We've pulled together a list of our most frequently asked questions about aircraft operations

Have you already concentrated the flightpaths for arriving aircraft?

No, we continue to consider the issue of concentration ‘which has been raised by local communities with our air traffic service provider NATS and can confirm again that there have been no changes to the way in which aircraft are directed or handled on final approach to the airport.

The tracks of arriving aircraft joining the extended centreline for approach are spread over a wide area covering several miles.

There have not been any trials of concentrated arrivals routes at Gatwick and there are no trials planned.

Have you already implemented the changes you consulted on?

Below is a statement from the CAA to an extraordinary meeting of the Noise & Track Monitoring Advisory Group on 29 August 2014:

As the consultation feedback analysis is ongoing, Gatwick Airport Ltd has yet to determine the outcome of the consultation; the CAA can advise that no changes have been made to existing flight paths where aircraft are routinely vectored onto final approach (Appendix E to the First consultation showed the track dispersion and altitudes of existing arriving traffic). 

Only after the sponsors have provided an Airspace Change Proposal (ACP) to the CAA are we able to analyse the ACP in accordance with CAP 725 process, assess the consultation and the ACP proposal and then make a regulatory decision, having taken into account the proposals in the consultation document, the feedback received and the proposal submitted.  In the meantime, the CAA is unable to comment on any aspect of the consultation other than to say that no changes to flight paths have been implemented. 

Why did you make the content of the recent consultation so difficult to understand?

Both NATS and the airport went to considerable lengths to make sure that the consultation material was as easy to read and understand as possible without omitting any important information that would prevent people from being able to assess all the facts and respond accordingly.

Achieving this balance was difficult because of the very technical nature of airspace change and operation. The consultation material does contain several acronyms but a full explanation of each one was provided on pages 49 – 52 of the consultation document.

During the consultation a number of MPs were personally briefed and Gatwick staff attended public meetings at Slinfold, Warnham, Alfold, Rusper, Rudgwick, Abinger Common, Holmbury St Mary, Forest Green, Walliswood, Oakwood Hill, Hever, Tunbridge Wells and Crowborough.

Isn’t there a ban on night flights?

Gatwick has always been a 24 hour operation. The Department for Transport (DfT) is responsible for formulating the restrictions on the types of aircraft that can be scheduled to fly at night. In setting the restrictions the DfT’s aim has been to maintain a balance between the need to protect local communities from excessive aircraft noise at night and the operation of services where they provide economic benefits.

The night flying restrictions are divided into summer and winter seasons. They consist of an air traffic movement limit and a quota count system. The quota count means that points are allocated to different aircraft types according to how noisy they are. The noisier the aircraft, the higher the points allocated. This provides an incentive for airlines to use quieter aircraft. 

The current restrictions on night flying were introduced by the DfT in 2006 and initially were meant to remain in force until 2012. These restrictions were subsequently extended to 2014. In autumn 2013 the DfT announced the launch of the second stage of the consultation into night flying restrictions for the three regulated London airports and simultaneously announced that the current restrictions will remain in force until 2017 to allow for the final findings from the Airports Commission to be fully considered. Gatwick Airport Ltd had not requested an increase in the amount of night flights permitted.

Why have night flights increased this summer?

There are more night flights in the summer season (British Summer time) than in the winter season (Greenwich Mean Time) due to the seasonal demand. The air traffic movements limit and quota count limit is reproduced below:

Winter

2010/11

2011/12

2012/13

2013/14

2014/15

2015/16

2016/17

Movements Limits

3250

3250

3250

3250

3250

3250

3250

Quota Points

2060

2000

2000

2000

2000

2000

2000

 

Summer

2010

2011

2012

2013

2014

2015

2016

Movements Limits

11200

11200

11200

11200

11200

11200

11200

Quota Points

6400

6300

6200

6200

6200

6200

6200


There should be exclusion zone over ‘my town’

Gatwick Airport Ltd has no direct control over the flight paths that aircraft on ascent from or on descent to Gatwick follow. In general, these are matters for the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), Air Traffic Control (NATS), as well as the Department for Transport to consider.

As the demand for air travel increases aircraft will inevitably have to fly somewhere. The South East of the UK is one of the most densely populated parts of the UK therefore it would not simply be possible to avoid overflight of every town or village.

There are two reasons why inbound aircraft fly the routes they do before joining the extended centreline for final approach.

  1. Due to the complex and concentrated nature of the airspace in the South East, altering the position and flight levels of Gatwick aircraft would potentially place them into direct conflict with arriving and departing aircraft from Heathrow, London City and Stansted Airports. In placing an over flight restriction on a particular town would mean that aircraft will have to fly somewhere else. This would mean considerably greater distance to fly with increases in fuel burn and CO2 emissions. 
  2. Routing aircraft to the around particular towns may also mean aircraft would be joining the ILS at a considerably closer point making stable approaches increasingly difficult thereby potentially compromising safety and increasing the number of aborted landings, known as go-arounds.

Gatwick Airport supports the Government’s current policy of reducing the number of people impacted by aircraft overflight where possible.

Why are aircraft overflying Crawley?

Aircraft overflying Crawley do so because they have aborted a landing. There are many reasons for this, for example:

  • A landed aircraft may be slow to vacate the runway or a departure may be slow to take off after receiving clearance.
  • The runway may be closed for inspection by airfield operations staff following a report of debris or other contamination on the runway.
  • There may be bird activity in the vicinity of the runway or a reported bird strike which agains means that a runway inspection is needed.
  • In the air a pilot may report a temporary technical problem that would prevent landing or passengers may not be seated in which case the cabin is deemed to be insecure. 
  • Adverse weather conditions such as cross-winds or windshear can make the approach ‘unstable’ which would cause a go-around. Poor visibility is especially relevant when Gatwick is operating on the standby or ‘northern runway 26R/08L’ which is a visual non-instrumented runway.

The standard missed approach procedure applicable to Gatwick Airport requires aircraft that are aborting approach to climb to 3,000ft straight ahead, then, on passing 2,000ft or 1DME inbound (whichever is later) turn heading 180. This may or may not result in aircraft over-flying the town of Crawley or outlying areas.  The missed approach procedure is a safety critical manoeuvre and is not subject to a noise abatement procedure.

The percentage of arrivals that have to ‘go-around’ has remained relatively unchanged over the past few years with the exception of a small spike during the January and February 2014 caused by exceptionally severe winter storms.

Why are there more helicopter movements over Crawley and Horley?

On average fewer than 10 helicopters operate from Gatwick Airport in the course of a month.

The majority of helicopters that operate over the Horley and Crawley are operated by the Police or Air Ambulance service which are based at Redhill Aerodrome.  When these require a heading towards the south coast then they need approval from Air Traffic Control to cross the aerodrome. In these instances they sometimes hold over Horley before crossing the runway and flying south over Crawley.

They must cross in this area to avoid coming into conflict with Gatwick traffic on the approach or climb-out.

Why are some aircraft flying out of the NPRs?

There are occasions when Air Traffic Control has no alternative but to authorise an aircraft to turn off of a NPR early. This is usually when there is localised thunderstorm activity or exceptionally strong winds further away from the airport. On occasions such as this it is possible that areas not normally overflown (Ifield, Warnham, Copthorne and Crawley Down among others) may be overflown as aircraft are vectored towards calmer meteorological conditions.

Why do you continue to overfly areas of outstanding natural beauty?

In its publication, ‘Guidance to the Civil Aviation Authority on Environmental Objectives Relating to the Exercise of its Air Navigation Functions’ issued in January 2014, the Department for Transport sets out the position of Government in relation to over-flight of National Parks and AONB. The guidance is on Page 30 and we have included it below for your ease of reference:

‘Flights over National Parks and AONB are not prohibited by legislation as a general prohibition against over-flights would be impractical. Government policy will continue to focus on minimising the over-flight of more densely populated areas below 7,000 feet (amsl), but balanced with emissions between 4,000 and 7,000 feet (amsl), as set out in the altitude-based priorities in Chapter 4.1 of this Guidance. However, where it is practical to avoid over-flight of National Parks and AONB below 7,000 feet (amsl), the CAA should encourage this.’

The guidance makes clear that government policy is currently to minimise over-flight of more densely populated areas below an altitude of 7,000ft, but to avoid over-flight of AONBs below this where possible and without adding to the environmental burdens of more densely populated areas. In view of the fact that Gatwick Airport is surrounded by AONB and the South Downs National Park to the south, it is not possible for landing and departing aircraft to avoid over-flying them below 7,000ft.

Why have the arrivals procedures changed?

The procedures dictating how arriving aircraft are vectored towards the instrument landing system at Gatwick have not changed, as confirmed by the CAA. In 2014, Gatwick has experienced a busy summer with an associated increase in night flights and a greater than usual period of predominantly westerly operations, when compared to previous summers.

Why are aircraft overflying the Holmwoods, out of the NPR?

One of our existing NPRs, the ’26 LAM / CLN / DVR’ NPR was designated in the 1960s when aircraft were slower and could easily remain within the confines of the route. More recently, aircraft have had great difficulty in remaining within the confines of this route using ground based aids as the turning radius is very tight. As a result it did not prove possible to configure a new P-RNAV route which allows aircraft to remain within the existing NPR so the configuration of P-RNAV on this route places aircraft just outside of the current NPR boundaries by approximately 0.3 nautical miles This is especially noticeable as aircraft fly north and then east over the Holmwoods and Leigh localities in Surrey.

In granting us permission, the CAA also stated that in order for us to remain compliant, the airport would need to consult on the relocation of the current NPR to more accurately reflect the navigational capabilities of P-RNAV, with any changes being approved by the Department for Transport. This consultation commenced on 23 May 2014 and closed at 23:59 on 15 August 2014.

Will there be any more second runway exhibitions and how can I have my say?

We held public consultations for our second runway proposals in April and May 2014 which were open to all members of the public. The public exhibition locations needed to cover a very wide area and therefore we had to limit to the number of places across the area we could visit.

The exhibition locations were not chosen because they were considered as more important than others, but because they provided central, accessible focal points for the wider area. People who live outside of the exhibition locations were encouraged to respond to the consultation via our website, and all the materials we had on display at the exhibitions were also available on our website.

Our public consultation on runway options closed on 16 May 2014, however the Airports Commission will be holding a national consultation in the autumn which is open to all to respond to. Please refer to the Airports Commission website to understand more of their work and to view any updates: https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/airports-commission. 

I live in Reigate/Redhill and can hear and see Gatwick aircraft – has anything changed?

The towns of Reigate and Redhill are located to the north of NPRs (one westerly and one easterly) utilised by outbound aircraft.  Aircraft remain within an NPR until they reach an altitude of 3,000 or 4,000ft (dependent on the route) at which time they may remain on the same heading or ATC may give a flight a more direct heading (known as vectoring) off the route. This is subject to certain factors including weather conditions or other traffic in the vicinity.

Due to the location of the towns of Reigate and Redhill to the north of the NPRs, noise from aircraft may be heard as they pass by within the NPRs or as they fly over after being vectored away from the NPRs having placed on a more direct heading towards a destination.

In 2012 Gatwick Airport publicly consulted on the implementation of a more modern form of aircraft navigation called P-RNAV After having assessed all consultation feedback, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) granted the airport permission to implement P-RNAV on all of our departure routes.

Why are aircraft circling above me?

When airports are busy, there can be a build-up of aircraft waiting to land. Air Traffic Control (ATC) must ensure there is a safe gap between each aeroplane as they come in to land. To achieve this, aircraft will sometimes circle in a fixed pattern known as a stack or hold until air traffic controllers are able to fit them into the landing pattern.

Gatwick has two holding stacks; one called ‘WILLO’ which is located west of Lewes and above Burgess Hill and the second, ‘TIMBA’ is located above Heathfield.

The stacks have been in the same locations since the 1960s. The Department for Transport (DfT) are responsible for the location of the stacks. They cannot be moved without an airspace change public consultation.

The minimum altitude of aircraft in the stack is 7,000ft so the noise the aircraft generate should not cause a nuisance on the ground. That said, we recognise that sometimes people are disturbed by aircraft even at this height.

People living between the stack and the final approach may hear noise as the aeroplanes leave the stack and make their way to the final approach to Gatwick Airport. As there are no set heights or routes for arriving aircraft, once they have left the stack, aeroplanes are directed individually by ATC to ensure they are safely spaced for arrival. This process means that people living or working anywhere between the stacks and the final approach to the airport may be overflown by arriving aircraft and therefore may be affected by aircraft noise.

Why can’t you spread the arriving aircraft out even more?

Air Traffic Control has a finite amount of airspace within which to vector inbound aircraft to the ILS which they need to utilise as efficiently and as safely as possible. At present, aircraft are spread out within available airspace as they head towards the ILS and the swathe of aircraft joining can be 8-10 nautical miles wide. This airspace cannot be extended (which would increase the spread) as it would have knock-on effects to airspace utilised by other airports and would contravene Government Policy that favours concentration in order to limit and, where possible, reduce the number of people in the UK significantly affected by aircraft noise. This is why Gatwick Airport has recently consulted as part of LAMP phases one and two to provide concentrated arrival routes with the option of respite.

Why do certain aircraft produce a ‘whistling noise’?

Following concerns raised around Heathrow Airport in 2005, the issue of tonal noise emanating from the A320 family of aircraft on approach was brought to the attention of Airbus by the CAA. Complaints of a high pitch ‘whine’ which could be heard on the ground at relatively long distances from the airport. Similar concerns had also been raised around Paris and Frankfurt airports at around the same time. Measurements undertaken have confirmed the tonal noise is due airframe noise not engine noise and is on all present A320 family variants, i.e. A318/319/320/321, irrespective of engine variant.

This noise is only produced in certain instances, and has been proven to occur when the aircraft is in a particular configuration and at travelling a particular speed.

As the largest operator of the A320 family of aircraft at Gatwick, easyJet have made the following statement:

“easyJet takes its environmental obligations very seriously. easyJet’s fleet of over 200 Airbus A319/A320 aircraft meet the tightest international noise standards - ICAO Chapter 4.  We work with airport operators to minimise the impact of aircraft noise on people who live near the airports we operate from and we are investing heavily in the latest technology aircraft that continue to meet or exceed current and anticipated noise legislation. 

As a result of this investment, over the next few years easyJet will take delivery of around 150 new aircraft, 100 of which will be new generation A320neo aircraft.  The majority of these planes will replace our existing fleet.  All these aircraft will be already modified and fitted with vortex generators during their production‎.  Furthermore, the overall noise levels of the A320neos will be lower than today’s aircraft and up to 15 dB below the ICAO Chapter 4 noise standards.

All aircraft delivered to easyJet since June 2014 are modified and four are based at Gatwick currently.  easyJet expects to take delivery of between 10 and 30 aircraft a year over the next eight years and some 50 aircraft, around 20% of the fleet, will therefore have been equipped with vortex generators within three years (i.e. by July 2017).

We have listened to the concerns of those who live around Gatwick and so we now plan to deliver these aircraft to Gatwick.  For operational reasons aircraft can be moved to other bases from time to time but given that we currently have just over 50 aircraft based at Gatwick we estimate that the substantial majority of easyJet aircraft based there will have the vortex generators by that time.‎

This will result in a significant, noticeable and sustained reduction in the number of aircraft movements into Gatwick with the current noise profile.

Beyond that we will also continue to work with Gatwick Airport to mitigate our impact on local communities.

We hope this provides reassurance to you that easyJet is conscious of the concerns of people who live around Gatwick.”

How do I get compensation for aircraft noise?

Aircraft noise is specifically exempted from the controls in general environmental protection legislation because it is already controlled by civil aviation legislation. In essence, the Civil Aviation Act 1982 provides that no action shall lie in respect of trespass or in respect of nuisance, by reason only of the flight of an aircraft over any property, so long as the provisions of the legislation and any relevant Air Navigation Orders have been complied with.

What determines which way the aircraft take-off? Does it not change to allow respite?

The direction of operation of the runway is determined by the wind direction at the aerodrome and with reference to reports from aircrew on the approach to the runway and on the climb-out.  It is important for the safe operation of aircraft that they both land and take off into wind. On take-off this increases the lift produced by their wings and increase their airspeed as it is important that aircraft do not fly too slowly on take-off. On landing, it also assists with the creation of the lift required until touchdown and helps to control airspeed.

When the wind is from the west, aircraft will approach Gatwick from the east and depart, initially, towards the west, so called ‘westerly operations’ utilising runway 26L.  When the wind is from the east aircraft will approach Gatwick from the west and depart towards the east so called ‘easterly operations’ on runway 08R.

In recent years on average around 70% of aircraft operations have been in a westerly direction and around 30% in an easterly direction however this ratio does fluctuate, and it is not unusually to experience periods of extended operation in one direction or another.

Why is departing traffic now concentrated in one place?

The move to narrower traffic lanes is being delivered under a system known as Precision Area Navigation (P-RNAV). CAA policy is that P-RNAV should be the standard applied in terminal airspace, and in accordance with this, P-RNAV capability is expected to be mandated in the future for flight in the London Terminal Airspace (LTMA) and conventional ground based navigation procedures will be withdrawn from around 2018 onwards. The purpose of P-RNAV is to improve the efficiency of air traffic movements within existing defined air traffic routes. There is no proposal to change any existing controlled airspace boundaries.

Although the tracks of departing aircraft are now more concentrated, they remain within the existing published NPRs that have been used since 1968

I have seen articles published in local media that say the airport is conducting trials. Is this true?

There have been a number of published articles and letters regarding ‘trials’ and ‘airspace changes’. In many cases these have been highly inaccurate as they have confused a number of different issues and presented them as one.

An example is that flight trials are being conducted as a prelude to a second runway at Gatwick. - The Davis Commission is yet to decide where the UK’s new runway should be built, and even if it was to be built at Gatwick, it is unlikely to be operational for a decade.  

This year the airport conducted a 6 month trial on a single departure route to the west of the Airport and this ended on 8 August 2014.

There are currently no trials taking place in Gatwick Airport airspace.

The summer season has always been the busiest period at Gatwick and as the economy continues to recover the demand for air travel has increased after a lull following the economic crisis in 2008.  

People enjoy the freedom and choice that air travel provides and over the years the demand for foreign travel has soared. Inevitably these aircraft will have to fly somewhere.

Why are you flying over me (easterly or westerly) when there is no wind?

ATC is responsible for deciding the direction of operation and makes its decision based upon a number of factors including: the current prevailing wind speed and direction here at the airfield both on the ground and in the air (what is happening at 1000ft and 2000ft above ground is also very important), the forecast for the next four to six hours, and information from pilots. The position is kept under review and any changes made in the light of all relevant factors at the time. The weather forecast made by the Met Office is not a reliable indicator for what is happening at Gatwick since the Met Office forecast to the public is general and relates to ground level.

Have the flightpaths been changed – I’ve never noticed aircraft over here before?

There has been no change in policies relating to how Gatwick operates, including how ATC directs aircraft, nor in the position of the noise preferential routes, the stacks where arriving aircraft ‘queue’ while waiting to join the Instrument Landing System (ILS) or the position of the ILS radio beams which aircraft use to bring them into land on the last stage of their journey. These routes have been in place for over 30 years.

Can I get compensation for noise disturbance?

Aircraft noise is specifically exempted from the controls in general environmental protection legislation because it is already controlled by civil aviation legislation. The Civil Aviation Act 1982 provides that no action shall lie in respect of trespass or in respect of nuisance, by reason only of the flight of an aircraft over any property so long as the provisions of the legislation and any relevant Air Navigation Orders have been complied with.

What’s the point of complaining/what happens to the complaints?

Every complaint received by the Flight Performance Team (FPT) is registered and investigated, and responded to if requested. A specialised complaint handling service is used, combining a database, mapping system and flight and noise records from the Noise and Track Keeping system.

We understand the importance of regular consultation with local people on noise issues, so noise complaints are raised and discussed on a regular basis at our Noise and Tracking Monitoring Advisory Group (NaTMAG) and GATCOM. NaTMAG includes local community, airline, air traffic control, Gatwick and the Department for Transport (DfT) representation and GATCOM is made up of representatives from local government, airport users, business groups, environmental groups and other interested parties.

Where can I find more about your noise consultation schemes?

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Where can I get more information?

There are a number of explanatory leaflets available on this website. Click on the noise in your area section to view these. Alternatively if you would like to contact the FPT you can reach us at noise.line@gatwickairport.com or leave a message on 0800 393 070.

Casper Flight Tracker FAQs

What information is shown?

Information on aircraft arriving at or departing from Gatwick Airport, including the flight number, aircraft type, its height and track.

Where do you get the information from?

The data is taken from NATS radar and then fed into the airport’s noise and track keeping (NTK) system. Flight data is processed for public display and is intended to show the general location and flow of flights.

Can you provide information on aircraft that didn’t land at or depart from Gatwick?

No. Casper Flight Tracker can only show Gatwick flights, though you may occasionally see an orange aircraft icon, which is an overflight – this is a flight captured by radar that isn’t a Gatwick flight.

What are the green and red aircraft icons?

The red icons are arrivals and the green aircraft are departures.

How up to date is the information shown?

To maintain aviation security and to ensure accurate data has been processed, there is a 20 minute delay to the flights you can see. This is enforced by the DfT.

I have a question about a specific aircraft – who do I contact?

If you have any questions or feedback please use our enquiry form and we'll be in touch as soon as we can.

What is the definition of height and altitude?

An aircraft’s altitude is its elevation above mean sea level. Height is the elevation above a specific ground reference point, in this case the airfield. The industry-recognised height above mean sea level for the Gatwick area is 202ft. All heights quoted in Casper Flight Tracker are above shown above airfield level. Therefore if you wish to know an aircraft’s actual altitude above your area you will need to add 202ft to the quoted height. For example if an aircraft is shown as being at 2800ft, the actual altitude is 3002ft, (2800ft + 202ft = 3002ft).

Why do some aircraft appear to fly so much lower than others?

It is quite normal for aircraft to operate at a range of heights. It is important to stress that aircraft vary considerably in size and larger aircraft do often appear to be operating lower than others. Casper Flight Tracker will give a very good idea of how high aircraft are in any particular area. If you take a look at our typical flight routings you can see where aircraft concentrate and their usual altitudes.

I have noticed that some aircraft just appear or disappear on the Casper Flight Tracker display, why is this?

Casper Flight Tracker shows aircraft that are flying below 14,000ft. As a result the display will first show aircraft when they descend below this altitude, and conversely, when aircraft are climbing, Casper Flight Tracker will no longer display their track once they climb above 40,000ft.

How do I know if the aircraft that I have seen was on the right flight path and flying at the correct height?

ATC is in constant contact with all aircraft, and they define their route and heights. Casper Flight Tracker does not show noise preferential routes (flight paths), therefore, if you feel an aircraft is flying where it should not be, make an enquiry with our flight performance team.

How can I find out specific details of how flights operate?

Call the FPT on 0800 393 070 or send an enquiry to noise.line@gatwickairport.com