Meeting to Discuss Heathrow Trial Plan

Fears that runway alternation changes could mean more noise

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A four-month trial of a changed runway alternation system at Heathrow could increase aircraft noise over the flight path according to campaigners. Heathrow Airport is to be given more freedom to land aircraft on both runways at the same time for a trial period from November to February, and then again from July to September next year.

The airport claims that delays will be reduced if BAA is allowed more flexibility in using the runways but local residents and anti-airport expansion group HACAN fear it could eat into the current runway alternation system, which gives residents living under the flight path a break from aircraft noise.

The plan is included in the report of the South East Airports Task Force published last July. The task force, chaired by aviation minister Theresa Villiers, was set up by the current government when it came to power to look at ways of improving the efficiency of Heathrow.

Local residents concerned about the proposals are invited to attend a public meeting on November 10th at which representatives of BAA will be present. The meeting ,which is organised by Richmond MP Zac Goldsmith, will take place in Duke Street Church, Richmond TW9 1DH, at 7.15 p.m. Nigel Milton, BAA's Director of Policy & Political Relations will attend the meeting with BAA's Head of Noise and Air Quality, Mr. Rick Norman, and BAA's Airside Director, Mr. Tim Hardy.

A spokesman for HACAN said, " While the Government is committed to retaining runway alternation, there is real concern amongst residents that these new proposals will very noticeably eat into runway alternation. The concern was heightened when it became clear that a plane could use the ‘wrong’ runway if it is just 10 minutes late – at present planes are on average 12 minutes late. BAA argues that the greater flexibility will allow it to reduce the number of flights which depart late in the evening.

A 4 month trial will take place of the new arrangements from November to February and then from July to September next year. If, after the trials, Government is minded to make it permanent, the proposals will go out to public consultation.

Last week HACAN leafleted key stations under the flight path to inform them about the proposals . HACAN said the meeting would also be an opportunity to ask BAA officials about the upcoming consultation on night flights and the noise insulation scheme.

A system of runway alternation was introduced in the 1970s for aircraft landing during westerly operations (i.e. when arriving aircraft make their final approach over London) to provide predictable periods of relief from the noise of landing aircraft for communities under the final approach tracks to the east of the airport. The pattern of alternation has been modified several times since the 1970s and in 1999 was extended to the night period.

The present pattern provides for one runway to be used by landing aircraft from 06:00 until 15:00 and the other runway to be used from 15:00 until after the last departure (normally starting with the midnight hour), after which landing aircraft use the first runway again until 06:00.

However, on Sunday each week the runway used before midnight continues to be used for landings until 06:00. This means early morning arrivals before 06:00 use a different runway on successive weeks and that the runways used by landing aircraft before and after 15:00 also alternate on a weekly basis.

October 25, 2011