UK govt to trial mixed-mode operations at Heathrow

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Mixed-mode operations will be allowed at London Heathrow during times of severe disruption, under new measures unveiled last week by UK aviation minister Theresa Villiers.

The measures were laid out in a final report by the UK government's South East Airports Task Force.

"They are focused 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," said the UK Department for Transportation.

"When such problems occur, these proposals would allow, exceptionally, both Heathrow's runways to be used simultaneously for either arrivals or departures as a way to cut delays and cancellations and get punctuality back on track."

Heathrow currently uses one runway for arrivals and one for departures, switching halfway through the day to give local residents a break from the noise.

Airports operator BAA is permitted to use both runways simultaneously in certain circumstances to clear major backlogs, but the new measures would allow "more flexibility for the operator as to when these measures would be used, and this approach would be extended to cover departures", said the DfT.

The new measures will be trialled this autumn and in summer 2012, and progress will be reviewed this time next year.

The Board of Airline Representatives in the UK (BAR UK) has welcomed the measures. BAR UK chief executive Mike Carrivick said the benefits "should include far less aircraft holding, resulting in much improved punctuality, fewer delays and reduced emissions".

Mixed-mode operations have long been sought by Heathrow stakeholders, but were rejected by the previous government in favour of building a third runway at the London airport. However, plans to build a third runway have since been scrapped by the new UK government.