The government has ruled out increasing capacity at Heathrow on existing runways through mixed-mode operation – allowing aircraft to take off and land on the same runway.
Transport secretary Philip Hammond told MPs on the transport select committee yesterday: “We are not in favour of mixed-mode operation at Heathrow. The disbenefits to local communities outweigh the benefits.”
The previous government rejected a move to mixed-mode operation at the airport in early 2009 after approving plans for a third runway, having previously appeared keen to proceed with both.
The new coalition government scrapped runway expansion plans immediately following its formation in May.
Gatwick and other airports operate safely with a single runway, but Heathrow’s two runways are restricted to take-off or landing and switch each afternoon. Aircraft are louder on taking off and this gives local residents some relief from the noise.
However, Hammond also rebuffed the idea that regional airports could expand in place of Heathrow, rejected London mayor Boris Johnson’s plan for a new airport to replace Heathrow and restated the government’s commitment to moving domestic traffic from air to rail.
“We recognise regional airports can have a significant effect on a local area, but the role of regional airports is different. It is not obvious the UK can support more than one international hub airport. We are not thinking of moving Heathrow, I can promise.
“The challenge is to maintain Heathrow as an international hub. Switching traffic from air to rail will be important part of ensuring [that]. It’s the government’s clear objective to secure Heathrow’s future within the constraints of two runways.”
A high-speed rail network would be vital, he added, but warned: “It will not be cheap and will take the best part of three decades.”
Hammond has established a taskforce to examine ways to develop Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted, and expects initial recommendations next spring.
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