Heathrow submits its short term capacity fix ideas to Airports Commission – not much mixed mode, but adamant about 3rd runway a.s.a.p.

Heathrow has now made its submission to the Airports Commission, on how to improve airport capacity in the short and medium term. That consultation closes today (17th May).  As reported earlier by the FT, Heathrow says it will not be pushing for mixed mode. However, it is keen to introduce the measures used in the recent Operational Freedoms trial ” tactically using both runways for arrivals when there are delays; using the southern runway for Terminal 4 arrivals and the departures runway for A380 arrivals” – which in reality means using mixed mode for quite a bit of the time, but calling it Operational Freedoms.  The aim would be not to increase flight numbers, but to improve resilience in the event of difficulties.  It also wants an end to the Cranford agreement on take offs towards the east.  The Heathrow submission also wants to change night flights around, to have more arrivals between 5 – 6am and fewer arriving on both runways between 6 -7am.  It wants more areas given respite periods from noise. All this in order to soften up the public so that a third runway can be built, which Heathrow sees – in its own self interest – “is ultimately required to deliver long-haul connectivity for the UK.”



No easy fix to airport capacity crisis, says Heathrow

17 May, 2013  (Heathrow airport press release)

A380 image


Heathrow’s submission is at 

Short & medium term options.pdf (364 KB)


  • Airport rejects mixed mode in short-term because of impact on local community
  • New package of measures proposed to improve reliability and reduce noise
  • CAA’s price proposals threaten further investment at Heathrow in the short and medium term with potential consequences for UK hub competitiveness


Heathrow has today told the Airports Commission that there is no quick or easy solution to ease the UK’s lack of hub airport capacity. Physical and planning constraints mean short-term solutions to increase flights and generate growth and jobs are limited.

Heathrow is not proposing the use of mixed-mode1 as a short-term measure to increase capacity. Heathrow believes that the incremental capacity delivered by mixed mode comes at a significant cost to the local community because it would end periods of respite from noise. This is different from an additional runway which would deliver sufficient capacity for the foreseeable future while still providing periods of noise respite for residents.

Heathrow has proposed a package of other measures that the Commission could support to improve Heathrow’s reliability and punctuality for passengers whilst reducing noise impacts for local communities.

At the end of this year, the Airports Commission will produce an interim report which will make recommendations on short and medium term options. These options do not need extra runways or terminals, but can be delivered within five years of the interim report (short term options) or longer than five years (medium term options).

In its submission on ‘Making best use of existing capacity in the short and medium term’, Heathrow says the only realistic solution to the UK’s shortage of hub capacity involves building a third runway. Its submission says:


  1. There is no quick fix to capacity problems and any marginal capacity improvements should be used to improve resilience rather than add more flights. Heathrow is the world’s busiest two-runway airport with a flight taking off or landing every 45 seconds. Flights at Heathrow are capped at 480,000 per annum by a Terminal 5 planning condition and last year the airport operated at 98% of the cap. Due to the Local Planning Authority’s stated policy position on Heathrow expansion, the likely timescale to lift that cap would be several years. Because Heathrow is full, adverse weather typically causes more disruption than at other airports. The airport recommends that any short-term improvements in capacity should be used to improve reliability and punctuality for passengers rather than add more flights.
  2. Investment over the last ten years has made Heathrow one of Europe’s most successful hub airports but the CAA’s pricing proposals put future investment at risk. Heathrow has invested £11bn over the last ten years and the airport has moved from the bottom to the top of EU airports for passenger satisfaction, with Terminal 5 voted the world’s best airport terminal by passengers for two years running. The CAA’s price cap proposals for Heathrow from 2014 to 2019 include a cost of capital of 5.35%. This proposed rate of return is insufficient to attract the necessary investment at Heathrow for the short and medium term. If the CAA’s current proposals are implemented then the investment needed to further improve UK hub competitiveness and service to passengers would be put at risk.
  3. Heathrow is proposing a new package of measures to the Commission that would improve hub competitiveness and deliver noise benefits. The measures include redesigning airspace and changing operating procedures to deliver a more efficient and resilient airport. Some of the measures are designed to ensure that fewer people are affected by noise. None of the measures would result in more flights at the airport.


Heathrow’s Chief Executive, Colin Matthews, said:

“The Airports Commission has a challenging task in its bid to find short term solutions to long term problems. The only real solution to a lack of runway capacity at our hub airport is to build another runway.

“We are not proposing the use of mixed mode as a short-term measure because of the impact on local communities of ending periods of respite from noise. We are listening to local residents’ concerns and we are working hard to develop new long-term solutions that can deliver additional flights whilst also reducing noise.”

The specific measures the airport is recommending that the Commission should consider are:

[AirportWatch comments]

  1. Redesigning Heathrow airspace to improve airport and airspace efficiency and routing aircraft over less populated areas. [How is that to be done over London? And even more so, how could that be done with three runways, coming in over London?]
  2. Introducing runway alternation when the airport is operating with aircraft landing or taking off heading east to provide new respite periods for communities in Slough, Windsor and Hounslow.  [ie. ending the Cranford agreement].
  3. Introducing the measures used in the recent Operational Freedoms trial including ‘early vectoring’ to improve departure rates; tactically using both runways for arrivals when there are delays; using the southern runway for Terminal 4 arrivals and the departures runway for A380 arrivals.  [ie. using mixed mode for quite a bit of the time, but calling it Operational Freedoms].
  4. Putting an end to routine arrivals on both runways between 06.00 and 07.00 in return for permitting an increased number of arrivals on one runway between 05.00 and 06.00. [That is part of the deep night period for most people, and vital for their sleep].  This would deliver new periods of respite from early morning noise for local communities while improving hub competitiveness by making more passenger connections viable. [ie. it may give some respite, but overall is likely to wake people earlier, and deprive them of more sleep]. 
  5. Changing the policy of concentrating aircraft on only a few flight paths to one of using a greater number of routes in a pattern that provides predictable periods of respite from aircraft flying overhead.  [ie. people get a lot of noise one week, and less the next week]. 
  6. Reassessing the policy of ‘first come, first served’ by which the first aircraft to arrive into Heathrow airspace are permitted to land first. A better approach would be to serve aircraft by schedule, so that the airport is working to a plan, and to prioritise aircraft equipped with the latest performance-based navigation systems. [Many people presumed the airport already worked on that principle]. 
  7. Ending the policy of westerly preference by which aircraft land or take-off heading west, even when weather conditions are such that they could head in either direction. This would be subject to NATS concluding that this would deliver a noise benefit for residents without compromising operational performance.  [Not so much a benefit, as that different people get the noise.  When the airport is working on easterly operations, a great many people are badly affected by aircraft noise. Easterly operations do not solve the problem].


None of these proposals would result in an increase in flights above the current 480,000 per annum cap. Although the measures proposed are valuable, by themselves they are no substitute for providing an additional runway which is ultimately required to deliver long-haul connectivity for the UK.  [In the opinion of Heathrow airport, which has a vested interest in pushing the one-hub idea. Others have other opinions]. 


Notes to editors:

1) Heathrow has two runways which normally operate in ‘segregated mode’, with one used for arrivals and the other for departures. This gives communities at one end of each runway predictable respite from noise. In ‘mixed-mode’, both runways would be used for both arrivals and departures, meaning local communities would have noise throughout Heathrow’s hours of operation.

Heathrow’s submission is at 

Short & medium term options.pdf (364 KB)






Forget three runways, Heathrow needs four

17.5.2013 (Telegraph)

Students of the interminable debate over Heathrow’s future will have permitted themselves a wry smile at chief executive Colin Matthews’ submission to the Davies Commission.

For years, every senior Heathrow executive has been extolling the virtues of mixed-mode operations – a system that allows airlines to use both runways for take-offs and landings and would add a very lucrative 50,000 flights a year.

Suddenly, however – in a conversion every bit as striking as Paul’s on the road to Damascus – Mr Matthews has abandoned the idea, having discovered that it has “an impact on local communities”.

Equally surprising is the proposal to end arrivals on both runways between 6am and 7am “in return for permitting an increased number of arrivals on one runway between 5am and 6am” – something Heathrow could have done years ago if it was concerned about the impact on local residents.

Of course, Mr Matthews is playing a much longer game. His softly-softly lobbying got the third runway back on the political agenda after the Coalition had fatuously ruled it out. Now he’s calculated that playing Mr Nice Guy might actually get it built. But even here, Heathrow is being disingenuous. Buried in Friday’s document was the line: “An additional runway at Heathrow would deliver sufficient new capacity for the foreseeable future.”

That’s only half the story because if Britain wants to rival Schiphol, Frankfurt and Charles de Gaulle it will need a four-runway airport. There’s no point building a third without a plan for a fourth.





Heathrow may stop pushing for mixed mode or more night flights – to improve its chance of getting another runway

Date added: May 13, 2013

The Financial Times reports that Heathrow will soon make its submission to the Airports Commission, and it will not be pushing for mixed mode (ie. take offs and landings on the same runway). The Commission’s deadline for comment on ways to make better use of existing capacity is 17th May. The FT also thinks Heathrow will not be pushing for more night flights. The airport knows the extent of opposition to both mixed mode and to night flights over London. Those affected by aircraft noise hold dear their half day of respite, when flights change runway for landing at 3pm. However, this tactic by Heathrow is thought to be a calculated move in order to increase its chances of getting permission for a 3rd (and maybe even a 4th runway). The airport appears to hope it has more chance of getting what it wants, with less opposition. The fear by those already heavily over-flown is that mixed mode could increase the total number of air transport movements from some 480,000 now to around 530,000 and that could be seen as a temporary measure to increase the throughput of the airport.

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