Aviation Noise

The skies above Wiltshire are no longer peaceful.

How did this happen?

In the 1960s North Wiltshire was quiet and peaceful; one could hear the larks and nightingales twittering on the Marlborough Downs, the occasional chirrup of a cricket in the grass  and cows lowing at milking time.  Those idyllic days are gone. One of the most rural counties in the UK is plagued with aviation noise and it’s not just microlights ruining our quiet enjoyment of the countryside. Much of the area around Swindon is subject to the noise of a skydiving plane based at Redlands Airfield in Wanborough in the Borough of Swindon. The RAF make occasional   low flying helicopter sorties over the area. The RAF Fairford Airshow brings military planes from across the world   but thankfully this nuisance lasts only a few days. The Wiltshire Air Ambulance helicopter also lands at the Great Western Hospital in Swindon but this is not a daily nuisance.

In Wiltshire there are private and unlicensed airfields aplenty. Airfields result in aeroplanes and these make noise.

Why is this such a problem?

Well, Wiltshire is mostly rural with very low background noise.

This means any plane flying overhead seems very loud.

Much of the county is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty where peace and quiet is prized.

There are several World Heritage Sites where tourist or commercial sightseeing overflying is not welcomed.

A large number of microlight training schools, skydiving operators and commercial airfields  are concentrated in a small geographic area of this exceptionally scenic county.


How long is a piece of string? We don’t know.

There is no national register of unlicensed airfields.

There is no county register of unlicensed airfields.

John Woodside, (bones@mcb.net)  tried to quantify UK airfields  and found 1,800 airfields in 4 categories which did not include all microlight airfields.  www.homepages.mcb.net/bones/UK_Airfield_Catalogue/ukmenu.htm

Of the 1,800 aerodromes and landing sites found in 2004, 134 are larger aerodromes.

The Town & Country Planning Act of 2003 introduced “safeguarding” of aerodromes. All airfields are now responsible for protecting the airspace around an airfield.


The aviation fraternity is alarmed that airfields are disappearing and that it is hard to get planning permission for a new airfield. But the lack of accurate statistics relating to how many airfields exist in the UK is nothing short of astonishing.  It  seems no one has bothered to count and record them. Not even the CAA.   http://www.airfields.org.uk/

A 2004 study identified 687 aerodromes. Of this number 200 were helipads, and 113 were for hang-gliding, parascending,balloons or microlights.  134 aerodromes were of larger size.  Only about 40 licensed airfields are officially safeguarded under the CAP 168 Safeguarding.

There are a lot of airfields in the UK but we don’t know how many there are or where they are as there isn’t a register available.

Many airfields and many aeroplanes mean that there is the potential for a lot of aviation noise.  This means noise in the air that can’t be controlled.

This website http://www.airfields.org.uk/issues/noise.htm acknowledges that the aviation noise situation will get worse (at least an agreement here that aircraft create a noise problem)  but he means that it’s getting worse for aircraft owners (hooray!).   Be warned, this author thinks that if you move next to an airfield that you don’t have  the right to complain about the noise, but the problem of residents who were already living in an area having an airfield imposed upon them is not mentioned (so that’s alright then!).  Oh, and the certification requirements of the CAA are not appreciated either as it’s  expensive for aeroplane owners.  Well, they don’t pay road tax like car or commercial vehicle owners.  The question is, why don’t they? Aeroplanes cause environmental harm, surely the owners should contribute to an aviation tax similar to road tax?

I can’t see how aircraft owners are badly off, after all, it’s a choice to own an aeroplane, it’s not a necessity in the same way a car is in a rural area with poor public transport.

If you think that aircraft and airfield owners are hard done by, forget it.

Section 76 of the Civil Aviation Act 1982


“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…so long as the provisions of any Air Navigation Order…have been duly complied with…”

which means that you can’t sue civilian aircraft for making a  noise nuisance in the UK  nor can a Council Enforcement Officer enforce or prosecute for noise nuisance when the plane is in the air.  Oh, and you don’t have a right to privacy in your garden.  So that’s alright then.

A skydiving plane can make a 92db noise again and again, and nothing can be done (this isn’t exaggeration – we have noise meters).  Get the planning permission wrong (as happened at Redlands, Wanborough, Swindon) and local residents over thousands of acres will be subject to decades of aviation noise hell.  If planning permission is given for a Microlight Flying School right next to private houses (as Swindon Borough Council did at Redlands) despite opposition and  complaints from residents dating back to the early 1990s about the previous noise at the illegal microlight training school conducted there, you will find that you have no right to a peaceful life and no right to privacy until the owners die or sell up.  Thank G-d it’s a personal permission. Although a Swindon Borough Council officer, Kimberly Waters,  did illegally validate a planning permission application for the airfield as a business permission (when it was an existing personal permisison) and it was only when lawyers were hired to challenge the Council, over the re-writing of the planning permission and the incorrect validation, that some of the changes were abandoned, but not all.  Well, I always thought that in law you couldn’t revisit a planning permission to rewrite it, but Swindon Borough Council has other ideas about this.  So much for complying with the Law of the land!

If you think the airfield noise  problem is unique to Wiltshire or to recent times, it is not.   Aviation noise problems were brought to Parliament  by Teresa May to be discussed in 2001.  There hasn’t been any progress since then, and the problem of nuisance airfields is getting worse.  More planes mean more flights, and more flights mean more noise.  http://www.airfields.org.uk/news/noise_010713.htm

If airfield noise isn’t controlled at the planning stage, residents have had it, unless a considerate council decides that they must issue a planning discontinuance notice with the permission of the Secretary for State.  As they might have to pay compensation very few Councils have gone down this route.

The council’s that have issued discontinuance notices must be commended for fighting the aviation fraternity, as they are  in general tenacious in trying to get their own way.

The environmental issue of noise is the main criticism of the public against  General Aviation.  I’m not surprised, as it’s a huge problem causing a severe nuisance for which there’s no enforcement regulation possible or compensation available.  Because of this it’s a good thing that small airfields often close or are re-developed.  The fewer of them the better!


Unfortunately the CAA has never got to grips with unregulated unlicensed private airfields.  They seem to have just been ignored.  The Independent CAA was only founded in 1972, and there’s been a huge expansion in aviation since then. Flying an aeroplane is no longer the preserve of the rich.

Airfield regulation was left to Local Councils to deal with when they granted planning permission. However it’s clear that in many instances Local Authorities just didn’t understand the problems of an industry that was going to change so rapidly nor did they get the help and guidance they needed to create suitable permissions.  The aviation fraternity on the other hand with its communication networks was often able to obtain planning permissions that benefited the flying  community rather than residents.   An immutable planning system isn’t suitable for new technologies, especially when environmental enforcement isn’t possible.

Unlicensed airfields are not inspected or controlled by the CAA neither are they inspected by Local Authorities.  All the Local Authority needs to do is to enforce planning conditions (if it chooses to do so, astonishingly it’s not a legal requirement).

It’s clear that there is no inspection, monitoring, or adequate regulation of unlicensed airfields.

What a shambles.

Time the aviation world got it’s house in order!