John Stewart: There is a better solution for both BAA and residents


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The Independent Online

The next nine months could become a "trial by noise" for residents under the Heathrow flightpaths. Normally they get half a day's break from the noise as aircraft switch runways at 3pm.

But from 1 July the Government has given BAA, the owner of the airport, permission to use the "wrong" runway to prevent delays building up. There will not be an overall increase in the number of flights in and out of Heathrow but residents will lose their respite period.

Although the Aviation minister, Theresa Villiers, has stressed that the Government remains committed to a policy of no further expansion at Heathrow, residents fear that the industry will see this as an opening to push for the eventual ending of the respite period. For the 725,000 residents who live under the Heathrow flightpaths that could mean a plane passing overhead every 90 seconds virtually throughout the day.

It cannot be denied that delays are a problem at Heathrow, but BAA has come up with the wrong solution. The main reason for the delays is that BAA is operating the airport at 99 per cent capacity. This gives it no leeway when something goes wrong. It would be much more sensible to operate at no more than 90 per cent capacity, as happens at most other airports in Europe.

Of course this would mean fewer planes using the airport, but, critically, it wouldn't necessarily reduce the number of passengers because the trend is towards larger aircraft. Fewer planes could cut delays for passengers and noise for residents. It would be a win-win situation all-round.

John Stewart is the chairman of the Heathrow Association for the Control of Aircraft Noise.