Heathrow sets out progress on action plans to reduce noise, emissions and traffic as it pledges to "go electric"
Zero-emission vehicles are being added to Heathrow's 400-vehicle fleet
Wed 13 Jan 2016 - With air quality around Heathrow a major stumbling block to expansion, the airport has signalled its ambition to “turn Heathrow electric” and shift more vehicles used on and around the airport to electric power. It has given the go-ahead to install 135 more chargers for over 260 electric vehicles at a cost of £2 million ($2.9m), as well as roll out initiatives to encourage greater use of public transport for passengers and airport staff. In efforts to “make an expanded Heathrow the most environmentally responsible hub airport in the world”, CEO John Holland-Kaye has outlined a progress report on plans and commitments “that will make us a better neighbour, by reducing noise, emissions and traffic.” Heathrow says penalties on older aircraft will see it becoming the first large European airport to be free of the noisiest Chapter 3 aircraft.
Heathrow has published three blueprints over the past year setting out a series of action plans on how the airport will reduce noise, emissions and traffic. Against each of the commitments it has provided an update in the form of a traffic light rating – red, amber or green – with supporting commentary. The airport says 70% of the promises have been put into action and the remaining 30% are in progress, with none not yet started.
“We are providing an update on the very significant progress already been made, thanks to the commitment of the airport community,” said Holland-Kaye. “But we know that we need to do more, and in the coming months will set out even more ambitious plans.”
On night-time noise, Heathrow reports the number of disrupted schedule flights that take-off after 23.30 has almost halved over the past year, with the trend set to continue, it predicts. This year it will work with NATS to make respite from aircraft noise more predictable for residents, especially between 04.30 and 06.00, by setting a target for meeting first preference runways during night-time alternation. Currently first preference runways are utilised 50% of the time but this could be increased greatly, claims Heathrow.
Heathrow’s latest ‘name and shame’ Fly Quiet Programme League Table, introduced two years ago, indicates a greater use of the Continuous Descent Approach (CDA) flight procedure by airlines serving the airport. The airport contacted eight of the worst performing airlines last year and reports “significant improvements” from five of them. In 2014, 85% of daytime and 90% of night-time arrivals achieved a CDA, although overall performance only marginally improved during 2015, it admits.
Following a study in 2014 and a subsequent follow-up in 2015 on when approaching aircraft deploy their landing gear, which adds to noise levels, the airport has undertaken efforts with airlines to minimise unnecessary early deployment. This is one of the few areas that is flagged amber in the report as performance remains similar, although it has had some successes. A third study is planned this year to monitor progress and explore how the analysis could be automated.
A trial of slightly steeper aircraft approaches – 3.2 degrees instead of 3 degrees – started in September 2015 with the participation of around 20 airlines and is due to complete in March 2016. Noise monitors have been deployed and Heathrow plans to produce a report by the middle of the year.
Another noise issue that has plagued residents is the high-pitched whistle produced by the Airbus A320 family of aircraft, created when air passes over fuel tank vents just before landing gear and flaps are deployed for landing (see article). The aircraft type makes up about 50% of all traffic movements at Heathrow but only around 5% are fitted with the vortex generator component that is designed to minimise the noise. However, Heathrow says airlines will be accelerating the retrofit of the device over the next 18 months. Airlines currently implementing retrofit programmes include British Airways, Lufthansa and Air France.
Fines for breaking noise limits have been significantly increased, says Heathrow, and the number of infringements in 2015 has continued to fall. The new regime is a per dB scheme where daytime infringements incur £500 ($720) per dB, night shoulders £1,500/dB and night-time £4,000/dB.
Last month, Heathrow announced it had made available nearly £250,000 ($360,000) in funding for local environmental projects in the five boroughs neighbouring the airport under its Heathrow Community Fund. The Fund is supported by an annual donation by Heathrow Airport and income generated from aircraft noise fines.
Attempting to phase out the oldest and dirtiest aircraft from using the airport, Heathrow has increased the NOx element of its total environmental charge from 15% to 20%, with the price per kg of NOx nearly doubling from £8.57 to £16.51 ($24). The proportion of aircraft meeting the best international emissions standard (ICAO CAEP 8) at Heathrow grew by 1.5% from 2013 to 2014, with more new aircraft introduced in 2015, and updated results are due to be published this quarter.
Heathrow is consulting with airlines on how emissions-related measures can be included in its Fly Quiet League Table and plans to introduce them in early 2016 in parallel with a revised Fly Quiet Programme timeline.
The airport has implemented a number of strategies for reducing emissions from the use of aircraft APUs at the gate. Pre-conditioned air (PCA) and gate power consumption in 2015 was 60% higher in 2015 compared to the previous year, against a target of 15%. In October 2015, Heathrow committed to investing £16.2 million ($23.3m) in upgrading PCA systems from summer 2016. The percentage of aircraft complying with APU running time limits is now at 89% against a target of 85%.
To improve taxiing efficiency, a new automatic measure of the use of reduced-engine taxiing (RET) on eligible departures (defined as those that do not require a runway crossing) was introduced in the air traffic control tower during 2015, which recorded about 25% of departures using the procedure. A plan is in place to monitor RET on arrival by the end of this quarter. There has been a marginal improvement in the use of RET on departure over the year but as reporting has been inconsistent, more work will be done to make it easier for pilots to report when using RET, says Heathrow.
During 2015, Heathrow reports that it undertook a detailed study into the use of the TaxiBot pilot-controlled towing tractor that tows aircraft close to the take-off point without significant running of the engines. Use of TaxiBot is being considered for the future but cannot be immediately implemented due to space constraints at the airport, it says, and adds it is working with airlines to investigate the use of electric taxiing systems built into the aircraft nose wheel.
Visitors using the short-stay car parks can now access free of charge 21 electric vehicle charging points and, in 2015, 13 charging points were upgraded in Terminal 2’s short-stay. Monthly reporting shows an increase in usage since last October. A publicly-accessible hydrogen refuelling station is also based at Heathrow and zero-emission vehicles are being added to Heathrow Airport’s fleet of 400 vehicles, supported by a £250,000 investment in electric vehicle charging infrastructure during 2015. Talks with Transport for London have started to investigate using the Heathrow Feeder Taxi Park as a trial site for electric hybrid taxi charging.
According to Heathrow, road traffic to the airport has remained largely static whilst overall passenger numbers have increased. In 1991, 40.5 million passengers created a total of 45.4 million car trips, whereas in 2014, passenger numbers totalled 73.4 million resulting in 46.7 million car trips.
A new £1 million local transport fund has been created for projects to reduce congestion, such as supporting bus routes, with new 24-hour bus services serving the west of the airport beginning in 2015 for airport employees. Heathrow – the UK’s largest single-site employer – already has the country’s largest car-share network and in 2016 a new app will be launched to make car share even easier. A new cycle plan for employees living closer to the airport will be launched shortly, following the opening in 2015 of a new ‘cycle hub’ that provides bikes and equipment for hire and sale.
The three blueprints will be reviewed, revised and republished during 2016, pledges Heathrow.