Noise is the key issue constraining Heathrow growth, says CEO, as first airline noise rankings are released

Noise is the key issue constraining Heathrow growth, says CEO, as first airline noise rankings are released | Heathrow Airport,Airports Commission,HACAN,Heathrow Hub

Thu 14 Nov 2013 – London’s Heathrow has carried out its promise to name airlines with the best and worst noise performance by releasing the first quarterly ranking of the top 50 airlines by number of flights serving the airport. The Fly Quiet table ranks airlines according to six noise-related criteria with each receiving a red/amber/green rating, as well as an overall score which allows airlines to understand how they are performing in relation to each other. Leading the performance table was British Airways’ short-haul service, with Polish carrier LOT at the bottom. Heathrow CEO Colin Matthews said the airport wanted to encourage customer airlines to use the newest and quietest aircraft, and publishing the noise data was a better incentive than fining poor performers. Aircraft noise was the key issue constraining Heathrow growth, he added.


With its tough noise rules and regulations, Heathrow claims airlines use their quietest aircraft around 15% more on Heathrow routes and says the aim of the Fly Quiet programme is to ensure the trend is continued as well as have aircraft fly in the quietest possible way, such as using continuous descent approaches (CDAs) and keeping to specified departure corridors or tracks, known as noise preferential routes.


This first ranking covers the period July to September 2013, during which time 80% of the listed airlines met Heathrow’s minimum requirements on noise and 94% meeting at least five of the six metrics (explained below). By publishing the table each quarter, the airport says it aims to recognise good performance, provide airlines with regular feedback, identify more specific areas to be targeted for improvement, establish minimum performance targets and provide further insight into airline performance.


In the past year, the airport reports a doubling in the number of movements by new, quieter A380 and Boeing 787 aircraft and the number of airlines operating them. Highlighting the improved performance of these aircraft, it points out that five of the top 10 airlines in the table are long-haul operators.


The number of airlines rated ‘red’ on CDA procedures has also decreased from 16 to three, with 49 out of 50 airlines achieving a high standard of track keeping. The table also shows that 46 of the 50 airlines are using a fleet that is Chapter 4 compliant – the quietest international aircraft noise standard. All airlines achieved 100% adherence to the pre-0430 arrivals measurement. Early morning flights are recognised as causing particular disruption to local residents and Heathrow says it will continue to work with airlines on this issue.


“The launch of the programme signals our firm commitment to being transparent about aircraft noise and our progress in reducing its impact on local communities, whilst still safeguarding the vital connectivity and economic growth Heathrow provides,” commented Matt Gorman, the airport’s Sustainable Director.


The noise performance rankings follow a recent report, ‘A quieter Heathrow’, which sets out steps to reduce aircraft noise that include actions across five areas: encouraging quieter planes; implementing quieter operating procedures; noise mitigation schemes and influencing land-use planning; applying operating restrictions; and working with local communities.


Despite the top-of-the-table performance by BA’s short-haul operations, the airline’s Head of Environment, Jonathon Counsell, said it can achieve more. “Overall, we have a noise reduction target to reduce the average noise per flight by 15% by 2018,” he said. “With the introduction of more new aircraft and continuing operational innovation, we are confident of achieving this for the benefit of communities living around Heathrow and all the airports we serve.”


Long-haul flights earned BA only 12th position in the table, penalised in the metrics for the number of arrivals before 6am and also the age and noise of some widebody aircraft in the fleet, but Counsell expects this to improve. “This autumn we have introduced nine new long-haul aircraft, all of which are significantly quieter than their predecessors, and we will take delivery of more than 30 further aircraft in the next three years,” he said.


John Stewart of HACAN, a group campaigning against Heathrow aircraft noise and expansion, welcomed the Fly Quiet initiative as “a constructive move to improve the noise climate.”


Speaking during last week’s World Travel Market in London, Heathrow Airport CEO Colin Matthews said although landing charges were not a big proportion of airline costs, the airport would use them as far as possible to incentivise quieter aircraft. Although much bigger in size, landing fees were lower for an Airbus A380 than a Boeing 747-400 since it was quieter, he said.


On the noise table, he said: “I think publishing the data is a good incentive – we should give people the information and let them draw their own conclusions. It’s a better incentive than fines, which tends to lead to blame being laid elsewhere. That doesn’t help residents. With this table there is a natural preference by airlines to be at the top of the performance list rather than at the bottom.”


Matthews said that measuring noise was complicated. “It’s not simple and we need to raise the quality of understanding and debate around this, and not to minimise its importance. This is the key issue that constrains Heathrow today – it’s one that people feel most strongly about, the toughest to convince on.”


With Heathrow pitching for a controversial additional runway, Matthews added: “Politically, it is a very difficult choice and politicians have to make a good judgement on the national need for infrastructure versus the local impact.”


He stated there was though a clear case for runway expansion at Heathrow if the environmental question focused on carbon emissions. It was perverse to have planes burning fuel waiting to land while rationing runways, he said, and carbon was an issue best dealt with through a pricing mechanism.


Current night flying restrictions at Heathrow – along with Gatwick and Stansted – are due to end in October 2014 and the Department for Transport (DfT) has just launched a second consultation on the issue that also sets out its proposals. With the Airports Commission, set up to advise on the expansion of runway capacity in the UK’s South-East region, not due to report until 2015, the DfT says significant changes should not be made on the restrictions until after the Commission has reported its work and the present regime should continue to October 2017. This would mean a continuation of the same permitted numbers of movements and noise quota at each airport. However, says the DfT, some minor changes will be made to restrict the noisiest aircraft.


Meanwhile, an independent consortium, Heathrow Hub, has launched a nationwide advertising campaign under the banner ‘The plan for a quieter Heathrow expansion that isn’t been heard’. The Heathrow Hub concept proposes extending the two existing Heathrow runways to the west and then splitting them to create four runways, so potentially doubling the number of slots.


The consortium says this would lead to a reduction in current noise levels, particularly over west London and especially in the sensitive early morning period. This would be achieved by using the western runway extensions for early morning arrivals, thereby moving the noise footprint two miles to the west. The consortium claims the concept brings no new households into the airport’s noise footprint.


The Chairman of the Airports Commission, Sir Howard Davies, told delegates at the recent UK Airport Operators Association annual conference that there was a need for airport expansion in the South-East but environmental issues including noise, air quality and climate change had to be taken into account. “This is bound to be a very complicated balancing act,” he said.




Heathrow Airport – Noise Action

Heathrow Hub


Airports Commission


Heathrow airline noise performance table (July-September 2013):





The six noise metrics:


Airlines were consulted on which metrics would be used to compile the Fly Quiet league table. Each metric will be assigned a ‘RAG’ (Red, Amber, Green) status based on the performance bands set for that indicator. As a result operators towards the top of the table will typically have more ‘green scores’ than those towards the bottom. Because scores fluctuate within a band it is possible for an airline with all green scores to sit further down the table, than those with amber or red scores. Individual metric scores will not be published. The ratings are corrected for the number of flights flown by each airline so airlines with more flights are not penalised.’


The metrics below make up the Fly Quiet League Table:


1. Noise quota count/seat/movement. This is a relative noise ‘efficiency’ metric which scores the noise efficiency of an operator’s fleet, recognising that whilst larger aircraft tend to be noisier they also carry more passengers. It is calculated by dividing the sum of QC for arrivals and departures by the aggregate seat capacity and total movements by airline of those flights. This provides a balance between a QC/seat or QC/movement metric which will tend to overly bias long haul or short haul carriers respectively.

A ‘red’ score is awarded if the QC/seat/movement indicator exceeds 0.000022. An ‘amber’ score is awarded if the score is better than the minimum performance targets above but greater than 0.00001.


2. Noise Certification. Each aircraft is required to have a noise certificate which can be used to determine its relative performance against ICAO noise performance targets (Chapter 3 and Chapter 4). This allows us to recognise ‘best in class’ and compare performance across different types. An average ‘per movement’ Chapter number value is calculated for each airline, which favours the airlines operating best-in-class, modern, quieter aircraft more frequently.

The minimum performance target in these metrics for the purpose of the Fly Quiet programme is Chapter 4. If the average score of an airline’s fleet operated to and from Heathrow is less than the Chapter 4 equivalent a ‘red score is awarded. A ‘green’ score is awarded if the average noise certification score of an airline is better than the equivalent of Chapter 4 base charging category


3. Arrival Operations: Continuous Descent Approach (CDA violations). CDA involves aircraft maintaining a steady angle of approach when landing at the airport, as opposed to stepped approaches which involve prolonged periods of level flight. This reduces noise because it requires less engine thrust and keeps the aircraft higher for longer. By following a CDA on arrival, the noise on the ground can be reduced by up to 5dBA in areas away from the final approach paths. The purpose of the indicator is to capture the non-CDA arrivals and so potentially reduce the disturbance caused.

The minimum performance target for the CDA compliance is set for 55% for the Fly Quiet programme. An airline achieving this but not exceeding 75% gets an ‘amber’ score; CDA compliance of 75% and more means a ‘green’ score is awarded.


4. Departure Operations: Track deviations on departure (TK violations). Aircraft are required to stay within ‘noise preferential routes’ (NPRs) – 3km wide tracks in the sky, designated by the UK government to route aircraft away from more densely populated areas as far as possible until they reach 4000ft. The track deviations indicator is expressed as the proportion of departures that flew outside the NPRs below 4000ft. The purpose of the indicator is to capture the aircraft which operate outside of these boundaries and so potentially cause unexpected noise disturbance. Instances where this occurs for reasons outside of the airline’s control are excluded for the calculation.

The minimum performance target for the track keeping compliance is set for 85% for the Fly Quiet programme. An airline achieving this standard but not exceeding 90% gets an ‘amber’ score; CDA compliance of 90% and more means a ‘green’ score is awarded.


5. Night time Operations 1: Arrivals prior to 0430. There is a voluntary arrangement that aircraft scheduled to land between 0430 and 0600 will not land prior to 0430. This is a very sensitive time and issue for local community groups. The purpose of this indicator is to measure adherence to the operator schedules. It is measured as the number of flights arriving before 0430 as a proportion of the total number of arrivals for the airline.

Green: no infringements, Red: one or more infringements


6. Night time Operations 2: Unscheduled arrivals prior to 0600. Arrivals scheduled to land after 0600 should not land before then unless there are dispensing circumstances (e.g. low visibility conditions). This is also a very sensitive time and issue for local community groups. The purpose of this indicator is to measure adherence to the operator schedules. It is measured as the number of unscheduled flights arriving between 0430 and 0600 as a proportion of the total number of arrivals for the airline.

Green: no infringements, Red: one or more infringements


As metrics 5 & 6 are limited in terms of the airlines they could affect but are nonetheless important issues for community stakeholders, these have been weighted lower than the remaining 4 so as to not result in dramatic fluctuations in an airlines ranking. Instances where metrics 5 & 6 occur for reasons outside of the airline’s control are excluded for the calculation. The set of indicators is designed to address the aims of the programme whilst giving the operators the opportunity to improve their ranking by short-term (i.e. operational/tactical) or long-term (e.g. fleet planning) measures.



  • The overall ranking of operators in the league table is determined on the basis of the cumulative score resulting from six individual metrics; a lower overall score means higher ranking.
  • The top 50 operators by number of movements in the given quarter are included in the league table – this aims to eliminate skewing results by including operators with infrequent operations while covering >90% of movements. The individual metrics are normalised before they are converted into the final partial score for the given operator and respective indicator.
  • Operators are split into long-haul and short-haul by percentage of long-haul movements. Movements are defined on the basis of aircraft types deployed on the routes operated by the airline to/from Heathrow. A ‘long-haul aircraft’ for the purposes of the Fly Quiet programme is an aircraft which has a maximum take-off weight (MTOW) of 180 tonnes or more.
  • An operator is categorised as long-haul if long-haul movements represent more than 80% of the operator’s movements, and is categorised as short-haul if the long-haul movements represent <20% of the operator’s movements. Any operator with 20-80% long-haul movements is split and measured separately on its long-haul and short-haul traffic, i.e. two separate entries for the same airline can appear in the league table.
  • The league tables will be published on a quarterly basis with an annual review and recognition of changes in performance.
  • The indicators and calculation mechanisms are also proposed in a way that enables even the lower-ranked operators to show some ‘green’ scores rather than to award these operators ‘red’ scores only.



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