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The Hell of living under the Heathrow flightpath

After a gazillion years of proposals, enquiries and delayed decisions the Government has finally given the go-ahead for the building of a new runway at Heathrow. Apparently this will be the first runway built in the South East of England in 50 years.

The MP for Richmond – just across the river from me – Zac Goldsmith immediately resigned his seat and announced his intention to stand as an independent in the resulting by-election. His former party, the Conservative Party, the governing party, won’t even be putting up a candidate. It’s not just Goldsmith. Extraordinarily, cabinet ministers who represent constituencies under the flightpath have been given permission to speak against the decision.

So what is the kerfuffle all about? I have been living under the flightpath for 15 years now. I live to the east when most of the action is east-west, so I don’t get the worst of it. But I do live where most of the people who would be affected live. For the most part I am barely aware that there’s an airport in the vicinity at all. About one or month or so, planes are moving west-east and every couple of minutes I won’t be able to hear the telly. In such cases I have to take the drastic action of pushing the pause button on my remote control. Heathrow has never deprived me of any sleep and things would have to get a lot worse before it bothered me. Or the Fonz for that matter:

Indeed, things are a lot better than they were in the days of Concorde. The racket that thing used to make was astonishing. And wonderful. So what if I couldn’t hear a damn thing for 30 seconds? That was a deafness induced by the finest British engineering, a richer deafness. A better deafness.

Now I accept I (and the Fonz) are not everybody. Maybe, others are more affected. If so one wonders why they choose to live in Richmond. OK, it’s possible that there some who are not affected now but will be in the future. In that case they would probably be best off leaving and moving somewhere quieter. Now, as a libertarian, I think that people should be compensated for such losses. Except I very much doubt there will be any need. I suspect that any loss people might suffer in terms of the cost of moving will easily be matched in terms of the rise in house prices due to the fact that their homes are so near to an expanding airport.

I just can’t see the problem.

49 comments to The Hell of living under the Heathrow flightpath

  • bobby b

    . . . I think that people should be compensated for such losses. Except I very much doubt there will be any need.

    Dude, you expressed a near-loving, fanboi-type adoration for cool loud airplane noises. In case you’re wondering, yes, you are alone in the universe. 😆

    So don’t be surprised when your threshold for “loss” seems to differ from that of many other people.

  • Jim

    I used to live next door to a main railway line. Inter City trains at 100mph+. You couldn’t talk to someone while they passed, they were that loud. And the whole house shook at night when goods trains rumbled by too. And after a while you didn’t notice any of it, it just became part of the background environment.

  • In case you’re wondering, yes, you are alone in the universe

    Nope. I lived under a flightpath until last year. Not that big a deal. Plus, rather a lot of people have “fanboi-type adoration for cool loud airplane noises” as air shows are the second most popular outdoor public events in Britain (after football) 😛

  • Alsadius

    I recently saw a study of American airports – apparently, most airports have like 1-3 people who file several thousand noise complaints a year each, and they get a few hundred others from everyone else combined. (The one exception was San Francisco, which gets to deal with several dozen such people, and gets like a hundred times as many complaints as many other airports).

  • Alisa

    Well, I happen to like airplanes, noise and all – especially in air shows. I like trains and the noise they make even better – and yet

  • Bruce

    Interesting how the “professionally-aggrieved” fail to be aware that aircraft gave been getting quieter just has they have been getting bigger / more efficient since the late 1960’s.

    Hark (so to speak) back to the good old Boeing 707 or its “rival”, the DC-8, (everybody forgets about the Convair 880).

    Now they were rowdy,

    Along come the 747 and suddenly a BIGGER aircraft is noticeably quieter than its predecessor.

    Consider the old Boeing 727 and the Douglas DC-9 “short/ medium” haul jobs.

    Almost none left flying now, because, apart from their airframes getting a bit tired, they have been superseded by quieter, much more fuel-efficient machines.

    The poor old Concorde was pretty much doomed from day one, because not only was it noisy, but its limited payload left it in the financial wake turbulence of the 747. Boeing’s “Jumbo” was THE aircraft that pushed the price of commercial flight down so spectacularly in the early 1970’s. Not sure if the Airbus 380 will have a similar effect, though.

    Lockheed had their own “SST” almost ready when they looked closely at the ACTUAL market and canned the project. The poor old Russians went to a LOT of trouble to “acquire” the smarts to build the Tu-144 (KonKordski), and a LOT of non-convertible Roubles to get “their” supersonic airliner into service first. They dropped one or two into the forests and cancelled the whole thing. Their DC-9 “equivalent”, the Tu-134 was even noisier than the “original”, but were (and still are) tough as old boots, as long as you can afford the fuel bill.

    I used to occasionally fly in Tu-134’s operated by the early incarnation of “Air Viet Nam”. In the late 1980’s / early 1990’s, all of their pilots seemed to be ex-MiG-21 drivers. Take-off and landing were straight out of the “fighter-jock flight manual”. EXCELLENT pilots: one of their aircraft came down during a huge, horrendous tropical storm over Thailand. This had created utter chaos in air-traffic control. The Tu-134 actually ran out of fuel because it was stuck in a holding pattern with dozens of other aircraft, all looking for somewhere safe to go. When the rescuers arrived at the scene, they found the pilot, injured, but organising the “walking” survivors to help recover anyone else from the wreck. He and his co-pilot had performed a “controlled crash” in a ferocious storm and stayed on duty till help arrived.

    Some years later, the Viet Nam-Bangkok flight I was on got into the same sort of mess. Looking out the cabin window, passengers could see orbiting airliners stacked up for thousands of feet. However, in that case, we all got diverted to a “regional” field that seemed to house a lot of BIG, very USAF-looking aircraft off in the distance from where we ended up being parked, out among a multi-national jamboree of other airliners. A caravan of big, green fuel tankers topped up each aircraft in turn. When the Meteorology “all clear” was given, we all trundled off in order of arrival, to try and slot into the endless traffic that is a major feature of that area, also trying to get into Bangkok from all over the rest of the world.

    Old aviation black humour:

    What’s the difference between a crash and a heavy landing?

    If nobody dies, it’s a heavy landing.

  • pete

    These days there is nor real need for so many millions of people to live all crammed together in such a small space.

    Millions of Londoners do jobs which can now be done anywhere.

    Build the runway, offer no compensation and let people move if they want to. There’s no need for the rest of us to give them any money because of their chosen, unnecessary living arrangements.

  • What’s the betting half these people complaining bought near the airport because it was cheaper and now, twenty years on, have decided the proximity of the airport is nuisance?

  • Patrick Crozier

    Low. Richmond has always been a pretty upmarket place. Hounslow, on the other hand, isn’t. And it’s a lot nearer. They’re all in favour there.

  • Cal

    If the noise isn’t that bad then we should build lots of new runways all over the place.

    Just as long as the state doesn’t go using compulsory purchase orders to get them built.

  • These days there is nor real need for so many millions of people to live all crammed together in such a small space.

    Madness 🙄 Cities are where civilisation is, countryside is for steak-on-the-hoof and bacon-on-the-trotter.

  • I live under a La Guardia flight path and more significantly under a helicopter and light aircraft flight corridor.

    No problem.

    I have a sneaking suspicion that one of the reasons the left hates aviation is that it is a symbol of Western civilization’s superiority.

    Just wait till the spacefaring civilization gets going. Their hatred of that will make the Heathrow row seem like a minor skirmish.

  • Mal Reynolds (Serenity)

    LVT would sort this out quite nicely… Value of living close to an international airport versus the cost of the noise priced into the land. Tax adjusts based on impact on land value. Boom. Compensation done.

    Now can we stop artificially restricting the supply of airport runways and just let them all build based on their anticipated profit from doing so?

  • LVT would sort this out quite nicely

    Ah yes LVT, where fascism and feudalism intersect, allowing you the fiction of ownership just so long as you produce a rent for the state.

  • Ian Bennett

    What’s the difference between a crash and a heavy landing?

    If nobody dies, it’s a heavy landing.

    It’s a good landing if you can walk away from it. It’s an excellent landing if you can use the aircraft again.

  • I don’t think the utility or pragmatic arguments are legitimate- these sorts of issues should have been worked out based on who was where first, and how they felt about flights over their property. But governments gave the burgeoning new industry an unfair advantage over various property owners.

  • llamas

    And – showing my age – it’s an absolutely outstanding landing if the prettiest flight attendant agrees to go out with you afterwards.

    These days, of course, not such a powerful incentive. 😯



  • John B

    Reminds me of people who move to or live in the country then complain about the noise and smells from farms.

  • Old RPM Daddy

    My current work site is in the landing path of Washington Dulles, where the big, international flights land. Boeing 747s and Airbus 380s really aren’t that loud, and these birds come in so low one has to fight off the temptation to wave.

    But when I was little, we lived near an Air Force base housing a B-52 wing, and those monsters were plenty loud. So maybe my current judgment is colored by my memories.

  • Michael Jennings

    It isn’t the left that prevents airport expansion in the UK, curiously enough. It is the right.

    People who live right near airports don’t complain about aircraft noise. This is because airports are truly wonderful generators of economic activity and hence decent jobs for people who live near them. If you, your family, and/or your friends rely on the airport for your livelihood, you don’t complain about it. It is people who live under a flight path some distance away from the airport who do the complaining. People in (say) Twickenham or Chelsea. This possibly explains why Tories are often against airport expansion and Labour is often for it. Gordon Brown previously approved a new runway and terminal at Heathrow, but David Cameron – useless tosser – immediately cancelled it. (If Cameron had merely not cancelled what had already been approved, we would have the new runway and terminal now). Or why expansion of London City Airport was vetoed by (Tory) mayor Boris Johnson and immediately approved by new mayor Sadiq Khan when he took office.

    Also, Concorde was a ridiculous white elephant that looked like some absurd 1950s vision of the future. It looked ludicrous and silly even by the standards of the 1970s.

  • It looked ludicrous and silly even by the standards of the 1970s.

    No, it was ludicrous and silly even by the standards of the 1970s, but it looked utterly cool and awesome 😎

  • Patrick Crozier

    Michael will now name a plane that looked more modern in the 1970s.

  • Laird

    Leaving aside the nonsense of LTV “sorting out” the value issue (it does not; it merely substitutes someone else’s subjective assessment of “value” for that of the market), the problem I have with these sorts of things is that it creates a government-imposed change to the value of the property. If the new runway merely utilizes existing flight paths I have no problem with it. But if it creates a new flight path, thus creating noise pollution where none previously existed, that’s a different story. It’s analogous to a zoning change which diminishes the value of the property. You had certain (legitimate) expectations when you bought the property, but the government has unilaterally altered the existing conditions to your detriment. I consider that to be a public “taking”, for which compensation should be paid.

  • Michael Jennings (London)

    The Boeing 747 is one of the best looking aircraft ever designed, and a classic piece of late 1960s / early 1970s engineering. (Compare it with the Apollo hardware that went to the moon, and you can see we are talking the same era).

    The A380 is an ugly piece of late 1960s / early 1970s engineering, designed and built 30 years late. It’s ugly for the same reason the Concorde is ugly, although in the reverse direction timewise – engineers trying to build something that righly belonged in a different era.

  • Alisa

    I’m with Laird here. And it is disconcerting seeing people here who would just shrug at this because the noise does not bother them personally, or because they like airplanes.

  • Snorri Godhi

    You had certain (legitimate) expectations when you bought the property, but the government has unilaterally altered the existing conditions to your detriment. I consider that to be a public “taking”, for which compensation should be paid.

    Not sure whether that is meant purely as a legal opinion, but from the libertarian point of view, that seems a little timid. In my view, a strict interpretation of NAP would be that nobody has the right to violate your property with sound waves, beyond the level that you had reason to expect when you acquired the property. The government can offer compensation in return for your accepting some extra noise, but you have no obligation to accept it, and if you do not accept, then nobody can legitimately start flying within earshot of your property.

    That is, of course, provided that you acquired full property rights: if you acquired the property at a time when a law authorized the government to arbitrarily change flight paths, for instance, then it seems to me that you did not acquire full property rights and you should have thought twice before putting money into the property.

  • Mr Ed

    What about the monstrosity of the compulsory purchase involved in the expansion of Heathrow (or any other airport here for that matter)? I say that not one ‘pixel’ of land should be taken from its owners by compulsion, anywhere, ever outside of the inevitable horrors of wars of national survival.

  • Bruce Hoult

    The A380 is pretty ugly on the outside, but a joy to travel in, even in cattle class (or at least the Emirates version of cattle class). It has the only seats since the demise of the 747-400 that I can bear to sit in for 12+ hours.

    Emirates started flying the A380 to Moscow on one of the two daily flights (arrive Domodedovo 21:55, depart 23:55) on October 1, and the Dubai to Auckland direct flight switches from B777 to A380 today (or tomorrow), so I can now travel back to NZ in only 25 hours by A380 all the way. And will do in mid December. For a price cheaper than anyone but China Southern.

    Incredibly, this means there will now be four Emirates A380s on the ground in Auckland every afternoon, departing for Dubai within about a one hour period — one direct, and one each via Melbourne, Sydney, and Brisbane.

    So much for long and thin routes!

    The A380 isn’t as fuel efficient per seat as other newish aircraft, mostly because the upper deck doesn’t have many seats, and partly because the wings are a couple of meters shorter than optimal in order to fit runways and gates. However, I think it does quite well financially for airlines that can keep the 1st and business seats full.

  • Bruce Hoult

    As for noise .. I was for a few years on the committee of my gliding club. We got regular noise complaints (about our tow plane) from just a few individuals. None of whom had been there half as long as the club had.

    Also, it was surprising how often the complaints mentioned dates on which we hadn’t actually been flying!

  • Fred the Fourth

    Michael J: Concorde may not have the aesthetics you’d prefer (though for the life of me I can’t understand why) but for what it’s worth, my old man, who flew pretty much every aircraft ever made, told me that Concorde was his favorite. (There was a trio of pilots, UK, France, US, who flew the international certification tests. He was the US rep.)

  • Fred the Fourth

    And oddly enough, he spent a good part of his career developing “noise abatement” approach and departure procedures.

  • Michael Jennings (London)

    Bruce: Emirates’ accommodation is pretty nice on almost any aircraft, and in all classes. Comfort isn’t so much the choice of aircraft as it is how well and how densely the interior of the aircraft is fitted out. Emirates are certainly able to fill a lot of them. They also manage to fly nine times a day between London and Dubai. I am not sure if all of those flights are A380s, but most of them are.

    Airbus are having huge difficulties selling A380s to anyone else, though. Production is down to a trickle of aircraft, and there is speculation that it may only continue for a few more years. Singapore is in the process of returning their leased A380s after the ten year minimum lease period, and not replacing them with new ones.

  • Chester Draws

    I say that not one ‘pixel’ of land should be taken from its owners by compulsion, anywhere, ever outside of the inevitable horrors of wars of national survival.

    So the train companies buy land under airports, and refuse to sell. And the airlines buy thin strips of land to prevent rail expansion.

    And everyone buys where a motorway is due to go to hold the builders to ransom? With the strength of modern environmentalism they could prevent any oil facilities being built at all.

    If people cannot be prevented from behaving like tossers — and it only needs to be one — then the result is not progress but stasis.

  • Alisa

    So the train companies buy land under airports, and refuse to sell. And the airlines buy thin strips of land to prevent rail expansion.

    Only that is not what experience shows would happen.

  • Mr Ed

    Chester Draws

    And where would you hide, should Eminent Domain come to take your home?

    And how was it that my England is crossed by canals constructed without compulsory purchase (compensated theft) of land?

    How is theft progress? Let justice be done, even if the Sky should fall!

  • Paul Marks

    There are two problems Patrick. Apart from the increase in pollution and so on on.

    The theft of private property by the government – for the airport expansion.

    And the vast sums of money the expansion will cost – money the government has not got.

    For all the talk of “austerity” their is massive government deficit.

    In reality Mr Osborne spent like a drunken sailor – and Mr Hammond appears to be even worse.

  • Mr Ed

    Chester Draws

    If people cannot be prevented from behaving like tossers — and it only needs to be one — then the result is not progress but stasis.

    So in a nutshell, it seems to me that your position is ‘the common good before the individual good’.

    Or as they say and said in Germany: ‘Gemeinnutz geht vor Eigennutz‘.

  • bobby b

    I lived under a flightpath until last year. Not that big a deal.

    I lived under a flight path back in the eighties. It was a huge deal, after my local international airport switched their runway usage patterns without announcement.

    It was bone-chattering dense noise for 30-second shots, every ten or fifteen minutes.

    I suppose it depends on the construction of your dwelling. In mine, things fell off walls, and my fish died.

  • PeterT

    I’m with Laird and Alisa on this. Lots of amenities are not formally part of the title to your property. This includes views, quiet etc. Whilst one mustn’t get silly about this that doesn’t mean somebody can build an airport next door.

    Nothing turns you into a nimby quite like buying a house. I live in Bromley but I still resent how low the aircraft go.

  • Adam Maas


    Private railways in Canada and the US have a long history of questionable land acquisitions to block other development.

    In fact one of the more obvious ones is just up the street from where I work (Parkdale Station, later North Parkdale station in Toronto was sited explicitly to block the Credit Valley Railway from access to downtown Toronto. It didn’t work out, but only because the CVR was able to prove malfeasance in court and get an order to allow a crossing at grade)

  • Mr Ed

    Here in England, the common law has been brushed aside to allow trespass by aircraft, as per the Civil Avaition Act 1982, section 76 (1).

    Liability of aircraft in respect of trespass, nuisance and surface damage.

    (1) 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 at a height above the ground which, having regard to wind, weather and all the circumstances of the case is reasonable, or the ordinary incidents of such flight, so long as the provisions of any Air Navigation Order and of any orders under section 62 above have been duly complied with

    So airports can be put wherever the well-comnected get political permission, and the ‘costs’ fall on others.

  • Alisa

    I know Adam, and it’s not limited to railways, to Canada and to the US. It is everywhere, in one form or another.

  • Rob Fisher

    Patrick, have you met a local who opposed the Heathrow expansion? I’ve yet to.

    I don’t notice the noise. I like the convenience of the airport. I like the economic activity it generates. It’s quite clear the local construction industry figured out Heathrow was going ahead at least several weeks ago when buildings started to spring up on land that has been empty since demolitions several years ago, when construction stopped after the banking crisis.

    I suspect there might be some compulsory purchase in any expansion plan, though…

  • Johnathan Pearce (London)

    I consider that to be a public “taking”, for which compensation should be paid.

    Laird nails it. The proper way for that payment to be handled is from the profits of the organisations leasing/operating the new runway. No need for some ghastly Henry George-style land value tax. Just a straight exchange. The payment would have to be made for anyone who had bought a property in the affected area before the announcement by May was made a few weeks ago.

    By the way, I am with Perry about Concorde. I live in Pimlico, central London, and can recall walking down Belgrave Road, around 6pm, and seeing the magnificent speedbird roar its way back to Heathrow. It made the windows rattle, and I loved it for it.

  • Hedgehog

    Reminds me of people who move to or live in the country then complain about the noise and smells from farms.

    Or the people who move to a place with a racetrack and then complain about the noise from the cars. Lime Rock being a great example. One of my pet peeves, mainly because I’m the kind who likes to use the track and I don’t at all mind the sound of a racing engine. I always have a sneaking suspicion that these people aren’t so much annoyed by the noise, but by the idea that somebody is having fun of which they disapprove.

  • Surellin

    I lived for several years in the flight path of our local international airport. After that, I moved to an apartment within a block of a train tracks. I got used to these things. Then I moved out into the country far from any obnoxious source of noise and several of our guests from the city complained that it was TOO QUIET – they couldn’t sleep. Moral – you can get used to anything.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Laird said it first!

    Alisa followed, then Paul, Thailover, PeterT. (Apologies if I missed anyone.)

    All correct, except that even accepted “takings” doctrines that call for “just compensation” simply do not take into account that the value of a property to its owner is not always and maybe not even usually found in its (estimated or assumed) financial value.

    Hence Suzette Kelo’s refusal to relinquish her home to the City of New London, Conn., even though said City offered her “just compensation.” (It’s immaterial whether she could have gotten a better deal elsewhere–she wanted her house for herself. Its primary value to her, at that stage, lay in its meaning for her.)

    Hence Vera Coking’s similar refusal to give up her home in Atlantic City despite Bob Guccione’s offer of a cool million $ and, later, Hair’s offer followed by Atlantic City’s attempt to seize her place under Eminent Domain laws. Here, thank fortune, the Supremes found their Better Nature (as nurtured by the Institute for Justice) and told Atlantic City and the Trumpster to pound sand. *standing ovation*

    “Just compensation” simply doesn’t fit the real human condition.

    And the whole doctrine of Eminent Domain assumes that somebody or some group has more right to the use and dispensation of a property than does its owner.

    In other words, seizure is OK if the Lawr says so.


    I just can’t tell you-all how delighted I am for those of you who love having airplanes, trains, oil rigs, whatnot moved in on top of you without your say-so, ‘cuz you just love them loud noises and hey, if you love ’em (or aren’t bothered by them) then everybody else jest better learn to love ’em too.

    And if they can’t bring themselves to love them, then they jolly well oughta move.


    Nasty snark aside, though — and I did mean every word of it — the issue is how to find the compromise that legally ensures every owner the realization of as much of his property’s value, in each of its forms, to him; but without destroying other people’s capacity to claim un-“owned” property (such as the right of an airline, or a private pilot, to make x db of noise at a given altitude).

    …Speaking of which, it’s been a long time, but presumably there are still FAA regs about how much noise a plane can make how close to the ground, or to other buildings, or whatever.


    My heart says that “you” have no right to build your foul casino/mall/high-rise fancy-schmancy condo units/whatever on the pristine mountainside the view of which is the whole reason I chose my particular homesite. When you do that (are allowed to do that) you destroy the entire value to me of my home, save only whatever monetary value I can salvage from the wreckage.

    . . .

    All of which boils down to the fact that people inevitably jostle one another, step on each other’s toes, loves and principles, and the only way around it is to have no two people living closer to each other than, say, 1000 or 1,000,000 miles. (And even then ….)

    Methinks Utopia is not for us. Not even were we all True Libertarians.

  • Julie near Chicago

    P.S. Even the great scholar and defender of the apparent necessity of some sort of Eminent Domain once made the point his very own self — the point that Just Compensation cannot entirely meet the case, because so much of valuing rests on other bases than the purely financial.

    (He alludes to it, obliquely, every once in awhile, bless his heart.)

  • Mr Ed

    Perhaps if the law set the ‘price’ of ‘just compensation’ as including the would-be purchasher/thief’s beating heart’s removal from chest, we might see how much the p/t truly values the land.