New procedures could cut delays at Heathrow Airport

New procedures could cut delays at Heathrow Airport

Heathrow has published a final report on the Operational Freedoms trial which concludes that new procedures should be implemented to improve resilience for the benefit of passengers.

Heathrow operates at full capacity, so any disruption to schedules can lead to late-running flights, inconvenience for passengers and planes burning more fuel as they wait to land.

The Operational Freedoms trial was designed to understand whether a more flexible use of the airport’s runways, in specific circumstances, could minimise this disruption.

The final report concludes that, on balance, the trial delivered useful operational performance improvements in some areas.

While they did not provide benefits significant enough to facilitate recovery from the most severe episodes of disruption, they did help to mitigate against, and recover more quickly from, less serious disruptive events.

The report recommends that specific operational freedoms be integrated into standard procedures as soon as practically possible, the use of which should be subject to strict qualifying criteria:

  • TEAM (tactically enhanced arrivals measures): The use of both runways for arrivals when disruptive conditions prevail.
  • Early Vectors: Early vectoring procedures allow aircraft to leave the designated departure route earlier than usual, making it possible for the next aircraft to depart sooner. It is recommended that early vectoring is permitted for departures on any route when departure delays are likely to impact operations.
  • < Proactive Freedoms: Option to prioritise use of the southern runway for A380s, Terminal 4 aircraft and small/light wake vortex category aircraft for increased taxi and stand efficiency.
Matt Gorman, Heathrow’s director of sustainability, said: “The trials have shown that implementing these new procedures could help create a more punctual and efficient Heathrow. “This would bring benefits for passengers and local residents alike by reducing late-running flights, and also benefits for the environment by reducing aircraft stacking and emissions. “However, we recognise that there is a need to minimise other impacts on local communities and we will continue to work with HACAN and residents to achieve this.” In 2011, the department of transport approved the Operational Freedoms trial to test mechanisms for reducing delays at the UK’s hub airport. This included the use of both runways for arrivals and the use of both runways for departures, instead of the standard method of using one runway for arrivals and the other for departures. Other trials included redirecting departures after take-off to achieve early separation and hence increase runway throughput and the increased use of the southern runway for A380 aircraft, small and light aircraft and Terminal 4 traffic. Importantly, the trial was not designed to increase the number of flights at Heathrow, but to improve reliability for those already scheduled. The government has invited the Airports Commission to review Heathrow’s report, as well as the CAA’s own analysis of the Operational Freedoms trial, to help inform its work on short and medium term options for the UK’s existing airport infrastructure. Once the Commission’s Interim Report is published in December, the government will consider the findings of the Airports Commission, CAA and HAL collectively to inform its next steps on Operational Freedoms.