.

What has caused this change? Have the flight paths been modified and if so, has there been any communication and/or consultation with local communities beyond London suburbs affected by such changes? If the flight paths have not changed, why this increase in aircrafts flying and at lower altitude above/near Canterbury and its surroundings, which frankly have become aircrafts hihgways? It seems the aircrafts fly to/from both LGW and LHR. Despite being more than 80 miles away from the airports, the question is why are we now being affected by aircraft noise? Having contacted the airports, I was advised they only track aircraft noise up to 40 miles from the airports, so how are we supposed to complain if nobody tracks the noise?

Canterbury is a historic city and UNESCO World Heritage Site, with its Cathedral, home of the Church of England and the worldwide Anglican Communion. It is also a popular tourist destination. We should be striving to preserve the tranquillity of this historic town.




I totally agree with JS below (02/04/15).
I live in rural Herefordshire, on the Monmouthshire border. Since taking early retirement, I have noticed there is an almost constant low level, but quite audible, noise overhead. As one aircraft disappears, another approaches and so the disturbance is pretty much constant with barely any let up. The main culprits appear to be aircraft travelling to and from Heathrow. These come in waves with barely any gap between. We also seem to be on a cross over with aircraft travelling north/south as well as the Heathrow traffic.
The level of noise and constant drone from the skies has reached such a point that I no longer enjoy going outside into our garden and I keep the windows and doors closed as much as possible. The noise even penetrates our house, although it is double-glazed and has thick insulation.

Occasional aircraft, I can live with. That we have to endure an almost constant barrage of noise overhead is intolerable and making life miserable – despite the location being idyllic in every other way.

I note that Ian has responded to GACC. I suggests he visits The area where I live and experiences first hand how the constant noise emitted by aircraft can ruin peoples lives.




Living in rural Herefordshire, on the Monmouthshire border, I have become increasingly agitated by the almost constant drone of aircraft overhead. As the noise of one aircraft disappears to the east, another can be heard approaching from the west, and so there is little respite from the dull, but very audible, groan of engine noise. This has turned a rural idyll into a daily nightmare. I now venture into our garden as little as possible, whereas I am naturally an outdoor sort of person, I keep our windows and doors closed, whereas previously we had an open house. Despite this, the noise of aircraft passing even several miles away can be felt and heard through the walls and windows.

I have noticed that, when you are in a built up area, aircraft noise is barely noticeable due to everything else that is going on but, out in the open, aircraft noise no longer allows there to be a peaceful retreat and is blighting our countryside. The occasional aircraft passing overhead is often quite welcome and a sight to behold, constant, incessant noise pollution as at present is intolerable. There needs to be a major re- think to end this hell.



Ron Jayes

Rural Village of Rowhedge has one plane noise following another, suddenly I am listening to the10th now and th noise is giving me an awful pain in my head, I am also worried about house prices dropping if this continues, as I need to move after losing a loved one.
If we get more noise, do we get a council reduction, I culd use the help? another one going over again now 11 in about half an hour


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