Jury still out on Heathrow operational freedom trials

An average of 23 aircraft landed on the ‘wrong’ runway each day during the first two months of the ‘operational freedom’ trials at Heathrow (1). That compares to a daily average of 12 during the same period in 2010 and 8 in both 2009 and 2008. It represents 3-4% of all aircraft. The figures are revealed in a report by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), published at the end of last month (2).

The ‘operational freedoms’ trial ran from November to February. It allowed BAA to land planes out of alternation if delays were building up. Normally, aircraft switch runways at 3pm to allow residents in the boroughs closest to Heathrow a half day’s break from the noise.

The interim CAA report to the Secretary of State for Transport just covers the first two months of the trials: November and December. It showed that the number of complaints received by BAA rose significantly but urges caution on whether this was related to the trials. Further analysis if this is being carried out.

Surprisingly the trials appear to have led to little improvement in the punctuality of aircraft using the airport.

A second trial is scheduled for three months during the Summer. If the Government then decides that BAA should have the right to use ‘operational freedoms’ on a permanent basis, the proposals will be subject to public consultation.

John Stewart, the Chair of HACAN, the organisation campaigning to cut noise which represents residents under the Heathrow flight paths, said, “We need more information before we can make a real assessment of the impact and value of operational freedoms.”


Notes for Editors:

(1). The report makes clear that this figure excludes figures from a separate trial which took place only in December where all planes using Terminal 4 landed on the southern runway. This meant that that an additional 1-5 planes per day were landing out of alternation. It also excludes the period between 6am and 7am when BAA has always had permission to land planes on both runways. The report also makes clear that the use of operational freedoms for departures was minimal.

(2). Civil Aviation Authority Report

For further information: John Stewart on 0207 737 6641 or 07957385650