The capacity issues at Heathrow Airport could end without the construction of a third runway. This is because takeoff and landing regulations will be eased from July 1, potentially adding 25% more takeoff and landing slots of capacity with no need to build. Under the “mixed mode” of flying, runways will be used for both takeoffs and landings at the same time. This may allow 120,000 more plane movements every year at the busiest airport in Europe.
Due to the potential in increased airport capacity, the need for a third Heathrow Airport runway or a new hub in the Thames Estuary would be called into question. Heathrow says this won’t lead to a net increase in slots, but they are under pressure from the industry to expand the scheme to allow for more takeoff and landing slots. The Department for Transport (DfT) has indicated that it may be willing to override objections from local residents with its decision to alter the long-standing regulations against “mixed mode” flying.
Heathrow Airport can handle as many as 43 arrivals and 44 departures per hour when it works at full capacity, which happens most of the time. Its nearest rival, however, is more productive – Gatwick Airport handles as many as 54 movements per hour and only has one runway. For Heathrow to reach the same level of efficiency on both of its runways, there would need to be a radical alteration of airspace movements in south-east England. Doing this has the potential to raise movements by 25% and increase passenger numbers to 17 million per year. Additionally, the extra takeoff and landing slots would be snagged quickly by airlines keen on expanding, allowing for more cities to be served from the airport on nonstop services.
Switching to “mixed mode” flying would mean that the half-day period of peace and quiet would cease, with a plane landing every 90 seconds throughout the day. West London residents can expect noise from arriving planes all day when the wind is from the west – which is 70% of the time. However, the switch wouldn’t breach the night-time curfew.
Airline bosses have long complained about not being able to serve key cities in new markets from Heathrow Airport due to restrictions on takeoff and landing slots at. Regional airports that have lost connections from the hub include Newquay, Inverness and Leeds/Bradford. With the “mixed mode” being introduced, these flights could be restored. Virgin Atlantic chief executive Steve Ridgway says that making the switch will allow for the existing and overstretched runways at the hub to be used more efficiently.
Meanwhile, other airline bosses have, again, called for a consultation on aviation not to be turned into a pretext for more delays. They say years of indecision mean the country is “falling behind as an economic powerhouse”. The Aviation Foundation said that every option needs to be considered but indicated that they favour expansion at Heathrow Airport. A successful consultation needs to be fast, clear and objective, the group added.
International Airlines Group (IAG) chief executive Willie Walsh says that politicians can decide the nation is happy where it is or that it’s ready to become a winner. There’s no ambition, and this message has spread around the world. The industry isn’t asking for a penny of taxpayers’ money, just for the government to stand out of the way, he added.
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