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Villiers pledges new measures to improve capacity at Heathrow

Aviation minister Theresa Villiers yesterday announced a series of trial measures which she said would reduce delays, stacking and unscheduled night flights at Heathrow airport.

The measures are set out in the final report by the government’s South East Airports Taskforce and focus on making Heathrow more resilient and better able to recover on days when the airport’s operations are disrupted by poor weather or other problems. Both Heathrow’s runways could be used simultaneously for either arrivals or departures as a way to cut delays and cancellations and get punctuality back on track, when such exceptional circumstances arise.

Set up to identify operational improvements at the UK’s three busiest airports - the South East Airports Taskforce included representatives from airlines, airport operators, regulators and other interests.

Under existing arrangements, Heathrow operates largely on a runway alternation system, whereby one runway is used for arrivals and the other for departures - with the roles reversed halfway through the day to provide respite from noise for residents living near the end of the runways.

Currently, operator BAA is permitted, under certain circumstances, to use both runways simultaneously for arrivals to clear major backlogs of flights waiting to land - a process known as Tactically Enhanced Arrival Measures (TEAM). Under the proposals put forward today, there would be more flexibility for the operator as to when these measures would be used and this approach would be extended to cover departures.

Trials of the new measures will be run over the autumn and next summer. They will be overseen by the Civil Aviation Authority, the UK’s independent aviation regulator, and will involve BAA working closely with local residents to ensure transparency, take account of their views and monitor the impact of such operations on those communities nearest the airport.

The Taskforce’s proposals will now be taken forward by the airports and the government will reconvene the group in a year’s time to review the progress made.

The trial of operational freedoms at Heathrow will run in two phases. Following engagement with local communities, the first phase will run from November 2011 to February 2012, followed by a further period of public engagement to assess the impact on local communities. The second phase will run from July to September 2012, with the added benefit of providing increased resilience during the Olympic games. The measures are only to be used to recover from serious disruption, and the government will now work with BAA and the CAA to develop a series of safeguards.

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