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Heathrow to implement time based separation

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A new system to separate arriving aircraft at Heathrow by time instead of distance will radically cut delays and reduce cancellations due to high headwinds, says air traffic control firm NATS.

In what will be a world first, the new method for organising arriving aircraft is set to become operational at London’s biggest airport in spring 2015.

Traditionally, flights are separated by set distances dependent on the type of aircraft and the size of the spiralling turbulence – or wake vortex – they create as they fly.

During strong headwind conditions, aircraft fly more slowly over the ground resulting in extra time between each arrival. Having to maintain a set separation distance in those conditions therefore reduces the landing rate and can have a significant knock-on effect to airport capacity, causing delays and cancellations.

Time based separation at Heathrow will help maintain the landing rate and save 80,000 minutes of delay every year.

The introduction of a time-based separation method at Heathrow will help maintain the landing rate and save 80,000 minutes of delay every year – halving the current delay figure while significantly reducing the need for airlines to cancel flights due to the affects of strong headwinds.

Martin Rolfe, NATS Managing Director Operations, said, “The introduction of time based separation at Heathrow will be a world first and deliver major benefits for our customers – both Heathrow Airport and the airlines. It will reduce delays and cancellations while improving the airport’s resilience against disruption. That’s why we’ve accelerated the project to bring it into operational use in 2015.”

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