Environmental campaigners have criticised Heathrow’s plans to add 25,000 flights a year in advance of a proposed third runway, despite the Airport’s Commission’s assessment that the airport is ‘effectively full’.
The airport has published a new consultation on how it might operate in advance of a new runway, which received parliamentary backing last year, and how it might use its two existing runways in the meantime.
The document states that as a first phase of expansion plans Heathrow is proposing to make increased use of its existing runways, once approval for the new runway has been granted.
It notes that Heathrow is currently limited to 480,000 air transport movements (ATMs) a year but suggests that this could be raised before the third runway is operational.
The document states that up to 25,000 additional ATMs a year could be released on a phased basis through a process known as Independent Parallel Approaches (IPA).
It claims that IPA ‘will make us more efficient and more resilient to disruption, reducing the chances of delays for passengers’, adding that ‘any airspace changes required would be replaced by our longer-term airspace design, if our third runway is approved’.
Heathrow’s claim that better use of its existing runways could both provide additional capacity and improve resilience is in marked contrast to the statement in the Airport Commission’s 2013 Interim Report - which first backed the case for a new runway in South East England - that: ‘Heathrow is now effectively full.’
The report also concluded: ‘The current approach of forcing ever greater volumes of traffic through the existing infrastructure, if continued, would therefore have increasingly detrimental effects on the national economy, businesses, and air passengers.’
Cait Hewitt, deputy director of the Aviation Environment Federation told Transport Network: ‘Any increase in throughput at Heathrow will have environmental consequences. You can't add 25,000 extra flights a year without having an impact on noise and CO2 emissions. The current movement cap was imposed precisely to manage theses impacts.
‘But of course the harm caused by a third runway would be even more detrimental, and the decision to proceed with the expansion was based on an argument that the airport was already "effectively full". In fact, Heathrow has managed to increase its passenger throughput simply through the use of bigger, fuller planes, and it's now looking at ways of increasing flight numbers before the third runway is operational.’
Gatwick Airport, which lost out to Heathrow in the battle to gain approval for a new runway, recently consulted on a plan to increase annual ATMS from 280,790 in 2017/18 to up to 390,000 in 2032/33.
Heathrow’s proposals also involve plans to manage noise at an expanded airport, including daytime respite arrangements and a 6.5 hour ban on night flights.
John Stewart, chair of local campaign group HACAN, said: ‘A lot of West London will be badly hit by these proposals but there will be many other communities who will be relieved at the prospect of all-day flying coming to an end. It amounts to a near-revolution to Heathrow's flight paths.’