Heathrow has been given the go-ahead to let aircraft land closer together in windy conditions.
The airport will be the first in the world to implement the new system, which is hoped to halve delays for arriving passengers. It said it will cut disruption for passengers by more than 1,300 hours each year.
From spring 2015 air traffic controllers will start to manage arriving flights using the amount of time between aircraft, rather than distance. The move follows the recommendation from the Airports Commission, which has been investigating ways in which to create extra capacity out of existing airports in the notoriously busy airports in southeast England.
Heathrow has been operating at 98% of its runway capacity for a decade. In normal conditions a flight takes off or lands every 45 seconds. During strong headwind conditions, however, aircraft fly more slowly, resulting in extra time between each arrival. Maintaining a set distance between aircraft in such conditions, means landing rates are reduced and flights are delayed, sometimes causing cancellations as the airport has no spare slots to accommodate for the delays.
Traditionally, flights are separated by set distances determined by each aircraft’s size of spiralling turbulence – or wake vortex – created as they fly. NATS studied over 100,000 flights using special equipment to accurately measure the behaviour of these wake vortices in strong headwinds. The results show that they dissipate more quickly when it’s windy, therefore allowing aircraft to land closer together in these conditions, while maintaining safety.
Director of airside operations Derek Provan said: “We’re pleased that NATS have accelerated the roll-out of this new system at Heathrow.
“It will help us keep the flights landing safely and on time during strong headwinds – ultimately benefitting passengers and local communities.”