“London First” calls for more intensive use of Heathrow runways with mixed mode in submission to Airports Commission

“London First” is an aggressively pro-growth, pro London business lobby organisation, whose stated mission is to “make London the best city in the world in which to do business.”  It has sent in a submission to the Airports Commission, calling for expansion of Heathrow and the ending of runway alternation. This would mean both runways being used for much of the day, in “mixed mode”.  London First believes that fitting some 10% more fights into Heathrow will solve the UK’s economic ills, and takes a dashingly cavalier attitude to the impact of the extra noise on the quality of life of Londoners overflown. They appear to either not understand how aircraft noise impinges on the lives of those under flight paths, or deliberately seek to underplay the problems, and exaggerate the small reductions in noise that aircraft manufacturers have achieved. They use noise figures from the time of Concorde to give the impression there has been a huge noise reduction. London First also recommend that Gatwick and Stansted be allowed to compete more effectively, and have better rail services, to take some business from Heathrow. 




London First calls for more intensive use of runways and greater competition to support economic growth

9.5.2013 (London First)

London First, in its submission to the Airports Commission delivered today, recommends an increase of flights at Heathrow, coupled with greater noise protection for residents, plus the deregulation of Gatwick and Stansted and investment in their rail links, as short-term solutions to the UK’s air capacity crisis.

 London First recommends that, in the absence of any long-term strategy to build new runways, priority must be given to finding ways of increasing flights through more intensive use of existing runways.  It estimates that Heathrow could support 10 per cent more flights, while reducing delays; and that Gatwick and Stansted airports could attract more airlines and passengers if existing price controls were abolished and the quality and capacity of rail services to both were improved.

Baroness Jo Valentine, Chief Executive of London First, said:

“We face fierce global competition from rivals who are increasing their air links to new and established markets. In the absence of a long term plan for new runway capacity to meet that threat, we have no choice but to make the assets we have work more intensively.

“Action is needed now.  The Commission must recommend how more flights can be introduced where the market wants them. We think the cap on flights at Heathrow can be lifted, and residents protected from noise, and Gatwick and Stansted deregulated to let London’s competitive market flourish, extending choice and services.”

“Without decisive action and the changes we recommend, the growing economic cost of deferring new runways – already too great – will not be halted.”

London First notes that new runways cannot be built quickly but in the short-term flights can be increased at Heathrow by around 10 per cent per annum, by using both its existing runways concurrently for take-off and landing.  [ie. an end to runway alternation, and use of mixed mode].

At the same time, arcane price controls on Gatwick and Stansted could be removed to allow these airports to compete more effectively, driving choice and increasing their ability to attract new airlines and passengers. Rail services to these airports, if brought up to world class standards, would strengthen their ability to use their assets more intensively.

Lifting Heathrow’s cap on flights would not only extend the UK’s air links but also bring greater headroom to cut delays. More flights must not bring either a material increase in the number of people affected by today’s aggregate noise levels or an increase in the intensity of that noise. [A laudable aim. Unfortunately, if there are more planes using Heathrow, it is inevitable that there will be more impact from noise. Either more people subjected to some noise, or a small number of people subjected to a lot more noise. There is no way in which that can be avoided, as aircraft are only marginally quieter now, not substantially quieter – as London First would have us believe. See below]. 

London First believes that, with further improvements to aircraft technology, runway use and approach patterns, it will be possible to increase the number of flights further without increasing the overall impact of noise on residents.  Over the past 30 years, the overall noise impact in terms of the number of people affected has reduced from around 2 million to 250,000, despite a 75% increase in the number of flights and continued housing development near the airport. [That figure would be seriously disputed. It is based on noise data from  when Concorde flew. Concorde was the noisiest plane ever to fly, and including it distorts the actual noise comparison. It is always used – disingenuously  -in order to claim aircraft are now so much quieter].

More people are affected in London alone by similar levels of noise from road traffic (2 million +) or trains (300,000) than are affected in the whole of the south-east by flights in and out of Heathrow.  While fleet replacement and other improvements will continue to have a positive impact, London First also recommends that controls on noise be enforced by an independent noise regulator, established by Parliament.

 London First has made six recommendations to the Airports Commission:

1 – The Commission should call on all parties to support and instigate the work needed to lift the planning cap on flights at Heathrow to permit more flights.  Heathrow is the UK’s international hub airport and is where demand is highest and capacity most constrained. Using both runways for take-off and landing (“mixed mode”) could permit some 50,000 additional Air Traffic Movements (ATMs) per year.

2 – The Commission should call on Heathrow to provide public assurance and concrete proposals that, under a higher ATM cap, the right balance can be struck between more flights and fewer delays.  Operating at near capacity means that Heathrow currently has very little resilience against delays. If more ATMs are permitted, some of this potential capacity must be reserved to provide a buffer against the causes of delays, such as bad weather or a late arriving flight.

3 – The Commission should call on Government to review noise at Heathrow in the context of a higher ATM cap; and to establish an independent regulator to enforce noise levels when more flights are introduced.  Although the number affected by aircraft noise from Heathrow has fallen by more than 80% in recent years, any increase in ATMs must be accompanied by measures to mitigate the impact of noise.  Even with the increase in ATMs offered by mixed mode the number of people affected by current aircraft noise levels can be reduced, but an independent noise regulator with enforcement powers should be established by Parliament.

 4 – The Commission should call on the Secretary of State to make an unequivocal statement supporting an increase in ATMs at Heathrow and to treat any application for the introduction of Mixed Mode under the 2008 Planning Act regime, on the basis that such an application is of national significance.  To increase the number of ATMs permitted at Heathrow would require the Secretary of State for Transport to designate the move to mixed mode as a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project. This enables numerous consents previously required for certain projects to be wrapped into one single Development Consent Order. In this way, the necessary increase in capacity could be achieved within five years.

 5 – The Commission should recommend that Gatwick and Stansted be allowed to compete more effectively and should call on the CAA to apply the back-stop and price-monitoring powers it already has without imposing an economic licence.  The economic regulation of London’s main airports dates back to a time when all three were owned by one company. Since this is no longer the case, and neither Gatwick nor Stansted can be considered to have market dominance, the regime should be liberalised so that they can compete effectively with each other and with Heathrow.  This will encourage downward pressure on prices, increased choice, and the more extensive use of current capacity.

 6 – The Commission should call on government and Network Rail to deliver a step change improvement in the capacity and quality of rail services to Gatwick and Stansted, strengthening these airports’ ability to attract airlines and passengers. Rail services to Gatwick are hampered by poor quality rolling stock and uncertainty over the future of non-stop services. Stansted suffers from historic underinvestment in a slow service that does not operate at times of peak demand. Both should be brought up to the same standards as those serving other airports, notably Heathrow.

View the full submission     “Flightpath to Growth”



 Notes to editors: London First is a business membership organisation with the mission to make London the best city in the world in which to do business. Its submission is informed by the conclusions of its Steering Group of business leaders, established to examine the capacity and quality of London’s transport links. The submission reflects London First’s views on short term solutions.

The Airports Commission was set up by the government to assess the UK’s long- term aviation capacity needs.  It is chaired by Sir Howard Davies.  It will publish an interim report later this year and a full report after the next general election.




The London First submission (see “Flightpath to Growth”) seeks to compare the level of aircraft noise within the 57dB contour to be akin to the noise of light car traffic at 15 metres or normal laughter/conversation.



Measuring noise

London First says, in their submission, that the 787 is 40% quieter than today’s similar-sized aircraft.  What does that actually mean in terms of perceived noise?    AirportWatch comment:

Earlier claims have been made that the 787 Dreamliner is 60% quieter that earlier planes of similar size, or that its noise footprint is 60% smaller.

What does 60% quieter mean?  How does the ordinary person on the ground understand it?

Because of the way in which changes in sound energy are measured, a reduction in sound energy of 60% does not mean the sound will seem 60% quieter. Sound energy is measured on a logarithmic scale, not a linear scale. (A bit akin to the scale used to measure the power of earthquakes).

As a general rule of thumb, something that is said to be 60% quieter is actually only 3 decibels (dB) quieter, as heard by an observer. The change in perceived noise would be a reduction of about 20%.

The way in which noise is measured means that an increase in noise of 10 dB means a doubling of loudness.

If a sound is 70 dB, that means it is perceived as double as loud as a sound of 60 dB. If a sound is at 50dB it is perceived as half as loud as a sound at 60 dB. 

So if  a reduction of 10dB halves perceived noise, then a reduction of 3dB reduces perceived noise by about 20%.

A 60% drop in noise powe means only a drop of around 3dB to the noise – ie. you may not notice much difference.  An average person cannot generally distinguish between sounds less than 2 – 3 decibels apart.

There was a quote from a Boeing spokesman in an interview on The One Show  link  about the Dreamline that “… the noise signature is contained entirely within the airport boundary.”

What in fact he was probably trying to say was that all sound of 85dB (above the level of loud traffic by the side of the road) stays within the airport boundaries.   Not quite the same thing as all the sound.

A 3dB reduction in noise from aircraft typically reduces the area of a noise contour by a factor of about 2.5, ie to 1.00/2.5 = 40% of the original. That is, a reduction of 60%.



There is more about noise claims about the Dreamliner (and other new planes) at Dreamliner exaggerated noise benefit.



Below are some extracts from the London First submission, relating to how they want to increase the number of flights, and play down the increased noise impact on Londoners:


Since 1980, the number of people affected by an average noise level of 57dB or more from Heathrow’s aircraft has fallen from two million to around 250,000, despite a 75% growth in flights (and continued housing development near the airport). This is primarily because aircraft manufactured today are much quieter than they were 20 to 30 years ago. These will, in turn, be replaced by even quieter aircraft in the future. The recent announcement11 by International Airlines Group, which includes Heathrow’s largest airline, British Airways, of a £2.6bn order for Boeing 787s and partial replacement of its Boeing 747 fleet between 2017 and 2021 exemplifies the the scale of change underway. The 787 is 40% quieter than today’s similar-sized aircraft.

Detailed analysis by the CAA of the forecast changes in airline fleets at Heathrow12 indicates that by 2020, even with 68 additional daily flights in Mixed Mode, the number of people affected by current aircraft noise levels will reduce13. Moreover, the number of those affected by the highest average noise levels14 will shrink by around 40 per cent – in part because the concurrent use of both runways will lower the intensity of aircraft noise (noise being spread across the day – at a lower average – rather than being concentrated in half the day, as now).

Detailed analysis by the CAA of the forecast changes in airline fleets at Heathrow (12) indicates that by 2020, even with 68 additional daily flights in Mixed Mode, the number of people affected by current aircraft noise levels will reduce (13).  Moreover, the number of those affected by the highest average noise levels (14) will shrink by around 40 per cent – in part because the concurrent use of both runways will lower the intensity of aircraft noise (noise being spread across the day – at a lower average – rather than being concentrated in half the day, as now).

ERCD Report 0705, Revised Future Aircraft Noise Exposure Estimates for Heathrow Airport, Environmental Research and Consultancy Department, CAA, November 2007. It is expected that by 2020, over 90 per cent of aircraft at HRW will be Chapter 4 compliant – the highest international standard for noise emissions.

Within the ‘daytime average noise’ contour of 57db currently used for planning purposes.




27. It is worth noting that similar average levels of noise from road traffic in London – measured in the same way across the day – affect over 2 million people; while similar average levels of noise from trains affect almost 300,000 people.

28. Figure 2 compares the number of people affected by noise from road traffic and trains in London and from aircraft at Heathrow (Heathrow’s figures apply to London as well as areas beyond the capital’s boundary; those for road and rail transport apply solely within London’s boundary). Higher average levels of aircraft noise of 70dB – equivalent to a noisy restaurant – affect around 9,700 people. The same noise levels from road traffic affect more than 400,000; from trains, around 29,000.


30. Runway alteration currently gives residents nearest Heathrow a half day of relative respite from noise, in exchange for greater noise intensity during the other half of the day. Clearly, with Mixed Mode will come changes in airspace use – and, therefore, winners and losers – and predicting the development and uptake of new technology is inherently difficult, given the complexity of economic and environmental interdependencies.

But there are good grounds for believing that fleet replacement, combined with the application of technology and operating procedures that allow for narrower noise corridors and the more efficient ascent and descent (Continuous Descent Approach (CDA).) of aircraft, can prevent any increase in Heathrow’s aggregate noise from today’s footprint, even with more flights under a higher ATM cap.
31. Nonetheless, in tandem to lifting Heathrow’s ATM cap, we think additional action is
required: first, to apply innovative approaches to cut noise to enable more flights; and,
second, to deliver greater public confidence that targets set will be met.


Critically, the development of a noise envelope should open a new, creative approach to meeting the needs of residents. For example, a higher ATM cap may generate the scheduling flexibility to ban flights for certain hours of the night or day while enabling more flights overall; or residents may view fewer early morning flights as preferable to more flights, less noticeable during the day. The degrees of freedom enabled by a noise envelope combined with a higher ATM cap should be fully explored.






London First report wants 3rd Heathrow runway, and mixed mode on both its runways, as well as a new south east hub airport

London First, which calls themselves “an influential business membership organisation with the mission to make London the best city in the world in which to do business” have today produced a report called “London, Britain and the world: Transport links for economic growth”.  The report says that an expanded at Heathrow as the “only credible option” for the capital.  It accuses the government of being unwilling to consider “politically difficult solutions”. London First believes the connectivity of London is key in its success, and that “congested roads, overcrowded trains and aircraft circling above the South East waiting for permission to land at Britain’s only hub airport, Heathrow, are all signs of our critical strategic transport infrastructure operating at its limits and lacking resilience when put under pressure.” They are calling for significant improvement in London’s connectivity, both with the rest of the UK and with emerging international markets. They want easier planning and suggest varioius recommendations “to deliver short, medium and long-term improvements to London’s road, rail and air links.” They are asking for an expanded Heathrow, flights landing and taking off on both  Heathrow runways (mixed mode) and a new south east airport ……..https://www.airportwatch.org.uk/?p=7722



“London First” gets their letter, signed by over 40 business people, in the Sunday Times

4.3.2012This is a second letter, this time in the Sunday Times, with a load of business people adding their voice to the lobby group, London First. They are asking Justine Greening to include Heathrow in the forthcoming aviation consultation.  What they really want is a third runway at Heathrow.  If needs be, they say extra noise from a new Heathrow runway or Heathrow expansion should be mitigated. The myth is again pushed that – in some unexplained way – the UK will suffer economically if there are not enough direct flights to China. There is never any evidence presented to back this up.  In reality, Heathrow has excellent connections to the world. Where there are few flights to a destination, it is because there is not enough demand. Many of Heathrow’s flights are predominantly filled with leisure travellers, eg. the approximately 21 flights per day to Miami from Heathrow.https://www.airportwatch.org.uk/?p=1339[The other letter is to the Sunday Telegraph. See Sunday Telegraph letter ]