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Monday 18 May 2009 7.40pm
Anybody know why the helicopters have been hovering above bankside all evening?
Monday 18 May 2009 7.49pm
I assumed that it is connected to the Parliament Square situation.

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Tuesday 19 May 2009 9.18am
And very annoying it was too when trying to watch and listen to a performance at the Globe!
Thursday 21 May 2009 8.23pm
Yes it was annoying. Why couldn't they circle above Westminister!
Friday 22 May 2009 9.13pm
there was also a lot of helicopter activity at 0330 this morning...
Thursday 28 May 2009 2.13pm
So someone's finally taking notice.

I was in Paris for a couple of days last week and only heard ambulances twice and no helicopters at all. Is it more dangerous in London???
Friday 5 June 2009 11.48am
JayBee wrote:
So someone's finally taking notice.

I was in Paris for a couple of days last week and only heard ambulances twice and no helicopters at all. Is it more dangerous in London???

Nah, it's just more boys with more toys. I rang the police about the helicopters patrolling South Bank and got the most patronising officer on the other end saying it was police business and we should put up with it for now. Charming!
Friday 5 June 2009 11.56am
Phil_R wrote:
Nah, it's just more boys with more toys.

That's what I think (up to a point). There was another hovering above E&C this morning. I wonder how much it costs and what the carbon footprint is? They are sooo noisy
Monday 19 October 2009 7.00pm
The question of helicopter noise has often been raised on the forum. Val Shawcross AM has prepared this briefing note as a response to recent complaints she has received from constituents re. this sort of noise.

From Val Shawcross AM:

I have had a number of recent enquiries regarding the noise caused by helicopter flights over London. The Assembly produced a report in 2006 entitled “London in a Spin - A Review of Helicopter Noise” which I was a member of and set out a number of recommendations to reduce the environmental impact of helicopter noise in the Capital.

This briefing aims to give basic information relating to helicopter flights in and around London, and to provide an update on the response to the Assembly's report and recommendations.

THE TYPES OF HELICOPTERS THAT FLY OVER LONDON: Single engined helicopters are allowed to fly along the path of the Thames, but are not allowed to divert to other areas over London. Twin engined helicopters are allowed to fly anywhere across London, but there are large parts of airspace where fixed wing aircraft from Heathrow and London City Airport have designated flight paths. In these areas, helicopters have to follow Air Traffic Control designated routes. Because airspace is congested in these areas, helicopter flights are restricted. A map showing these restricted areas appears on page 16 of the London Assembly's report "London in a spin - a review of helicopter noise", published in 2006.

The amount of noise generated by a helicopter is heavily influenced by size and age. Larger machines tend to be noisier, and newer helicopters are designed to be quieter than their older counterparts.

WHO USES THE HELICOPTERS OVER LONDON? About 30% of flights in the London control zones involve the emergency services (police and air ambulance). The army uses Battersea Heliport and other locations on a limited basis. There is one helicopter licensed to fly advertising banners over London, a few media related helicopter flights, and the Royal Flight. The remainder are largely leisure or corporate charter flights.

THE METROPOLITAN POLICE: The Metropolitan Police allow for a set number of flying hours per year (currently 3,300). The number of hours has been unchanged for over 10 years, and there are no plans to increase these in future. A helicopter flying during the hours of darkness is very likely to be a police operation.

The Metropolitan Police Air Support Unit is based at Lippets Hill, Epping Forest, and has a fleet of three EC145 helicopters. The previous helicopters were replaced a couple of years ago with the quietest machines available in their class. Unfortunately, because the police now need to carry more equipment, and needed capacity for more personnel, they had to purchase bigger machines, so noise may have become more noticeable.

The Police are sensitive to the problems of noise caused by their helicopters and are aware that their patterns of flying can often cause annoyance. Police helicopters are allowed to fly at lower altitudes, which causes greater noise on the ground. Also, the nature of police operations can mean the police helicopter circles in one area for a considerable period of time. When circling, the helicopter can seem to those on the ground to be leaving the area, often to great relief. However, it is often just making a circuit and comes back a few seconds or minutes later. This can be very frustrating for residents who think the noise has gone, only for it to return.

The Police only use the helicopter when it has been called in to deal with a specific situation. It does not fly randomly looking for crime. Recently, for example, the helicopter has been deployed frequently to monitor Tamil demonstrations in the centre of London.

The activities for which the police use helicopters are published on the Met Police website.

THE HELICOPTER EMERGENCY MEDICAL SERVICE (HEMS): The HEMS helicopter is based at Whitechapel Hospital and is allowed to fly throughout London airspace. It is a very small machine, with no tail rotor (unlike most helicopters), which reduces noise. It only flies during daylight hours.

CHARTERED FLIGHTS: Many chartered flights use Battersea Heliport, and a high proportion of chartered flights appear to be for leisure or for corporate entertaining, i.e. impressing clients. Peak periods of operation at Battersea Heliport correlate with things such as Royal Ascot and other major sporting events. There seems to be some evidence that London sightseeing flights are also being chartered from airports on the outskirts of London into the centre. Wandsworth Council gave permission for Battersea Heliport to be rebuilt with a luxury hotel adjoining a few years ago, and this re-development is nearing completion. Wandsworth Council also gave planning permission for homes to be built near the heliport on land that had previously been for industrial use.

From time to time, proposals have been put forward for developing other heliports in London, but none have ever come to fruition. This appears to be because it is not an economically viable proposition, i.e. there is not enough demand to sustain a second heliport. Published figures show helicopter use in the London control areas has decreased since the beginning of 2007. For the period January to April 2007 the total number of helicopter movements over the London control zones was 10,650 compared to 8,913 during the same period in 2008 and with 6,738 during the same period in 2009. The current recession appears to be having a significant impact on the number of helicopter movements.

MEDIA FLIGHTS: There are a small number of media related flights, i.e. news programmes filming unfolding events, etc. These can be annoying to people on the ground as there is some anecdotal evidence that they take place early in the morning and at evening time to meet the 24 hour news cycle. However, it seems that these account for a very small number of flying hours.

THE ARMY: Army helicopters occasionally fly in and out of Battersea. Pilots are required to be familiar with the heliport, and therefore take offs and landings there form part of pilots' training. There are also occasional military flights over the Capital, sometimes involving very large helicopters that are extremely noisy.

THE ROYAL FLIGHT: Helicopters from No 32 (the Royal) Squadron based at RAF Northolt are used by members of the Royal family over London, not now with readily distinguishing livery for security reasons. Some military machines may be older and larger and therefore noisier.

ADVERTISING: One helicopter is licensed to fly over London for advertising purposes. This practice was banned until 1995 when the Conservative Government changed the regulations to allow it. It draws a banner behind it, which requires a powerful helicopter, and is, therefore, noisy. It is the source of many complaints. It exploits a loophole in the advertising regulations that means that, whereas a ground-based billboard requires permission from the Local Authority, the advertising helicopter requires no such permission. It also arguably contravenes the British Helicopter Authority (BHAB) Code of Conduct, which states that helicopters should always avoid populated areas if possible. Details of the BHAB Code of Conduct can be found at There are also environmental concerns about this practice in terms of fuel use and climate change impacts as well as noise pollution.


Recommendation 1: The Department for Transport (DfT) should undertake a full review of the impact of helicopter movements and noise in London, with the aim of putting in place a series of policy responses designed to mitigate the impact of this form of noise pollution on Londoners' lives.

RESPONSE: The DfT did not carry out a full review, but did investigate matters, which led to a number of actions being taken, many of which related to other recommendations in the Assembly's report. See below.

Recommendation 2: As part of its review, the DfT and Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) should investigate and establish a mechanism to ensure that research on noise and other data on all helicopter movements is effectively collected, collated, analysed and published.

RESPONSE: The Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) is responsible for noise mapping under the European Noise Directive, and commissioned Salford University to carry out a study into the improvement of management of helicopter noise. This research is now available on the DEFRA website at

There is very little international data on helicopter noise modelling and the human response. The consensus is that, to a greater extent than with other noise sources, peoples' attitudes to helicopter noise vary according to what they think about the noise maker - e.g. is the disturbance justifiable or not. Helicopter noise also has distinct characteristics which can make it much more annoying than another noise of similar level, e.g. low frequencies, ‘blade slap', and it is often highly directional.

Noise modelling that has been carried out in the past is now out of date, and to collect the data to undertake new modelling would be extraordinarily expensive, and is therefore probably uneconomic for one country to undertake by itself. It could probably only be done at a European level.

However, other concrete actions have been taken as a direct result of this recommendation. The CAA now publishes monthly statistics showing helicopter movements in the London control zones. This statistical data can be found at

Regular measurements of decibel levels are now being taken at Battersea Heliport and being reported to the London Heliport Consultative Group (see details below). Wandsworth Council is participating in a trial using CCTV to monitor the approach and departure paths of the heliport to try to minimise impact on people.

Recommendation 3: A single national website, or a clearly publicised portal, should be established by DfT or DEFRA to give public access to data on helicopters, including movements, routes used and places where holding may be expected.

RESPONSE: The CAA website is now the main portal for this purpose. There is room for improvement. For example, the CAA has tried to encourage Local Authorities to link their complaint sites with the CAA site, but not all have yet done so. It is planned that this portal will be updated and improved over time.

Recommendation 4: As part of its review, the DfT should take the lead to make the public complaints procedure clearer, including making any telephone number universally known, and that complaints are logged, co-ordinated and dealt with effectively, and that consistent data on complaints is published.

RESPONSE: The situation on complaints is complex because different parts of the aviation industry have different responsibilities. Broadly speaking, the DfT is responsible for issues of policy. The CAA is responsible for operational complaints, e.g. has the pilot flown correctly and have rules been followed? It works closely with the National Air Traffic Control Service (NATS) to monitor flying behaviour. Battersea heliport and other airports have air traffic controllers (some provided by NATS, others privately) who police what happens there. It would therefore probably be costly and ineffective to introduce a single complaints procedure. At the time the Assembly's report was written, it was hoped that “The Single Non-Emergency Number” would be used for all complaints, but the Government has withdrawn funding from this project and it has stalled.

There are, however, a number of places that people can complain to as follows:

CAA noise complaints:

London Heliport at Battersea: Telephone 020 7228 0181

London Heliport Consultative Group: Telephone 020 8871 6488

Recommendation 5: The CAA should include the London Assembly and Mayor of London in consultation, and seek amendments to legislation to make them both statutory consultees regarding matters that have implications for helicopter noise.

RESPONSE: The Assembly has not been made a statutory consultee. The Mayor is already a statutory consultee, although the CAA failed to consult the Mayor on the issue of reducing the height at which helicopters were allowed to fly. They have conceded that this was a mistake. They have agreed to consult the Assembly as well as the Mayor in future.

Recommendation 6: The operator of London Heliport at Battersea, in association with Wandsworth Council, should establish a London Heliport Consultative Committee to address local residents' concerns about helicopter movements and noise.

RESPONSE: The London Heliport Consultative Group has been formed. It includes representatives from the Heliport, the helicopter industry, Wandsworth, Kensington & Chelsea, and Hammersmith & Fulham Councils and local residents' groups. Residents can speak at meetings. The Heliport now produces and publishes complaint statistics including explanations of the causes of complaints and what has been done to address them. The Group scrutinizes these and other data including operational statistics and noise monitoring statistics.

Recommendation 7: NATS and the CAA should come forward with proposals on dealing with the issue of helicopter holding at locations across London.

RESPONSE: The CAA and NATS have made changes to the management of airspace to significantly reduce the need for helicopters to be held over Greenwich, although there have been no changes to the position or number of holding points and there are no plans for such changes. There is anecdotal evidence that there are fewer complaints as a result of the management changes that have been made.

Recommendation 8: The DfT should review its guidance to the CAA so that the environmental impact of helicopter noise is included within its responsibilities.

RESPONSE: The DfT commissioned a strategic review of the CAA (known as the Pilling Report and available on the DfT website). They are now starting a consultation following up the Pilling Report, and including consultation on whether the CAAs remit should be extended in this way and, if so, how far?

Recommendation 9: As part of its review, the DfT should investigate user charging for any additional air traffic control services required for helicopters.

RESPONSE: The DfT is not willing to implement such a system of user charging at this time.

Recommendation 10: Following changes to the regulations, the CAA should impose restrictions on the use of helicopters for advertising and media so that the environmental impact can be minimised.

RESPONSE: The DfT is not minded to change the regulations to ban such flights outright at present. However, if the CAA's environmental remit is extended as proposed in Recommendation 8, the CAA could be required to consult affected Local Authorities when it receives any application to licence advertising flights. This might provide a route to refusing permission for such flights. Consultation on the CAA's remit thus presents an opportunity for Assembly Members and the public to lobby for restricting these flights.

Recommendation 11: The DfT should submit proposals to the Treasury that would lead to a change in the financial rules to give a write down allowance of 25% for all helicopters.

RESPONSE: The DfT does not intend to approach the Treasury at present as it feels that, in London, a high proportion of helicopters in frequent use are already of a more modern design, and therefore the likely impact in London would not be great.

Recommendation 12: The DfT should establish a working group including the CAA, NATS, Met Police Air Support Unit, BHAB, helicopter/heliport/airport operators, Mayor of London, Local Authorities, environmental groups and any effected residents' groups to:

Update estimates on future demand for helicopter movements

Examine noise assessment and control issues

Reappraise management of airspace

Commission and undertake research

Assess options for existing and future heliport provision

RESPONSE: The DfT has not established a working group, but will keep matters under review, for the following reasons:

The expected increase in demand has not materialised

Due to the recession, this is not a good time to carry out such a study

The costs of carrying out a noise assessment study (to quantify human response, and come up with new modelling methods) would be prohibitive

There is ongoing appraisal of London airspace, associated with NATS' ‘Terminal Control North' consultation, and introduction of P-RNAV. Airspace would need to be radically redesigned if the proposed third runway at Heathrow went ahead.

There are no proposed new helicopter routes

Recommendation 13: The CAA should give regard to the Mayor's Ambient Noise Strategy when developing proposals on environmental matters, including helicopter noise.

RESPONSE: The CAA is happy to do this.

I am making enquiries about the source of particular noise affecting the Tabard estate. It may possibly be police helicopters. I'll contact the Civil Aviation Authority's Directorate of Airspace Policy (DAP) which provides a focal point for receiving and responding to aviation environmental complaints, including aircraft noise complaints, CAA noise complaints: you can contact DAP on 020 7453 6524/5 or by writing to:

Consultation Secretary
Directorate of Airspace Policy
CAA House K6
45-59 Kingsway

Helicopters are in my view under controlled in London. There aren't any time restrictions on flights- the controls that are in force are principle concerning safety and not noise nuisance. So it would be helpful if anyone affceted did send a complaint to the CAA. .

Valerie Shawcross AM

Editor of the London SE1 website.
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Tuesday 20 October 2009 8.57pm
There is the Thames corridor but that lot mostly just whiz past along it.

It's always the police when you get some fool hovering over your chimney for about an hour at 2am.

There is never any explained reason so the boys with toys does it for me. If you phone and complain you very clearly get the impression that they are very used to people phoning and complaining and do not give a toss.

The air ambulance is brilliant. It's bright red. I've seen it a few times and I'm always full of admiration. They don't mess about, get in and get out, often in the most ridiculous spaces. I saw one once come down in central Wimbledon on a crossroads between the shops to pick up a traffic casualty. Huge respect. And these guys are privately sponsored unlike the police.

I've complained to the CAA on two occasions about helicopter activity in the small hours by the police and am not aware it has even been recorded.
I don't even bother complaining about the racket during the day.

There was a story in the papers this week about some chap up north who got fed up with an army helicopter on maneuvers hovering about 10' over his house for some time in the early AM and he shone a good torch at it to get a look at it's numbers to find out who to complain about and is now being prosecuted for endangering an aircraft. He says he hopes the Taliban don't find out you can endanger an army helicopter with a Maglite. Class act.

So Paris you say then? I'm going deaf from all the sirens from living round here and it's not like they do much to speak of when I'm in trouble.
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