London First backs short term mixed mode

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

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, along with 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.

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.”

“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 – “mixed mode”.

They say lifting Heathrow’s cap on flights would not only extend the UK’s air links but also bring greater headroom to cut delays.

However, they also say that 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.

While they believe 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, they recommend that controls on noise be enforced by an independent noise regulator, established by Parliament.

They say 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.   More people are affected in London 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.

London First has made a number of recommendations to the Airports Commission, including:

  • 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.
  • The Commission should call on Heathrow to provide public assurance and concrete proposals that, under a higher Air Traffic Movement (ATM) cap, the right balance can be struck between more flights and fewer delays.
  • 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.
  • 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.
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