Heathrow Airport to Publish Revised Strategy Shortly

Campaigners fear measures will be introduced to increase capacity

Heathrow says it plans to resume work on expansion
Heathrow denies intention to increase number of flights in new strategy. Picture: DfT

Groups campaigning against the expansion of Heathrow Airport have raised concerns about a possible increase in the number of flights after recent comments by the airport’s CEO.

Thomas Woldbye was recently quoted by the Press Association news agency that the airport will publish a “revised strategy” in the coming weeks.

He said, “We need to not only focus on the third runway of course – which needs to be updated so we have the right facts for that decision, we’re going to make that a reality in the right way – but also what kind of capacity can we create within the current boundaries of Heathrow to make sure that we can serve our passengers as best as possible.”

The No Third Runway Coalition has claimed that measures that could be introduced to increase capacity, without a third runway being built, include switching to mixed mode and expanding the taxiways to allow larger planes to use the north runway.

Mixed mode is when planes to arrive and depart on the same runway and previous estimates suggest this could permit an additional 60,000 aircraft movements per year, taking the limit from its current cap of 480,000 to 540,000 .

Plans to expand taxiways at the airport are currently being assessed by Hillingdon Council and, although Heathrow has stated that its intention with this project is to balance noise impacts from the airport in a fairer way, the changes could allow for more planes to use the airport at a future date. Campaigners believe that it would make it more difficult for a future government to deny an increase in annual cap of flight numbers if necessary infrastructure is already in place.

Heathrow has denied any intention to introduce mixed mode and points out that the annual cap of aircraft movements remains in place. At the moment it says at that it plans to grow within the cap are focussed on improving passenger flow, filling empty seats and supporting larger aircraft at the airport.

With regard to the changes to taxiways, Heathrow says it has an ongoing commitment to offer neighbours noise respite, including progressing plans to allow runway alternation during easterly operations.

Paul McGuinness, Chair No 3rd Runway Coalition, said, “Heathrow is now concentrating on ‘what kind of capacity can we create until we get to a third runway’, according to the airport’s new CEO. Yet Heathrow is already the world’s most highly disruptive airport, by dint of its geographical location at the heart of the UK’s most densely packed residential region.

“Communities around the Airport will rightly oppose any kind of expansion at Heathrow which leads to a deterioration in their quality of life. So any expansion is problematic. And not just for those who will be adversely impacted by yet more air traffic overhead. But because, as the Department of Transport recognised when examining a third runway there, any growth at Heathrow will draw flights away from other airports, with particularly negative impacts for the UK’s regions.”

The government has also recently announced that it is proposing that the current night flights regime continues for an additional three years until October 2028. Currently there are 5,800 scheduled night fights permitted between 11pm and 6am at Heathrow per year not including unscheduled arrivals.

The Government’s review of night flights is out for consultation until 22 May and recommends that the current regime, which began in October 2017 and was due to expire in October 2025, is now extended until October 2028. It argues this is in order to provide more time for evidence on the impact of night flights to be gathered.

However, campaign groups Stop Heathrow Expansion and HACAN believe that the original timetable of October 2025 should be adhered to so that a change to bring about the end of flights at night can take place at the earliest opportunity, given the level of disturbance that night flights have on people’s sleep and quality of life. They say there should be a ban on flights arriving and departing Heathrow between 11pm and 7am, particularly given the high levels of aircraft traffic at the airport throughout the daytime period, including late into the evening.

Justine Bayley, Chair of Stop Heathrow Expansion, said, “Night time aircraft noise is loathed by so many people around Heathrow, so news that the existing arrangements for scheduled night flights will continue for another three years is not good. We deserve eight hours sleep per night, uninterrupted by noise from scheduled and unscheduled night flights.”

Paul Beckford, Coordinator of HACAN, said, “Communities have long campaigned against night flights because the noise during these hours causes significant physical and mental health impacts. The Government has finally funded new research into these but took so long to do so that they are forced to roll over the existing regime again. This means more unnecessary blight for residents. If this extension proceeds then Government should commit to a comprehensive and independent analysis of the total health, environmental and economic impacts of night flights.”

You can respond to the consultation on night flights online.

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February 23, 2024