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Publication of information - Chair, Environment Committee

Publication of information


3.2 There have been calls for information on helicopter movements and routes to be published and to be made easily accessible. For example, people moving house have a legitimate interest in whether the location is likely to be frequently overflown. The Royal Aeronautical Society believes that objective data about helicopter safety should be published to form part of the public debate on helicopter noise issues.10 At the moment, very limited data is available, and it can be difficult for the public to find.



I have tried to find out what rules helicopters have to follow in taking off and landing from Wandsworth Council, who referred me to the Civil Aviation Department. They referred me elsewhere and I gave up.” (Battersea resident)


The anger and frustration of residents is increased by the lack of information on routes and the regulations they are meant to impose on pilots.” (Wimbledon resident)

3.3 For example, there is no single web-site which contains or provides an obvious ‘way in’ to this information. The National Noise Mapping web-site, www.noisemapping.org and/or a web-site associated with the new single non-emergency telephone number, could act as a portal for this purpose. There was consensus between the experts we consulted that the publicity for, and publication of, information on helicopters, including movements, needed to be improved. For security reasons it might not always be possible for the emergency services and military to publish data on certain helicopter operations. However, we still think that there is a case for publishing most other data on helicopter movements, where it is not security sensitive.


Recommendation 3.



A single national web-site (for example, extending the role of the national noise mapping web-site), or a clearly publicised portal, should be established by the Department for Transport and/or Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to give public access to data on helicopters, including movements, routes used, and places where holding may be expected.




Complaints procedures


3.4 There should be clearer information to the public on the complaints procedures. It is important not only that people know whom to complain to, but that the organisation/s receiving the complaint can actually do something about it. Many members of the public have mentioned this lack of information and communication in their correspondence. Some of them did not know which organisation to contact to make a complaint and, even when they did contact either the Department for Transport or the Civil Aviation Authority, they felt that there was nothing anyone could do to address noise disturbance from helicopters.


Is there a body to whom I can direct and air my complaint?”

(South Woodford resident)


It is impossible to make a complaint.” (Covent Garden residents)


The response I got from both the Department for Transport and the Civil Aviation Authority is that the flight paths are fairly vague, there are no rules about residential disturbance and basically its tough luck.”

(Kingston upon Thames resident)



3.5 The aviation management regime is very complex with several organisations being responsible for different aspects of policy, regulation, operation and dealing with complaints from the public. The split of responsibilities for handling complaints is as follows:

3.6 Currently, people do not have a single point of reference when they wish to complain. This can cause confusion and dissatisfaction amongst members of the public when they are trying to obtain information or make a complaint. The Department for Transport runs an enquiries service on its website, but it is difficult to navigate. Whilst the Department for Transport receives complaints about helicopter noise, because they do not operate a complaints database they have been unable to provide us with more detailed statistics. They explained that the most common complaints refer to low flying and noise at night from police helicopters. As long as pilots observe the Rules of the Air and flew safely, they cannot be prosecuted for noise disturbance.11

3.7 The Department for Transport has devolved responsibility for handling environmental complaints, such as aircraft noise, to the Civil Aviation Authority. However, the Civil Aviation Authority can only advise members of the public on the regulations. They cannot investigate complaints unless there is clear evidence of any breach of the Rules of The Air. The Civil Aviation Authority reported that it received 328 complaints nationally in June 2006. About 7% of these complaints were from London and some of them were about helicopter noise, although a definitive figure has not been provided.12

3.8 The Metropolitan Police reported that they receive about 1 complaint for every 100 hours of flying time. They state that procedures are in place to deal direct with these complaints. They report that they have held a meeting with local councillors and residents to discuss issues regarding the noise impact from their operations.13

3.9 Several local authorities across London have told us that they receive few complaints about helicopter noise. However, they admitted that this was probably because they did not have any statutory powers to deal with this issue; if contacted by a member of the public, they would refer them to the Department for Transport or the Civil Aviation Authority to handle their complaints. However, Wandsworth Council informed us that they had been overwhelmed with complaints about helicopter noise from the public following the announcement of the Environment Committee’s investigation, and a facility on Wandsworth Council’s website for the public to submit comments.14



3.10 The Blackheath Society feels that the split of responsibilities between various organisations and the airports does not lead to good governance. They spoke of buck-passing and inefficiency in dealing with complaints.15

3.11 Rob Grafton from London City Airport acknowledged that the complaints procedures are confusing and it is not clear which organisation is responsible for dealing with complaints. At the moment, he said that London City Airport actually handled a lot of complaints even if they were not directly responsible for them, such as complaints about police helicopters. He suggested that there was a need for a central organisation to deal with aviation noise complaints across London. He thought technology could be installed to enable a single organisation to co-ordinate and deal with noise complaints for the whole area.16

3.12 Public complaints procedures on helicopter noise need to be made clearer and it would be helpful to the public to have a central organisation logging, co-ordinating and dealing with complaints. It would then be possible to fully understand the scale of the problem and propose solutions to reduce helicopter noise disturbance for residents.

3.13 There would also appear to be an opportunity for the new single national non-emergency number to be used for all noise complaints. Suitable arrangements could be established with specialist bodies that are in a position to respond promptly on specific local issues. For example, using real time data to assess whether a particular flight conformed to relevant rules. Some airports already operate systems which store radar track data in such a way as to allow easy analysis of individual movements.

3.14 Given that helicopters operate from a variety of locations within and outside the boundary of London, the Department for Transport should take the lead to ensure that clear complaints procedures and contact numbers are in place and that complaints are being logged, co-ordinated and dealt with effectively.


Recommendation 4.



As part of its review, the Department for Transport should take the lead to: make the public complaints procedures clearer, including making any telephone number universally known; that complaints are logged, co-ordinated and dealt with effectively; and that consistent data on complaints is published.




Consultation



3.15 There was also concern raised regarding the effectiveness of consultation on airspace changes conducted by aviation authorities. The Civil Aviation Authority confirmed that they did try and publicise any consultations on airspace changes as widely as possible. For example, their consultation on the changes to Rule 5 of the Rules of the Air regarding the lowering of the minimum altitude for helicopters from 1500 to 1000 feet, took place in two phases between November 2002 and May 2004. The first letter of consultation was sent to over 1000 organisations and published on the Civil Aviation Authority web-site and they received 267 responses. Their second letter of consultation received 43 responses. They issued a Letter of Intent in May 2004 and this was also published on their web-site and a press notice issued. However, they did acknowledge that, in this case, the consultees on their list were all from within the aviation community.17

3.16 Therefore, there would seem to be a case for the Civil Aviation Authority to consult more widely with the public that are likely to be affected, as well as within the aviation community. This would help to make the public more aware and better informed about the issues faced by the Civil Aviation Authority and other aviation organisations in managing air traffic. We were surprised to learn that the Civil Aviation Authority had not consulted the Mayor regarding their proposals. The Civil Aviation has acknowledged in their evidence that the London Assembly should be on its consultee list for aviation environmental changes. We believe that they should also consult the Mayor of London.



Recommendation 5.



The Civil Aviation Authority should include the London Assembly and the Mayor of London in its consultations, and seek amendment to legislation to make them both statutory consultees, regarding matters that have implications for helicopter noise.





Consultative Committee



3.17 Airport consultative committees have been established across the country to provide a mechanism for local residents to discuss issues, such as aircraft noise, with the relevant aviation authorities. Tim Thomas from the Aviation Environment Federation suggested using the existing Heathrow Consultative Committee as a model for establishing a similar helicopter noise consultative committee. In this model, the airport operator provides basic support for the operation of the committee, but the committee is able to operate independently. This could act as a focal point for the public to discuss issues with the relevant aviation bodies and local authorities. Phil Roberts from the Civil Aviation Authority argued that some consultative committees were more effective than others and that it would be difficult to manage one committee covering the whole of London.18

3.18 We believe that a consultative committee could be useful. Despite the potential difficulties, such a committee could address helicopter noise issues, give local people the chance to discuss their concerns with the relevant authorities, and identify practical ways forward. In the short term, the most practical solution is probably for the operator of London Heliport at Battersea, in association with Wandsworth Council, to establish a London Heliport Consultative Committee. This would, as a first priority, address local residents’ concerns about helicopter movements and noise, and seek ways of improving local conditions. The committee’s work could be reviewed after two years and best practice shared, enabling assessment of the potential for such a committee to cover a wider area across London.


Recommendation 6.



The operator of London Heliport at Battersea, in association with Wandsworth Council, should establish within 12 months a London Heliport Consultative Committee to, as a first priority, address local residents’ concerns about helicopter movements and noise.



4. Airspace design



4.1 We have been made aware of residents’ concerns about the routeing and flying altitude of helicopters across the airspace of London. This chapter explains the different types of routes for helicopters and what these are, their flight altitudes, and the reasons why they might be held hovering over a particular location by air traffic control. Therefore, this section on Airspace Design will look at 3 key issues:


Designated and non-designated helicopter routes



4.2 Designated helicopter routes have been established within the London Control Zone (CTR) around Heathrow Airport for many years. Helicopters flying through central London are authorised to follow the route of the Thames. Outside central London, but within the London Control Zone CTR around Heathrow, single engined helicopters are required to fly on designated routes. Twin-engined helicopters may depart from designated routes, although in congested airspace air traffic controllers may seek to concentrate flights on established routes.

4.3 Nevertheless, some residents have complained about helicopters apparently not flying over the Thames when travelling through central London. Helicopters operated by the emergency services, such as the police and ambulance service, can operate with greater freedom than commercial helicopters, and police helicopters perform some tasks during the night.

Helicopter holding above residential areas



4.4

The operational handling of helicopter traffic within the London Control Zone CTR, including holding, is dictated by the need to ensure safety. There appears to be no specific requirements to minimise noise or environmental impacts, other than where there are local arrangements for landing and take-off, and in overall airspace design.

4.5 Many local residents have expressed particular concern at helicopters being held over the Greenwich and Isle of Dogs areas. Environmental organisations have called for a re-examination of the case for holding helicopters over areas such as Greenwich. The Department for Transport needs to consider the issue of helicopter holding taking place regularly in particular areas. They should consider, especially, their policy on ‘acceptable’ holding periods. The Civil Aviation Authority should review the issue of holding in terms of consulting on options for local airspace redesign.

4.6 We understand that National Air Traffic Services and the Civil Aviation Authority are considering extending a designated helicopter route along the river eastwards from Greenwich so that helicopters are not held over Greenwich while awaiting clearance to enter controlled airspace. However, this might simply transfer the problem to other parts of East London, particularly with the growth of housing along the river further east. London City Airport have also suggested extending a designated helicopter route to the M25, so the noise footprint would be spread wider and helicopters could be held away from built up areas.19 We believe that the National Air Traffic Services and Civil Aviation Authority should come forward with proposals on how they plan to deal with the overall issue of helicopter holding at relevant locations across London.


Recommendation 7.



The National Air Traffic Services and Civil Aviation Authority should come forward with proposals on dealing with the issue of helicopter holding at locations across London.



Operating altitudes of helicopters



4.7 Helicopters have recently been allowed to fly lower over London. Last year the Secretary of State for Transport approved an amendment to reduce the minimum altitude for aircraft from 1500 to 1000 feet to bring the UK in line with International Civil Aviation Organisation recommendations.

4.8

This reduction in altitude could be a key reason why residents have recently noticed an increase in helicopter noise.

The Aviation Environment Federation argued in their response to the Civil Aviation Authority consultation that any reduction in altitude for flying aircraft would increase noise levels and exacerbate the problem of noise for those residents over-flown by the aircraft.20 The Royal Aeronautical Society said that helicopters should be required to over-fly at higher altitudes. They argue that there is a direct and dramatic correlation between noise and height.21

4.9 In 1998, the aviation authorities in Paris raised the minimum height for helicopters from 150m to 200m. This increase was said to have resulted in a reduction in the noise heard on the ground.22

4.10 We heard evidence that an increase in minimum flying height could not be done in London. Airspace around the city is more constrained; helicopters must be safely separated from fixed-wing aircraft using Heathrow, Northolt and London City Airports. The London CTR Review Group report in September 2005 saw little scope to allow helicopters to operate at higher altitudes because of these separation requirements. The Civil Aviation Authority has confirmed that raising the minimum flying altitude would introduce unacceptable safety risks.

4.11 The Civil Aviation Authority considers the environmental impact of proposals when establishing new, or amending existing, controlled airspace. However, they are unable to restrict aerial activity over any particular place or at any particular time for environmental reasons.

4.12 The Department for Transport and Civil Aviation Authority clearly need to take into account the environmental impact of helicopter noise and its adverse impact on local residents, where they can do so without compromising safety. This view is supported in residents’ correspondence with us.


I understand that the Civil Aviation Authority are only concerned with safety and not noise issues regarding helicopters. It really is about time that helicopters and their flightpaths were subject to noise regulation and stricter controls…”

(Banstead resident)



Our quality of life in London is badly affected by aircraft noise. This includes commercial aircraft, private helicopters, police and broadcasting helicopters and model aircraft…we badly need restrictions on this noise pollution or we will all be driven mad!” (Walthamstow resident)


The Department for Transport should therefore review its guidance to the Civil Aviation Authority so that the environmental impact of helicopter noise is included within its responsibilities.


Recommendation 8.



The Department for Transport should review its guidance to the Civil Aviation Authority so that the environmental impact of helicopter noise is included within its responsibilities.



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