Heathrow’s WebTrak tool fails to deliver

Heathrow’s new tool to help better understand flight patterns over your street seems to be little more than a coordinated part of the airport’s relentless PR strategy to downplay the impact of aircraft noise on the local community.

Heathrow noise map

Ignored in the run-up to Heathrow Airport’s revised submission to the Davies Commission on May 13 was its announcement a few days before of a new tool that allow residents to track local flight patterns over time.

WebTrak My Neighbourhood is intended to allow users to understand, for their postcode, how aircraft movements change over time and how often particular flight paths are used.

Heathrow is the first in the UK to deploy the new tool, and only the second in the world after Eindhoven airport in the Netherlands.

Matt Gorman, Sustainability Director of Heathrow said:

“From meeting with communities around Heathrow, we know they want access to good quality information so they can understand patterns of aircraft noise in their local area and what is being done to tackle it.”

The idea is to give residents a better understanding of flight patterns in their immediate area by showing which of 8 departing and 8 arriving flight paths in the vicinity were active, and what proportion of a day’s flights utilised which path.  It allows you to drill down into more information about the number of flights for each hour in the preceding day, the density of operations, and the type of planes flown.

Heathrow's new Webtrak My Neighbourhood offers little value to those really suffering from airport noise.

Heathrow’s new Webtrak My Neighbourhood offers little value to those really suffering from airport noise.

The new tool also tells you what percentage of the day your location was free from disruption including, helpfully, the total number of hours when there were no operations.

Only, it doesn’t quite manage to do any of that if you live in Colnbrook or other heavily affected areas.

As with other noise initiatives by the airport, it only really helps if you are some way out from the airport.  If you are affected by any more than one or two flight paths you are left with an impossible calculation.

The new web-enabled tool is in addition to Heathrow’s current Webtrak system.  More of a plane-spotter’s app that allows users to track the route of specific flights, heights and aircraft types, it does at least allow you to see the noise impact by flight recorded at two noise monitoring stations in the village – Colnbrook C of E and Pippins School.

The original Heathrow Webtrack tool is more useful, but you have to persevere with it.

The original Heathrow Webtrack tool is more useful, but you have to persevere with it.

The airport says:

“Used together, the two systems will enable people to track trends over time and give people more access to both flight and aircraft routes information”.

An alternative view might be yet more selective statistics pumped into the public domain to support a claim that airport noise is quite acceptable, and an expanded Heathrow will improve our lives.

Yesterday’s figures suggest that those under a single flight path got between 62 and 80% respite, but Colnbrook residents will not be able to translate that into anything useful.

Last month Heathrow’s ‘greening’ of the local areas in a computer-generated image was universally scorned.  The high resolution image showed major new forests superimposed over all the residential areas bordering the airport, including large parts of Colnbrook.

At the same time Heathrow issued figures showing 12,000 fewer people would be affected by aircraft noise by bringing its new runway even closer to Colnbrook.

Colnbrook's New Forest.  The High Street as you've never seen it before: how Heathrow's computer-generated image depicts a post-Third Runway Colnbrook.

Can’t see the wood for the trees? The High Street as you’ve never seen it before: how Heathrow’s Davies submission depicted a post-Third Runway Colnbrook.

The website is in the early stages of development and Heathrow says further enhancements are planned over the next 18 months to enable residents to access information specific to their location.

Looking forward to the next version …

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