Speech

Operational freedoms at Heathrow Airport

This speech was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Written statement by the Rt Hon Theresa Villiers MP, Minister of State for Transport.

My statement of 14 July 2011 (Column 55WS) announced a phased trial of operational freedoms at Heathrow Airport to gather evidence in relation to the greater use of tactical measures, in defined and limited circumstances, to prevent or mitigate disruption and to facilitate recovery. The trial is run by BAA, the airport operator, with oversight provided by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), the independent aviation regulator.

These measures are consistent with the government’s commitment to runway alternation at Heathrow. I would also emphasise that the trial will not increase the number of flights at Heathrow which remains capped at current levels.

Phase 1 of the trial ran from 1 November 2011 until 29 February 2012. An interim report on the first 2 months of phase 1 was published by the CAA on 21 February 2012 . The CAA has today (12 May 2010) published its final report on phase 1, alongside a report by BAA, assessing the impact on operations at the airport and on communities around Heathrow.

The CAA’s report is encouraging about the benefits of the measures trialled so far, but suggests that more detailed data and analysis is required from phase 2 to draw definite conclusions on these and the impacts on local communities.

The CAA report concluded BAA ran phase 1 of the trial within the parameters agreed with government and generally collected and published data for analysing the trial in an appropriate and transparent manner. The CAA noted that the broad spectrum of interested parties, and the technical nature of the measures trialled, made successful engagement with local communities challenging; and they made suggestions for improvement.

The report also accepted BAA’s analysis that phase 1 of the trial recorded:

  • dual arrivals were deployed for 3.2% of westerly arrivals at the airport (1802 out of 56260 arrivals); an average increase of 13 de-alternated flights each day on westerly arrivals, from 21 to 34 per day
  • dual departures were deployed for 0.07% of westerly departures at the airport (38 out of 55860 departures)
  • operational improvements in relation to arrival punctuality and delay, stacking (under specific circumstances) and taxi times following arrival
  • a large increase in complaints, although it was not clear whether these were generated by the use of operational freedoms, as a proportion appear to correlate to a prolonged period of easterly operations which was due to weather conditions rather than the trial;
  • generally low awareness of the trial but some support for it from residents surveyed when its objectives were explained
  • no detriment to safety

In my previous statement, I also set out the timetable for phase 2 of the trial. Following advice from the CAA, I am announcing today that I have agreed to a 6 month extension of phase two which will now run from July 2012 to March 2013.

The CAA concluded that the relatively short duration of phase 1 meant that the evidence it provided on the impact of operational freedoms was more limited than anticipated, partially as a result of an unusually high level of easterly operations. The extension until March 2013 will increase the amount of data generated enabling a more robust analysis of the benefits and impacts, allowing a direct comparison between phases 1 and 2. A longer trial will also reduce the risk that external factors (such as easterly winds) significantly limit the amount of usable information. This will ensure that the eventual consultation with local communities on whether a more permanent operational freedoms regime is adopted at the airport is based on a sufficient level of evidence.

Phase 2 will also mean that Heathrow will benefit from greater resilience during the Olympic and Paralympic Games period when the airport will be under more pressure than usual.

Improving punctuality, tackling delay and strengthening resilience at Heathrow would improve the quality of the UK’s international connections and enhance the reputation of our largest international gateway. Phase 1 has shown that, without prejudging our views on the associated impacts, there is potential to deliver operational benefits without increasing capacity. We therefore have grounds to believe that there is still more that can be done to deliver a better Heathrow, while continuing to protect communities affected by aircraft noise.

I have therefore agreed to the continuation of the trial of tactical use of dual arrivals and departures measures agreed for the first phase. I have also agreed that the following freedoms should be added to phase 2:

  • aircraft scheduled to arrive after 0600 will be permitted to land between 0530 and 0600 provided that the same number of flights scheduled to arrive between 0430 and 0500 are rescheduled to after 0500 - this is expected to delay the onset of noise disturbance to local communities in the early morning period and enhance the resilience of the schedule
  • during ‘segregated’ operations departing aircraft may be re-directed (radar vectored) by air traffic control from their normal routes of departure (mostly within pre-determined noise preferential routes). This is expected to improve the reliability of the schedule by increasing the departure rate from a single runway and improve the scope for reducing the number of unscheduled night flights
  • subject to approval of the safety case by CAA, it is intended to apply the same principles to enable dual departures later in phase 2, but only within the pre-determined noise preferential routes
  • the cap on the more flexible use of dual arrivals allowed as part of the trial will be raised from 6 to 12 per hour
  • the proactive tests used briefly in phase 1 will be continued - the periods during which these tests will be undertaken will be announced on BAA’s website during the first month of phase 2

BAA will shortly begin a further period of engagement with local authorities, communities and other stakeholders around the operation of phase 2, particularly on the monitoring of noise impacts. Once the trial is complete, the evidence collected will provide the basis for a consultation with local communities. This will consider whether an operational freedoms regime of some form should be adopted on a more permanent basis at Heathrow and if so what safeguards should apply in relation to its use. This consultation will inform the subsequent decision by ministers.