Heathrow's latest noise performance league table shows steady progress by airlines but with room for improvement
Wed 18 Jun 2014 – The third quarterly Fly Quiet league table of the top 50 airlines serving London’s Heathrow Airport shows a steady overall improvement in noise improvement, although more could be done to increase the number of Continuous Descent Approach (CDA) operations by arriving aircraft, says the airport. The top three airlines – British Airways’ short-haul operations, Aer Lingus and Virgin Atlantic’s Little Red – have remained the same in all three tables published so far but the airport commends Virgin Atlantic’s long-haul operations and Cathay Pacific for their improvements. It says the proportion of aircraft operating to the most stringent ICAO Chapter 4 noise standard increased from 97.6 per cent in 2012 to 98.1 per cent in 2013. Heathrow has also published its latest annual sustainability report that measures performance on noise, local air quality and carbon emissions.
The Fly Quiet table ranks airlines according to six metrics, such as noise efficiency, noise certification, night time operations and arrival and departure operations, with the overall ranking determined on a cumulative score. As well as an overall score, the airlines receive a red/amber/green rating for each metric.
The latest table for the January to March 2014 period shows there were no pre-4.30am arrivals from the top 50 airlines, with Virgin Atlantic long-haul improving on both this and their track keeping (keeping within designated routes), resulting in a jump of eight places from 14th to 6th position. Last December, the airline announced it would be the first to adopt a noise management strategy with noise reduction targets for its fleet (see article). Cathay Pacific, meanwhile, has improved across all four main metrics, moving up another place from the previous quarter.
Track keeping and using a fleet that is Chapter 4 noise compliant improved by 10% overall from the previous quarter with 49 out of 50 airlines achieving a high standard of track keeping and 48 out of 50 operating Chapter 4 aircraft. Heathrow has a goal that all aircraft operating at the airport must be Chapter 4 compliant by 2020.
In its latest sustainability performance report ‘Responsible Heathrow 2020’, the airport says there were 43 infringements of government-set day and night noise take-off limits in 2013 – 11 breaches of daytime noise limits and 32 night infringements. However, this compares with a total of 73 the previous year.
The number of airlines rated red for CDAs has remained the same at nine, which, says Heathrow, “shows there is more work to be done with these airlines on the importance of the landing approach technique.” CDAs involve aircraft maintaining a steady angle of approach as opposed to stepped approaches that involve prolonged periods of level flight. This reduces noise as it requires less engine thrust and keeps the aircraft higher for longer, and the noise on the ground can be reduced by up to 5dBA in areas away from the final approach path, claims Heathrow.
The Responsible Heathrow report shows average CDA compliance per quarter improved from 86.08% in 2012 to 87.28% in 2013.
The airport is using the Fly Quiet programme as part of a wider noise action plan to tackle the problem of aircraft noise – of critical importance in the contest as to which of London’s two biggest airports should be the preferred choice in the government’s decision over an extra runway. Heathrow claims an independent benchmarking of its ranking in airport operational noise management alongside other airports shows it has risen from third to second place, compared to 2011, with Brussels in first place.
“This table shows that airlines are still committed to reducing the number of people affected by noise, but there are still areas we can work with them on to improve performance,” said Matt Gorman, Heathrow’s Sustainability Director. “The benchmarking shows that these efforts are making a significant difference to Heathrow’s overall noise management compared to other international airports.”
The purpose of ‘Responsible Heathrow 2020’, says the airport, is to bring existing sustainability efforts and goals together with detailed strategies and action plans for each issue area and align them with Heathrow’s five-year business plan.
The report highlights, for example, the Heathrow Clean Vehicles Partnership, which has now been operating for 10 years. Its 22 Heathrow members have reduced emissions from 3,000 vehicles through trials of new, cleaner vehicle types and sharing best practice.
However, dealing with local air pollution remains a challenge at Heathrow. The airport is looking to reduce ground-based NOx emissions by at least 5% by 2020 compared to 2008/9 levels but total NOx emissions have increased slightly over the past two years. Emissions of aircraft ground level particulates (PM10) also increased in 2013 compared to 2012.
Heathrow sets limits for the use of Auxiliary Power Units (APUs) when on the ground to manage emissions and the report notes that airline compliance to the standard has improved from 78% in 2011 to 84.15% in 2013. To reduce the need for APUs, 90% of aircraft stands are fitted with electricity connections and 20% provide pre-conditioned air.
Overall CO2 emissions from the airport amounted to 2,271,000 tonnes in 2013, down from 2,332,000 tonnes the previous year. CO2 emissions from aircraft on the ground and to 3,000 feet decreased from 1,220,069 tonnes in 2012 to 1,208,146 tonnes in 2013.
The airport’s 2020 target is a 34% reduction in CO2 emissions from energy use in buildings compared with 1990 and in 2013, CO2 emissions from buildings were 4.4% lower than forecast for the year.
“Responsible Heathrow is a clear and compelling plan which sets stretching targets to 2020 and we hope it will encourage our airport community to work with us to improve our performance year on year,” said Gorman.