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Heathrow to examine noise implications of ‘operational freedoms’ trial

The Department for Transport has today published the report of its South East Airports Taskforce. The Taskforce, set up and chaired by the Minister of State for Transport Theresa Villiers following the election of the Coalition Government last year, focused on ways to improve efficiency at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted, consistent with the its theme of “better not bigger” South East airports. AEF participated as the only NGO representing environmental and community interests, to help ensure that the full impacts of any new measures were taken into account.

The majority of the report focuses on means to improve the passenger experience by improving check-in, security and border control arrangements. It also, however, recommends trialling the use of ‘operational freedoms’ at Heathrow Airport in limited circumstances. At present, Heathrow is operating close to capacity so any incidents (weather or operational) that cause significant disruption and delay can require substantially more flights during the night period in order to recover. Last year, Heathrow experienced ‘moderate disruption’ on 50 days and ‘severe disruption’ on 15 days.

While maintaining its commitment to the continued segregated use of runways at Heathrow, the Government will allow a phased trial to take place to see the impact of applying certain tactical measures that “could include, for example, use of temporary departure routes and occasional desegregation of runway operation; but would be subject to safeguards to confine their use to certain defined and limited situations, and an assessment of their environmental impact”. Such measures could avoid the need for unscheduled night flights and lead to net environmental benefits. Following the trial, there will be a consultation with local residents.

AEF was keen to ensure that both advantages and disadvantages of any new arrangement are considered before a final decision is made. The Government has committed to gathering full information on the “mix of positive and negative impacts for different parts of the local community” from introducing new freedoms, and developing clear guidance on the limited situations when they can be deployed.

For the full report, see South East Airports Task Force Report.