Helicopters often generate proportionally more noise complaints than fixed-wing aircraft for reasons that have been noted in previous Government planning guidance: “Helicopter noise has different characteristics from that from fixed wing aircraft, and is often regarded as more intrusive or more annoying by the general public” (PPG 24, Noise and Planning).
The operational flexibility of helicopters also contributes to this perception:
- Their flexibility in the air means the noise is not necessarily concentrated along fixed routes (although some landing facilities do have standard arrival procedures and the CAA does prescribe helicopter routes for flights over central London);
- The noise can be prolonged when helicopters hover in one place for long periods. This is often the case with police surveillance helicopters. The impact is often exacerbated when these activities take place late at night, a necessity for some police and air ambulance operations.
Do you experience problems with helicopter noise? If so, here are some guidelines in helping you to understand the issues and where you can raise any concerns.
Generally speaking all helicopters flying within uncontrolled airspace must adhere to the Rules of the Air (2007), full details of which can be found here.
“Except with the written permission of the CAA, an aircraft flying over a congested area of a city town or settlement shall not fly below a height of 1,000 feet above the highest fixed obstacle within a horizontal radius of 600 metres of the aircraft, and an aircraft shall not be flown closer than 500 feet to any person, vessel, vehicle or structure.”
However, in controlled airspace around most airports and aerodromes they must fly in accordance with local Air Traffic Control (ATC) requirements, and in London the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) sets requirements for single-engine helicopters operating within what is known as the London Control Zone (CTR). Until recently this encompassed specific helicopter routes (see map), designed to keep helicopters over water or open land as far as possible in case of the need for an emergency landing. However, many helicopters today have twin engines and can deviate from these routes with ATC permission.
What to do if you want to complain about aircraft/helicopter noise
Many aerodromes have a formal complaints procedure which can usually be found on their website (e.g. London/Battersea Heliport http://www.londonheliport.co.uk/ 020 7228 0181 8am to 7pm). Some authorities who operate helicopters also have a formal complaints route, for example, the Metropolitan Police. If you do not know where a helicopter originates from then the CAA offers a separate route but it does depend on your ability to identify whether the helicopter is civil or military. For civil helicopters the process is online at “Use of UK Airspace Report” form FCS 1521, or here for military aircraft. When making complaints it is important to provide as much information as possible e.g. date/time, helicopter type/colour/markings, registration number, if possible. Estimating height can be very difficult.
The CAA has some information on helicopter noise on its website, particularly highlighting where helicopters are allowed to land.
If you would like to know a little bit more about helicopter noise, we would recommend the London Assembly report produced in 2006 on helicopter noise “London in a Spin”.
If you have persistent problems with helicopter noise and have been unable to get anywhere through the formal complaints procedure then please contact us.