NATS mulls steep LHR arrivals to cut noise, boost capacity

This map shows the trajectories of all aircraft over London on 5 August 2012 (25,000ft and below) as a density heat map.

A concept promoted by Middle East carrier Emirates to bypass restrictions on night flights at capacity constrained London Heathrow by landing its A380 fleet at steeper angles is to be pursued by UK air traffic control NATS.

Speaking today before the UK Transport Select Committee, the NATS chief executive Richard Deakin said that although the concept needed to be examined in far more detail in terms of the technical aspects of aircraft like the A380 flying such an approach, it had already received ‘top level’ attention within the organisation.

“I don’t believe there are any A380s anywhere that fly those steep angles into airports thresholds. We would need to do some technical modelling around the feasibility of that. Clearly more work need to be done by ourselves and with the CAA, the airport and the airlines,” said Deakin.

Andrew Haines, the chief executive of the UK Civil Aviation Authority, told the hearing that although the idea went against the grain of international convention, “the idea ‘certainly had merit’ and that it was ‘definitely worth looking at’.

He told the hearing that the only exception to the three degree standard sanctioned by global aviation rule-setting body ICAO is permitted for obstacle clearance. “The challenge with this is that where [steeper approaches] happen at London City Airport, for example, the landing gear is lowered early which creates more noise. The principal benefit of a steep aproach is to reduce noise. That is the thing we would need to resolve as well as the safety issue so that you can still make a stable approach.”

Emirates estimates that steeper descents into Heathrow would reduce noise by between 15%-20% and that the measure could allow its aircraft to fly in and out of the hub until 1am every day, restarting flights after 4am.

The UK currently imposes tight restrictions on night flying at Heathrow between 11.30pm and 6am, when on average 18 long-haul flights use the airport between 4.30 and 6am.

Emirates president Tim Clark said earlier this year he believed that he could increase the number of daily A380 flights from London to Dubai from five to seven using new take-off and landing methods despite the London airport operating at near full capacity.

The aircraft would fly into Heathrow at a 5.5-degree angle, rather than the usual three degrees, landing a kilometre further down the runway, away from homes near the airport.

Clark believes that new quieter aircraft  such as the A380 should be granted a reduced night curfew, enabling Heathrow to increase the number of flights beyond the current annual limit of 480,000.

“If you can demonstrate that the noise profile of aircraft is that much quieter, why not look at that as a means of growing capacity at constrained hub airports?” Clark told the Financial Times.

The UK Government is currently consulting on a new night flight regime at Heathrow.

NATS chief executive Richard Deakin said an approach angle of 5.5 degrees would double the height of aircraft passing over some southwest London suburbs. Campaigners have previously warned that around 500,000 people are affected by night flights and that steeper approaches would not help the problem.


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