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  • Single Runway Operations

    As a result of ongoing tighter government COVID-19 restrictions and with a large number of countries now closed to UK air traffic, we have seen a significant reduction in passenger numbers at Heathrow, in addition to resourcing constraints. Consequently, we have consolidated our operations and returned to single runway operations from Friday 1 January 2021. This means instead of operating one runway for departures and one runway for arrivals, we will see departures and arrivals on a single runway, alternating which runway we use on a weekly basis in order to ensure our local communities continue to get respite periods.

    Moving to single runway operations will provide safety improvements, such as reducing runway crossings, ensuring that the airport is able to remain open with minimal aircraft movements. It will also improve our ability to adapt to any further reduction in staffing levels either from NATS or Heathrow colleagues as a result of rising COVID-19 levels.

    During this period of single runway operations there may be times when we do need to operate on both runways for a short period of time – mainly when there are peak periods (e.g. if there are a higher number of arrivals in the morning which is normally our busiest time of the day), or if we experience adverse weather conditions. This time of year is when fog and strong winds are most prevalent which can heavily impact our operations. For example, poor weather conditions can mean that the number of departures that are able to take off each hour has to be reduced for safety reasons, along with increased spacing between arriving aircraft. The knock-on effect of this can lead to flights operating later than usual in order for us to recover from the disruption, and so to mitigate against this, we would look to use both runways during poor weather conditions to prevent further delays and disruption.

    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.

    Regular updates on our runway operations will be provided on our Twitter account as usual.

    Runway alternation schedule

    To help you plan ahead, we publish a schedule to tell you which runway we'll be using. Please click on the link below to view our current schedule based on single runway operations. This schedule will apply from the first arrival on Monday morning until the last flight on Sunday night.

    Find out more about Single Runway Operations

    Heathrow has two runways – the northern runway and the southern runway. In normal circumstances, we operate departures on one and arrivals on the other. While we are seeing a significant decline in air traffic, we are reverting to single runway operations which means we will operate both arriving aircraft and departing aircraft on one runway.

    Moving to Single Runway Operations (SRO) will provide safety improvements, such as reducing runway crossings, while ensuring that the airport is able to remain open to facilitate the forecasted minimal aircraft movements. It will also improve our ability to adapt to any reduction in staffing levels either from NATS or our Airfield Operations staff as a result of rising COVID-19 levels.

    We will alternate between the southern and northern runway each week. Due to the significantly lower number of aircraft operating, we will also be able to provide alternation on easterly operations – something we can’t provide during our usual schedule.

    This means that Cranford and surrounding communities will see departures when we are using the northern runway on easterly operations.

    The direction that aircraft fly at Heathrow depends on the direction of the wind. During westerly operations, when the wind blows from the west, aircraft arrive from the east over London. During easterly operations, when the wind blows from the east, aircraft arrive from the west over Berkshire.

    Heathrow operates with a ‘westerly preference’ during the day which means that even during periods of light easterly winds, aircraft will continue to land in a westerly direction, making their final approach over London. This was introduced in the 1960s to reduce the number of aircraft taking off in an easterly direction over London, the most heavily populated side of the airport. This ‘westerly preference’ will continue under single runway operations. However, westerly preference does not apply at night.

    Heathrow will continue to alternate between the northern and southern runways to ensure our communities get respite periods. Runway alternation will follow a weekly cycle instead of daily alternation. The schedule for each week will apply from the first arrival on Monday morning until the last departure on Sunday night.

    Our flight paths will be unaffected by this change to our runway operation.

    The routes that aircraft use is driven by their destination, therefore the number of flights using a particular route will be driven by the flight schedule.

    We will be alternating which runway we use on a weekly basis to ensure our local communities continue to get respite periods. We will be using the southern runway one week and the northern runway the next week.

    The weekly runway alternation will take place at 00:01 each Monday. However, in the event of a late running aircraft on a Sunday evening, alternation will be delayed. The runway alternation schedule is available through the above link.

    This new runway alternation pattern will replace the usual night flight alternation schedule, so there will not be a separate night time schedule while we are on single runway operations. However, it should be noted that westerly preference does not apply at night. This change to single runway operations does not impact Heathrow’s night flight restrictions or quotas.

    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.