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  • 02 Jul 2020
    At the beginning of April we announced 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.

    Flight movements

    Resuming of 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.