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Compton flight analysis

26 February 2016

Over the last few months, there has been an increase in the number of residents from Ashford, Middlesex contacting us about flights using the departure route that passes over this area (known as the Compton route) during periods of easterly operations (i.e when there are easterly winds). Residents are concerned that there has been an increase in flights flying outside the departure route.

In response to concerns we asked independent consultants, PA Consulting, to carry out some detailed analysis to assess whether there have been changes to flight patterns or altitudes over the last few years, and in particular to ascertain whether the procedural changes made by NATS to the route in 2014 had an impact to flight patterns below 4,000ft.

Broadly the findings show that:

  • There has been an increase in traffic from 2007 to 2015 – from 65 flights per day to 89 per day, however over the last 3 years this has been remained fairly static;
  • There has not been any increase in the proportion traffic flying outside the departure route however there is a higher concentration of aircraft flying towards the northern edge of the departure route, and therefore closer to areas like Ashford;
  • There has been an increase in the number of heavy aircraft (e.g. 747s and A340s) using the route;
  • There has been a large increase in flights going to ultra-long-haul destinations from 2011 which means aircraft will be carrying more fuel, and therefore heavier on take-off;
  • There has been a decrease in the average and minimum height of aircraft over the analysis area (approx. 200ft) coinciding with the increase in large aircraft and long haul destinations.

The full report can be downloaded here.

While the analysis confirms there hasn’t been an increase in flights outside the specified departure route, we are fully aware that there are long standing issues with flights using the Compton route during periods of easterly winds.

In comparison to Heathrow’s other departure routes, the percentage of aircraft flying keeping within the prescribed 3km swathe (up to 4,000ft) of the Compton route is much lower than others. The main reason for this is because the route involves a 180 degree turn which modern fleets find difficult to follow. In addition traffic departing on this route have to be tactically managed by NATS air traffic controllers to avoid the arriving aircraft from the holding stacks to the south.

This year Heathrow will be working with NATS and members of the Heathrow Community Noise Forum to revisit the procedures used on the Compton route. For more information please contact us on or by calling 0800 344844.