Proposals could mean thousand more planes a week

BAA set to renege on assurance of runway alternation

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The government intends to scrap limits on the number of day flights in to Heathrow according to a report in The Times newspaper. At present only one runway is used for landings, the other for take-offs, with the roles reversed each day at 3 p.m. to give residents respite.

The new proposals will, reportedly, see an end to ‘runway alternation’, allowing for a 15-20% increase in flights as planes land simultaneously from the same direction. This increase equates to an additional 1,000 planes per week or around 80,000 extra flights a year landing at Heathrow.

It is understood the plan is being pushed by the airport’s operators BAA, despite promises they gave in the planning inquiry for Heathrow’s Terminal 5 that they were “firmly opposed” to this idea.

London Assembly Member for South West Tony Arbour said, “The government is in thrall with BAA and the airline industry with the result that millions of Londoner’s lives may be blighted. This is completely unacceptable. We will fight this all the way.”

The Department for Transport will issue a consultation paper around Easter 2006 proposing the abolition of “runway alternation”. It would be replaced by “mixed mode”, under which the runways would effectively be treated as separate airports. Planes would land simultaneously from the same direction, with passengers able to see another aircraft on a parallel course only a few hundred metres away.

BAA, which owns Heathrow, had told the planning inquiry into Terminal 5 that it was “firmly opposed” to mixed mode. But with construction of the new terminal now more than half-complete, the company has changed its position. BAA is also supporting the removal of the cap of 480,000 flights a year, which was imposed by the inquiry inspector as a planning condition for Terminal 5.

This year, Heathrow will handle more 470,000 flights and 68 million passengers. Terminal 5 will be able to accommodate a further 30 million passengers, but the extra capacity cannot be fully exploited without lifting the cap on flights.

HACAN ClearSkies, which represents people living under flightpaths, accused BAA of colluding with the Government to scrap the cap on flights at Heathrow. John Stewart, chairman of ClearSkies, said “We must keep runway alternation because it makes life just about bearable for tens of thousands of people west of Heathrow. Without it, they will face planes every 90 seconds from early morning to late evening.”

Next year’s consultation is likely to offer several options, including allowing mixed mode only in the early morning and late afternoon when the airport is busiest. But ClearSkies believes it will only be a matter of time before rising demand for flights prompts a further relaxation of the rules to allow mixed mode all day.

December 8, 2005