While there are defined flight paths for departing aircraft, arriving aircraft have much more flexibility until they are established on the Instrument Landing Systems (ILS), also known as the final approach.
There is less operational flexibility in landing a plane than there is in taking off – because the plane has to line up with the runway from several miles away. This is very different to take-off, where planes can climb steeply and quickly, and turn while they climb.
When the government first set its noise restrictions, it concentrated on take-off noise. This is not only because planes were noisier then, but also because the first jets climbed very slowly so their take-offs were much noisier than their landings.
Full information on our current flight paths available in our document ‘Arriving and departing aircraft (PDF)’.
There are three Standard Instrument Departure (SID) flight paths operating from Runway 06 and 24. Aircraft are required to follow these flight paths until an altitude of 3,000ft has been reached, with the exception of jet engines which must attain an altitude of 4,000ft on GRICE SID. At 3,000/4,000ft Air Traffic Control (ATC) can direct the aircraft off the flight path towards its final destination.
The split in take-off direction is almost completely dependent on the wind direction and speed, so varies from year to year and month to month. In fact, the length of time that the runway operates in one direction can vary from a few hours to a few months.