Heathrow operations post-lockdown

4 July 2020: Message from Becky Coffin, Head of Strategic Partnerships

We wrote to you at the beginning of April to inform you that Heathrow would be moving to single runway operations due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. We recognise the importance of keeping local residents and stakeholders updated on any significant milestones or changes to our operations, and so the following briefing aims to give you an update on the current situation, and our medium to longer term expectations as the airport begins to recover from these unprecedented times.


COVID-19 and operational impacts

COVID-19 has had a significant impact on Heathrow’s operations with our latest traffic figures showing a continued decline of 97% in passenger traffic compared with the same time in 2019. This has consequently meant that the number of flights operating in and out of Heathrow has been significantly lower than we would normally expect.

During 2017-2019 we averaged around 1,300 flight movements per day. In contrast, over the last three months these figures have reduced to an average of 845 (March), 177 (April) and 223 (May) - a reduction of around 90% at its lowest point.

With the announcement that the Government will relax quarantine measures from lower risk countries - and as other countries begin to ease travel restrictions and emerge from lockdown - we are expecting to see an increase in passengers flying through Heathrow. Many airlines have already indicated that they will begin gradually resuming services in July to coincide with the easing of restrictions.

Fight movements

Resuming services will consequently mean an increase in the number of flight movements from July compared to what we have been seeing. Based on our latest forecast and the information we currently have available to us, we are expecting to see between 300-450 flight movements a day during July; although this may vary as airline schedules are continuously being revised due to the current circumstances and are therefore much more unpredictable the further ahead you look.

Whilst we expect the number of flight movements to increase, they will still be relatively low, and so we will continue to consolidate our operations by operating on one runway until flight movements reach around 45% of our normal operations. At this point, we’ll return to operating on two runways.

We recognise that any increase in the number of flights following a sustained period at lower levels is likely to be more noticeable to overflown communities and, although there will be no more noise than before the COVID-19 pandemic, we wanted to make you aware that this is what we expect to see from July.

We can also assure you that Heathrow remains committed to finding ways to reduce the impact of our operations. For example, although our airspace and operational projects are all on pause as we focus our efforts on recovering our operation from the impacts of COVID-19, we have extended the 'Slightly Steeper Approaches' trial, with the aim of completing the Airspace Change Proposal to make it a permanent procedure in 2021.

Slightly Steeper Approaches for arriving aircraft (3.2° as opposed to 3.0°) have been shown to provide noise benefits to communities living close to an airport. Between 2015 and 2017 we ran two trials to investigate how Slightly Steeper Approaches would impact Heathrow operationally, whilst at the same time attempt to measure the benefit in noise reduction that could be achieved. Local communities supported the trials and results demonstrated that a small noise benefit can be provided whilst experiencing no negative environmental or operational dis-benefits.

Future forecast

Last month we published our current view of the future forecast. It concluded that we expect passenger numbers for 2020 to be down by 64% to 30 million and, although we expect passenger demand to steadily increase over the remainder of 2020, it is unlikely to be back at previous levels until after 2022.

Whilst we want aviation to recover to pre-COVID-19 levels. We will continue to deliver on our Noise Action Plan and work with our industry partners, such as the airlines and NATS, to ensure Heathrow continues to get quieter into the future.

We recognise the importance of communicating transparently through this process and so we will provide regular updates to all of our stakeholders on our progress.


2 April 2020: Message from Becky Coffin, Head of Strategic Partnerships

I wanted to make you aware that Heathrow will be moving to single runway operations from Monday 6 April. This means instead of operating one runway for departures and one runway for arrivals, we will see departures and arrivals on a single runway using mixed mode operations.  

This is a temporary measure due to the unprecedented impacts of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak and it will provide us with greater resilience and safety for our colleagues, passengers and cargo. It should be noted that at this time we are facilitating significantly fewer flights due to travel restrictions around the world.

We will be alternating which runway we use on a weekly basis to ensure our local communities continue to get respite periods. Due to the significantly lower number of aircraft operating from the runway we will also be able to provide alternation on easterly operations – something we can’t currently provide during our usual schedule.

We are making this change as we believe that it is vital that Heathrow remains open so that critical repatriation flights and cargo services can continue to operate. The airport is playing a crucial role in facilitating the supply chain of vital medical goods and food for the nation, with 41% of the UK’s pharmaceutical products being imported via Heathrow. We can only remain open if we can continue to operate safely and this move to single runway operations will improve our resilience should we see a further COVID-19 related reduction in staffing levels either from NATS (our Air Traffic Controllers) or our Airfield Operations colleagues.

At present we are not able to predict how long we will need to operate in this way, but we will continue to review this situation and will look to revert to our usual operation when the number of daily aircraft movements significantly increases. We will write to you again to make you aware of a planned change back to dual runway operations, and will keep our website updated with the revised runway alternation programme in the meantime (weblink here).  We will also continue to share daily updates on our runway operations on our Heathrow Noise Twitter page.



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