London Heathrow Seeks Increased Early Arrivals to Gain Capacity

London’s Heathrow Airport wants to concentrate incoming flights earlier in the morning as part of a short-term fix for capacity shortages at Europe’s busiest hub.

The airport would add slots between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m. using one runway while giving up two-runway arrivals in the next hour, owner Heathrow Ltd. said in a submission to the state-appointed Airports Commission on runway capacity in the London area.

Recommendations on steps to ease operations in the near term, before the construction of any new airport or landing strips, must be made today in advance of an interim report due by the year’s end. Heathrow says the steps it’s proposing would improve reliability and punctuality while retaining a cap of 480,000 flights per year and mitigate the impact of 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,” Chief Executive Officer Colin Matthews said, while adding that the only real solution to Heathrow’s capacity crunch is to add another runway.

Heathrow is also calling for a redesign of London’s airspace to gain efficiencies, and the vectoring of outbound aircraft away from a single departure path to allow for more flights. To ease delays, arrivals involving Airbus SAS A380 superjumbos and jets headed for Terminal 4 would also be allowed to use the southern runway even when designated for departures.

No Mixed-Mode

So-called mixed-mode operations, in which runways are used for take-offs and landing simultaneously and which could add 15 percent more flights at Heathrow, are not being sought, since the change would remove respite from noise for some residents.

“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,” Matthews said.

London Mayor Boris Johnson, who opposes the expansion of Heathrow in favor of a new hub in the Thames estuary, said decisions on near-term changes should come only once the future of airport capacity in southeast England has been decided.

“Otherwise, short- and medium-term options will be pursued that do not address the fundamental challenges and will only serve as an excuse to postpone consideration of a long-term solution until the next crisis arises,” his office said today.

Heathrow is also seeking authority to prioritize arrivals according to the schedule rather than on a “first come, first served” basis, which can reward carriers that turn up early.

It also wants to end to a policy of favoring a westerly heading even when wind conditions are neutral, which routes jets over London that could just as safely approach the airport on a an east-bound path over semi-rural areas west of the city.

Both runways could also be used for aircraft arrivals when there are delays.

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