Early Growth*

The Airports National Policy Statement (NPS) identifies the need for increased airport capacity at Heathrow and the important role that aviation has to play in the UK economy.

*This page contains one (1) question located within the “Have your say” section at the bottom of the page.

It explains that current constraints on capacity restrict the ability to travel conveniently, prevent competition between airlines and lead to increased fares. Heathrow’s operations are currently capped at 480,000 Air Transport Movements (ATMs) per year by a condition on the grant of planning permission for Terminal 5 in 2001. We have been operating at around 98% of that approved capacity since 2005 to the detriment of consumer and economic interests.

The Airports NPS makes clear that not increasing airport capacity in the south-east would be damaging to the UK economy and to the UK’s hub status. It highlights that the needs case has shown the importance of developing more capacity more quickly.

The main part of the expansion of Heathrow is the construction of the new runway. However, the new runway will not be open before 2026, which is 11 years after the Airports Commission released its final report, endorsing capacity growth at Heathrow.

Early Growth

The expansion of Heathrow will grow the airport by at least 260,000 additional ATMs per year as required by the Airports NPS. We propose to bring some of that growth forward early on our existing two runways before the third runway opens.

This is what we call ‘early growth’.

Our application for development consent will seek to lift the restriction of 480,000 ATMs per year and grow the airport by at least another 260,000 ATMs as required by the Airports NPS.

If our application is granted, we want to bring forward some of the benefits of expansion as soon as practical by making increased use of our existing runways before the new runway is completed. We call this ‘early growth’.

We have been operating just within our capped capacity for many years and there is substantial built up demand from airlines to open new routes or to reinforce services to existing domestic and international destinations. We want to deliver the benefits of these new connections as soon as practicable.

In September 2016 we published proposals explaining that we believed we could provide up to an additional 25,000 ATMs a year on our two existing runways. It is important, however, that any early growth in use is consistent with the environmental policies of the Airports NPS and does not undermine the efficient operation of the airport.

How much early growth can we provide?

We explain in our Early Growth document the testing we have done to consider how many additional ATMs we could deliver without affecting the airport’s efficient operation, and without unacceptable environmental and community effects. That work has confirmed that we expect to be able to introduce up to 25,000 additional ATMs before the opening of the new runway.

New navigation technology allows us to make more efficient use of our runways safely, whilst further investment in on-airport facilities can increase our capacity to deal effectively with more passengers and planes. The initiatives both improve the efficiency of the airport and enhance the connecting journey for transferring passengers. They include measures for enhancing arrival capacity and resilience such as Independent Parallel Approaches (IPA) and enhanced Time Based Separation for arriving and departing aircraft.

Maintaining airport efficiency

We will always safeguard the efficient operation of Heathrow and, to ensure that early growth does not lead to increased delays or disruption, we propose that:

  • we will continue to invest in development of infrastructure, technology and people at the airport, to enable growth above our existing ATM cap ahead of a third runway;
  • in creating additional runway capacity (adding slots for airlines to fly) we will retain our current scheduling processes, which are proven to mitigate delays, protecting service for passengers and airlines;
  • as we grow, we will balance the benefits of additional flights in peak and off peak periods with our operational performance and resilience (keeping to schedule and delivering punctuality);
  • we will re-confirm our commitment to our licensed Service Quality Regime and service standards for passengers and airlines (Service Quality Regime enforced by our regulator, the CAA).

These commitments will act as a framework to ensure that early growth can only come forward where that does not adversely affect the operation of the airport.

How we will ensure that effects are acceptable

We have tested the potential environmental effects of early growth and found that they are relatively limited. To ensure that any effects stay within acceptable limits, we propose the following commitments:

  • Our strategy for Environmentally Managed Growth of the airport will commence from the onset of early growth. That strategy is further explained in our separate documents Future Runway Operations and Environmentally Managed Growth, but in brief it sets out a comprehensive basis for managing the growth of the airport to ensure that its effects always remain within the boundaries of those considered acceptable by the Airports NPS.
  • Our Noise Insulation Scheme will be introduced from the beginning of early growth.
  • We are developing Surface Access Proposals to ensure that a three runway Heathrow meets the transport requirements of the Airports NPS; this includes preparation of a Surface Access Strategy which we will be legally obliged to comply with. The Surface Access Strategy will apply once expansion is consented and will therefore also include the early growth phase. The elements of the Surface Access Strategy will be implemented proportionately to mitigate effects as they arise. For example, our proposals for emissions charging for vehicles to access the airport may be implemented before the first date of operation of early growth if necessary.

Further assessment

We are still developing and assessing how we move from the current arrangements that we have with two runways to the package of measures that we are proposing to be in place from the opening of the third runway, particularly how we implement the beginning of the proposed ban in the evening and the proposed changes to the quota system / recovery period.

As early growth may lead to additional flights in the 06:00 to 07:00 hrs period (classified as within the night period), we confirm that our preferred proposal is that the early morning start of the proposed ban on scheduled night flights for three runways (05:30 hrs scheduled time) should also apply from the outset of early growth. This approach is supported by our community and environmental assessments. All of these matters will be worked up through engagement with stakeholders, but we would also like to receive your views on our emerging proposals for early growth.

For more information about how we propose to implement early growth, please refer to the Early Growth document.

Have your say

We plan to increase the number of arrivals and departures at Heathrow prior to the new runway opening, to respond to the urgent need for additional airport capacity.