New Government proposals could ease severe weather disruptions

The proposals would allow both runways to be used simultaneously for either arrivals or departures as a way to cut delays and cancellations when airport operations are disrupted by poor weather or other problems.

Currently, BAA are permitted, under certain circumstances, to use both runways simultaneously for arrivals to clear major backlogs of flights waiting to land – a process known as Tactically Enhanced Arrival Measures (TEAM).

Under the new proposals, there would be more flexibility for the airport operator as to when these measures can be used and this approach would be extended to cover departures.

Trials of the new measures will run over the autumn and next summer.

BAA’s acting chief operations officer Terry Morgan said: "These measures have the potential to reduce unscheduled flights during the night, reduce carbon dioxide emissions and reduce delays. This could be good news for local residents, the environment and passengers.

"The trials will not result in any additional flights, but we recognise that some residents will be concerned about noise.

"That is why we will support a consultation to ensure that any changes to runway use take into account the views of the local community."

The measures are set out in the final report by the Government’s South East Airports Taskforce, which was set up to identify operational improvements at the UK’s three busiest airports.

Aviation Minister Theresa Villiers said: "Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted airports play a vital role in supporting the UK economy.

"Improving the reliability of these airports, particularly Heathrow, was a priority for the Taskforce.

"These measures have the potential to deliver greater reliability for passengers, while reducing the impact of unscheduled night flights on local communities.

"Trialling these changes will allow their benefits and impacts to be assessed and there will be extensive engagement and consultation with local communities before any decision is taken on whether to make the changes permanent."

The proposed reforms have been welcomed by airlines and others within the airline industry.

Steve Griffiths, Virgin Atlantic chief operating officer and Taskforce member said: "Aviation has a vitally important role to play in supporting the economic recovery, and we welcome the Government’s focus on passenger experience and improving resilience in this report.

"This report highlights some important issues and makes valuable recommendations.
"In particular the trials of ‘operational freedoms’ which will take place at Heathrow later this year are a welcome move.

"A limited use in strictly defined circumstances of runways for both arrivals and departures means that during periods of major disruption, such as we saw at Heathrow in December, normal operations can be recovered quickly – reducing delays and benefiting many thousands of passengers each year."

The Board of Airline Representatives in the UK (BAR UK) also welcomed the report, citing the proposals as adding robustness, despite not providing a proper solution to the chronic lack of airport capacity in London and South East England.

BAR UK chief executive Mike Carrivick said: "The proposal to allow greater flexibility of runway capacity during times of disruption will hopefully go a long way to enhancing the limited operational robustness of Heathrow.

"Our airline members look forward to the phased trials which will take place to demonstrate the benefits.

"These should include far less aircraft ‘holding’ resulting in much improved punctuality, fewer delays and reduced emissions.

"Whilst we reiterate our support for the outcomes of this Taskforce, the proposals do not address the airport capacity needed to maintain the UK’s competitive edge in aviation, and the economy in general."

London Assembly member Murad Qureshi has raised concerns, however, that the move represents ‘back door expansion of Heathrow’.

He said: "With the Department for Transport relaxing rules so that both runways at Heathrow can be used for takeoff and landing simultaneously during the present peak holiday season, local residents in West London are entitled to demand safeguards to ensure this does not become a regular occurrence.

"Mixed mode expansion is what residents have feared the most, and is nothing more than back door expansion of Heathrow.

"The government pledged there would be no expansion at Heathrow, yet this is exactly what they are now proposing."

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