BA pushes for more efficient runway use at Heathrow, positive on third runway


London (Thomson Financial) - Weather delays at London Heathrow airport could be cut by up to two thirds by more flexible use of the two existing runways, according to a study conducted by British Airways PLC ahead of the end of the three-month public consultation on the expansion of Heathrow, which finishes this week.

An analysis by BA examined the effects of Heathrow's method of runway operation, where arrivals are confined to one runway at a time, on flight delays in conditions of high winds. BA said it found that strong headwinds frequently led to reductions in the arrival rate set by air traffic controllers.

The airline said London Gatwick, where landings and take-offs are sequenced on the same runway in 'mixed mode' operation, arrivals can be maintained at a consistent rate in windy conditions because separation is greater to allow for intervening departures. The outcome is to generate more take-offs and landings per runway per hour: typically 48 at Gatwick and 42 at Heathrow, said BA.

The carrier claims although weather conditions are similar at both airports, aggregate delays for arrivals are 13 times worse at Ferrovial-owned BAA's Heathrow than at Gatwick.

The figures are part of BA's response to the government's consultation on increasing Heathrow's runway capacity, which includes proposals for the phased introduction of mixed mode. The full response will be sent to the Department of Transport by Wednesday. BA's chief executive Willie Walsh has urged the government to adopt mixed mode within Heathrow's current 480,000 air transport movements (atms) per year and with additional capacity. Walsh also backs the development of a third runway, without which, he claims the British economy will suffer.

"The reality is that without extra runway capacity, Heathrow's route network will continue to shrink. In 1990, you could fly from Heathrow to 227 destinations around the world. Today, you can reach no more than 180. Meanwhile, Heathrow's competitor hubs have raced ahead. If Heathrow's international connectivity continues to decline, UK-based businesses will lose competitiveness and be forced to consider relocating abroad. Meanwhile, businesses in the UK regions will find it increasingly difficult to attract inward investment or promote their products in new overseas markets," said Walsh in a statement.

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