Helicopters over Ashtead


Update 23rd July 2018

Following the article below the Residents' Association wrote to the British Helicopter Association for clarification on some points. The email we sent is below and the comments from the BHA are in red. We are very grateful to the BHA for take the time to repond to our enquiry. In addition the covering email with these comments added the following:-

My comments below in red. The perceived increase in helicopter traffic maybe due to the hot weather and people opening their windows for ventilation. There is no reason for a large increase in traffic besides that which is normally due to the good summer weather and the associated air traffic tied to summer events. Ashtead is well situated to not be subject to the noise from large commercial jet traffic, however, helicopters are forced to stay under / outside the controlled airspace which is associated with this form of transport and we are necessarily lower. Helicopters will be transiting to the north of Gatwick’s airspace and to the South and West of the London Control Zone. The BHA operates a ‘Fly Neighbourly’ policy where we encourage pilots to fly as high as possible and away from conurbations.

Our original email and their additional comments was as follows:-

I am on the Committee of the Ashtead Residents’ Association and we have been receiving an increasing number of complaints regarding helicopter noise and “potential” low flying. I believe the latter complaint is not justified and the helicopters I see are well over the 1,000 feet level. However the noise aspect is a justified complaint.

I believe Ashtead, Surrey is on the edge of the exclusion zone around London and Heathrow and to avoid this zone helicopters are flying as close to the edge as possible taking then directly over Ashtead. Helicopters are noisier than jets, some of which fly, largely unnoticed over Ashtead. Helicopters though are much noisier and can at times be very intrusive.

We have been asked about night flying rules for helicopters. Are there any? There are Rules concerning weather limits and how close a pilot can get to a person, structure etc. However by being at 1000ft the pilot is well outside that limit. Can a certified helicopter pilot literally fly at any time of night? Yes a pilot who has the required licence / endorsements can fly at any time of the day. The helicopters flying in the period of 0001 to 0430 hours are most likely to be police or Air Ambulances I realise helicopters can take off from literally anywhere and there is no central authority, but do pilots have to file a flight plan, and if so with whom? A helicopter pilot only has to file a flight plan when carrying out some Commercial Air Transport duties, crossing international boundaries or wishing to make use of certain parts of controlled airspace. Can the public discover who is flying over Ashtead in the middle of the night waking everyone up? There are certain apps or online programmes which give radar pictures.

I have explained to residents the CAA procedure for complaining about low flying, though I have to say this is largely impossible enforce because the registration numbers are not visible, and it is hard to accurately judge height from the ground without a reference point.

If you can throw light on some of the questions and points above that would be helpful. Then I can pass your informed comments to residents.

Many thanks in anticipation.


Residents of Ashtead cannot fail to have noticed the numerous overflights by helicopters travelling east/west or west/east. These aircraft are much noisier than the large commercial jets that fly over us, often unnoticed. Cllr. Patricia Wiltshire has raised the problem with Chris Grayling who has responded very quickly, and he believes the very recent increased activity is linked to the Farnbrough Air Show.

Ashtead sits on the edge of the London Control Zone which is a portion of controlled airspace that extends from ground level to an altitude of 2,500 feet, within a 10-mile area of Heathrow airport. (See plan). Flights therefore need to skirt the CTR which puts them on a direct path across Ashtead.

Helicopter London CTR

Helicopter noise is far more complex to measure and assess than fixed-wing aircraft noise. Helicopters do not have to follow predefined routes; may hover over a specific area (increasing the impact of the noise in that location); and create asymmetric noise distribution because of variations in the speed of rotor blades.
About the City Control Zones (CTRs)

All helicopters flying in the London (Heathrow) and London City Control Zones (CTRs) are subject to an Air Traffic Control (ATC) clearance and particular visibility minima. In the main, pilots navigate by visual reference to ground features with only limited ATC Radar assistance.

Single-engined helicopters are required to fly along designated helicopter routes. These routes have been selected to provide maximum safety by avoiding flying over built up areas as much as possible. However, it should be noted that multi-engine helicopters can be provided with an ATC clearance to transit on more direct routes through the CTRs.

The Police and the Helicopter Emergency Medical Services (HEMS) operate multi-engined helicopters, but their operations are subject to special requirements associated with the nature of the tasks they are performing. Therefore, Police and HEMS helicopters may need to operate at lower altitudes or hold over specific locations.

Finally, at a recent meeting of Road Stewards we were asked how to report a helicopter flight we believed as flying too low. Generally helicopters have to fly above 1,000 ft if over a built-up area, but how do you judge that height? The Eiffel Tower in Paris and the Shard in London are just over 1,000 feet high.

The CAA can investigate unsafe flying, but helicopters are allowed to land away from airfields providing they can do so safely and they have the landowners’ permission. To report an aircraft you need evidence of the unsafe height plus the aircraft’s registration number. This is a letter G- followed by 4 letters. These requirements make identification of culprits very difficult if not impossible.

It was suggested that some Phone Apps will track overflying aircraft and an example of this is http://www.crondallweather.co.uk/flighttracker.html. This live map shows all aircraft in the air, where they are from and where they are going, plus flight number and airplane registration. However the majority of helicopters do not have the necessary transponder to place this information in the public domain.

To make a complaint visit http://www.caa.co.uk/Our-work/Make-a-report-or-complaint/Report-a-potential-breach-of-aviation-law/ and use the online form.

Note: The writer of this article is not an aviation expert and has gleaned the above information from the CAA web sites. Therefore E&OE !