Heathrow is to push for more leeway to use runways as it wishes after a trial period earlier this year.
Under proposals known as Operational Freedoms, both runways would temporarily be used for arrivals or both used for departures. Currently, one runway is used for take-off and one for landing except during peak hours when the airport operates ‘mixed mode’ – allowing the same runway to be used for take-off and landing.
Heathrow has now abandoned the idea of mixed mode on a larger scale due to the potential opposition it will encounter from local residents – permitting take-off and landing on the same runway means disruption to those living on flight paths at both ends of runways instead of just one.
Instead, Heathrow is pressing for Operational Freedoms to minimise disruption at the capacity-restricted airport. It says the trial “delivered useful operational improvements in some areas” but admits these are limited.
“Whilst 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,” it said.
A Heathrow spokesman added that Operational Freedoms were “only there to deal with disruption, not to increase flight numbers”.
Heathrow wants Operational Freedoms used in conjunction with other adjustments when there is a risk of disruption. These include departing flights straying from the set route earlier than usual, making it possible for the next flight to leave quicker.
The airport also wants to earmark the southern runway for use by Airbus A380s, which create problems with increased wake turbulence, slowing down departures. Traffic from Terminal 4, which is located to the south of the airport, will also use this runway more often.
Plans have been put forward to the Davies Commission, which is examining the case for a third runway at Heathrow and expansion elsewhere in the South East. An interim report is due in December.
“Ultimately it is for the government to decide where it feels the balance lies,” said the Heathrow spokesman.