Can A Change In London Heathrow’s Approach Optimize Its Current Potential?

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7/12/2009 – Can A Change In London Heathrow’s Approach Optimize Its Current Potential?

Can a simple change in an approach pattern reduce the carbon emissions for London’s Heathrow airport, reduce its air traffic grid-lock, eliminate the airport’s need for a 3rd active runway and extend the airport’s hours of operation to increase its revenue?

Over the past few years a battle has raged to build an active third-runway at Heathrow Airport and the concept of moving Heathrow entirely to Isle of Sheppey in the Thames Estuary has been floated around. The opposition for the 3rd runway at Heathrow is significant and the logistics and cost of moving Heathrow are astronomical (at an estimated £40bil) so Emirates’ concept to increase traffic at Heathrow, while reducing carbon emissions and not altering the airport…with a price tag of a mere £2mil is very interesting.

Emirates, the national flag carrier from Dubai has proposed an ‘Eco-Approach” concept for London Heathrow to the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority, that in claims will eliminate the need for a 3rd runway. In theory Emirates’ Eco-Approach is seemingly simple, it would change the aircraft’s approach pattern from 3º to a steep 5.5º approach.  This concept would allow aircraft to arrive in a more rapid manner due to decreased airspace congestion and reduce the approach pattern over homes, allowing for aircraft to land earlier in the morning and later in the evening without disturbing the neighbours.  Due to the more rapid approach pattern London Heathrow could operate both its primary runways simultaneously, one for arrival, one for departure and decrease an aircrafts time aloft. These factors would allow aircraft handling to be increased from 480,000 movements annual to 702,000 movements annually…all while reducing the airport’s overall Co2 emissions.

Can London Heathrow’s ‘Magic Bullet” be so simple?  Not exactly, what’s at stake? A £2mil investment in upgrading the airport’s navigation system…no wait, the airport should be updating their navigation system anyway…

…oh yea, presently the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority states only ‘next generation’ aircraft can safely carry out the 5.5º steep approach pattern. While this includes the new Airbus A380 and soon to be entering service Boeing 787 and Airbus A350…there are other aircraft currently flying fully capable of making this approach. If anyone is familiar with the approach Hong Kong’s old Kai Tak International Airport then you know that 747s made a nearly 45º steep approach and sudden decent into that airport all day long…every day.

I hope the CAA gives Emirates Eco-Approach a full investigation…and I hope Emirates’ Eco-Approach is the answer Heathrow has been seeking.

For those of you that think a 5.5º approach is extremely steep, check out the video of aircraft landing at Hong Kong’s former Kai Tak airport below.

Happy Flying!

PS: Heathrow technically has a 3rd runway, 5/23, however it is only 1,962 meters in length and cuts across the primary runways 9R/27L & 9L/27R, disrupting the flow of traffic, thus it is no longer in regular operational use.

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