Surprise Change to Night Flights 

‘Operational Freedoms’ trials to be extended by six months

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Aviation Minister Theresa Villiers has agreed to significant changes to the second phase of operational trials at Heathrow (Read full statement). The trials, due to begin on 1st July, will be extended by six months. They will now end in March 2013. Air Traffic Control will also be allowed to vary the routes some planes take on departure. And, in a surprise move, the trials will also allow some aircraft currently scheduled to arrive after 0600 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.

The trials allow planes to land on and take off from the ‘wrong’ runway during busy periods in an effort to avoid delays at the airport, Under normal circumstances planes landing over West London switch runways at 3pm to allow residents a half day’s break from the noise. During the first trial (November 2011 to Feb 2012) an average 34 flights a day landed on the wrong runway. During that phase they was very little change to departures.

In her statement Theresa Villiers said that the longer, more comprehensive trial would give BAA time to get a more accurate picture of the impact of the impact of operational freedoms on delays. She stressed that the trials would result in no overall increase in the number of planes using Heathrow each day.

John Stewart, Chair of HACAN, campaigning against noise on behalf of residents under the flight path, said, “We are surprised by the extent of the changes which have been made to the second phase of the trial. The big concern of local people is that they will lose their half day’s break from the noise. It is this which makes life bearable for so many people. There will also be a lot of anger that more flights are being allowed before six in the morning”.

Before any trial became permanent the Government has said there would need to be full public consultation on the proposals.

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May 16, 2012