Thu 17 May 2018 – When Heathrow Airport first started its Fly Quiet league table in 2013 of the top 50 busiest airlines serving the London hub, LOT Polish Airlines was its poorest performer. Having switched this year to operating new Boeing 737 MAX aircraft on its Heathrow services, the carrier has leapt into second place in the latest league table for the period January to March 2018. Scandinavian Airlines (SAS), meanwhile, continues to lead the field based on seven noise metrics and, as a result of an extension to the programme, other emission metrics. The airport has also announced the start of a public consultation on a new five-year Noise Action Plan. It is also pushing ahead with plans and investment to improve local air quality at the airport in a switch to electric powered vehicles and ground support equipment. Heathrow now claims to have the highest density of electric vehicle charging infrastructure in Europe.
SAS has worked with Heathrow to improve its use of continuous descent approaches to the airport, which help reduce noise as they require less engine thrust and keep the aircraft higher for longer. The airport says SAS has also improved its ability to keep flights within the departure corridors of ‘noise preferential routes’ designated by government, called track keeping, which is one of the metrics of the Fly Quiet and Green league table.
“As the first initiative of its kind in Europe, it was hard to estimate the impact the league table would have when it was first launched. LOT Polish Airlines’ story, however, shows the results that can be achieved by working productively with our airline partners to encourage them to use quieter technology and operating procedures for the benefit of our local neighbours,” commented Matt Gorman, Heathrow’s Director of Sustainability.
The league table was created as one of the initiatives from Heathrow’s last Noise Action Plan (NAP) and the airport is now developing the draft of the next five-year plan. It will hold a series of consultation events in June to give the public a chance to comment on how the airport should manage aircraft noise in the future.
“We know there is always more we can do to reduce our noise impacts, and we have set some ambitious targets in our new Noise Action Plan,” said Gorman. “We encourage all of our local neighbours to give us their feedback on this plan and help us shape the way we manage noise in the future.”
Since the last NAP in 2013, Heathrow reports the noisiest Chapter 3 aircraft have nearly all been phased out of service at the airport and the operation of Chapter 14 aircraft, the quietest aircraft category, has reached 60.8% of total aircraft movements. Night noise remains an issue for the airport, admit Heathrow executives, and despite the last scheduled departure set at 11pm, 235 flights departed after 11.30pm last year. However, the late running of departures fell by 30% in 2017 compared to 2016.
During the period, 52 new noise monitors with a direct data feed to the WebTrak flight information website have been installed. WebTrak now has new features including a rainfall map layer and the display of Noise Preferential Routes to improve transparency on disruptions and flight performance. A Heathrow Strategic Noise Advisory Group and the Heathrow Community Noise Forum have also been established to bring industry and local stakeholders together to help shape the airport’s noise management strategy.
The airport also points to the trials that have taken place of steeper climb, slightly steeper approaches and the detection of landing gear deployment.
In its new NAP consultation summary document, Heathrow says: “We will also look at our airport charges to airlines to encourage the use of quieter aircraft and the use of penalties for unscheduled night-time flights. In particular we plan a further review of our charges structure to provide more incentives to our airlines to take account of CAA recommendations in this area.”
The airport adds that it intends publishing how well airlines comply with night-flight rules. “We will work with airlines and NATS [Heathrow’s air navigation service provider] to support the Quiet Night Charter, a voluntary Charter to be introduced this year, to reduce noise and the number of flights late into the night. We aim to have year-on-year improvement in reducing noise.”
A year has passed since the airport launched Heathrow 2.0, a strategy to “set the direction for a future era of sustainable aviation.”
In the introduction to a progress report, Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye said: “It committed us to ensuring that as Heathrow thrives, so too will our people, our communities, our country and our world. This is only possible if we grow and operate our airport sustainably, now and in the future.
“Heathrow 2.0 is an ambitious plan. We expected to stretch ourselves and in some areas to take a leap of faith. We know that some of the solutions that we’ll need do not exist yet. That’s why we’ve also launched our new Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Airports to support academics and entrepreneurs in finding innovative answers to some of the tough challenges we face.”
One of those challenges is to make Heathrow airside an ultra-low emission zone by 2025. Heathrow’s biggest airline customer, British Airways, is now investing in innovative new Mototok electric push-back tugs. Dnata, a leading ground handler, and DHL are planning moves towards using new electric lorries. Heathrow Airport Ltd has already converted 50 of its own cars and small vehicles to electric or plug-in hybrid. It claims to operate the UK’s second largest corporate electric fleet, and there are over 800 electric vehicles operating at the airport. As the site with the highest density of electric charging infrastructure in Europe, over 80 charging points are available to passengers, airport workers and airside vehicles. Heathrow has committed to a year-on-year increase in charging points through a £5 million ($6.8m) investment.
Last week, Heathrow announced a deal in which a fleet of up to 200 all-electric Jaguar I-PACE vehicles will be available for passenger use from and to the airport from this summer. The service is expected to create the largest chauffeur-driven fleet of electric vehicles in the UK. Heathrow says consumer research showed that 32% of London-based travellers would be fairly or very likely to use electric taxis to access the airport if these were made more available.
“We will not compromise on our commitments to the environment and our local community, and we remain focused on addressing the impact road vehicles have on air quality on the roads around the airport,” commented Emma Gilthorpe, Heathrow’s Executive Director Expansion. “These I-PACEs are the latest in a long line of initiatives we are taking to ensure that we do not force a choice between the economy and the environment, and that we can deliver benefits for both.”
Heathrow is also aiming to become a carbon-neutral airport by 2020 and plans to release a roadmap later in the year that will set out a strategy to achieve a 50% reduction in carbon intensity by 2050.
The Heathrow 2.0 progress report says efforts are being made to improve recycling rates and increase consumption of pre-conditioned air by aircraft on the ground, where targets were missed in 2017.
Some areas had been slower to get going, admits Holland-Kaye in the progress report, but “a year on and we’ve already made big strides.”
In other Heathrow news, Rachel Cerfontyne has been appointed as the Chair of the Heathrow Community Engagement Board (HCEB), a new independent body that aims to help residents have more influence over how the airport operates and grows. The body was set up in response to a recommendation by the Airports Commission. Cerfontyne was previously Deputy Chair of the Independent Police Complaints Commission and has 20 years of senior leadership experience across the public and charitable sector.
Expansion of Heathrow and a new third runway is the preferred option of the government for increasing airport capacity in south-east England and an Airports National Policy Statement setting out objectives and requirements is due to come before Parliament by the end of July. MPs will vote on whether to approve outline planning consent. In March, MPs on the cross-party Transport Select Committee recommended the expansion should go ahead but with tougher measures and safeguards to protect communities. The Committee said there should be a more stringent interpretation of air quality laws and noise estimates, plus a half-hour extension on the night flight ban.
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