Because Heathrow operates at full capacity, any disruption to schedules can lead to late-running flights, inconvenience for passengers and planes burning more fuel as they wait to land. The Operational Freedoms trial was designed to understand whether a more flexible use of the airport’s runways, in specific circumstances, could minimise this disruption.
The final report concludes that, on balance, the trial delivered useful operational performance improvements in some areas. Whilst they did not provide benefits significant enough to facilitate recovery from the most severe episodes of disruption, they did help to mitigate against, and recover more quickly from, less serious disruptive events. The report recommends that specific operational freedoms be integrated into standard procedures as soon as practically possible, subject to strict qualifying criteria.
The measures include the use of both runways for arrivals when disruptive conditions prevail; early vectoring – when aircraft to leave the designated departure route earlier than usual, making it possible for the next aircraft to depart sooner; and the option to prioritise use of the southern runway for A380s, Terminal 4 aircraft and small/light wake vortex category aircraft for increased taxi and stand efficiency.
Matt Gorman, Heathrow’s Director of Sustainability, says: “The trials have shown that implementing these new procedures could help create a more punctual and efficient Heathrow. This would bring benefits for passengers and local residents alike by reducing late-running flights, and also benefits for the environment by reducing aircraft stacking and emissions. However, we recognise that there is a need to minimise other impacts on local communities and we will continue to work with HACAN and residents to achieve this.”
The government has invited the Airports Commission to review Heathrow’s report, as well as the CAA’s own analysis of the Operational Freedoms trial, to help inform its work on short and medium term options for the UK’s existing airport infrastructure. Once the Commission’s Interim Report is published in December, the Government will consider the findings of the Airports Commission, CAA and HAL collectively to inform its next steps on Operational Freedoms.