On top of the world

FROM AIR TRAF­FIC TOWER TO THE TAR­MAC – OUR RE­PORTER FINDS OUT THE SE­CRET TO FLY­ING 78 MIL­LION PAS­SEN­GERS A YEAR

Uxbridge Gazette - - News - By QASIM PERACHA qasim.peracha@trin­i­tymir­ror.com Twit­ter: @qasim­per­acha

PLENTY of peo­ple have flown from Heathrow Air­port. In fact in 2017 there were 78 mil­lion pas­sen­gers trav­el­ling through the air­port, but few get to see life be­yond the ter­mi­nals.

Heathrow is chang­ing be­hind the scenes, and we’ve been in­vited in­side to see how they work.

The air­port has changed a lot over the years, start­ing out as a 150-acre pri­vate aero­drome in 1930 and de­vel­op­ing in to one of the world’s busiest air­ports.

The air­port had six run­ways, laid out in a “star of David” pat­tern, but now is down to two with con­tro­ver­sial plans to build a third run­way ex­pected to be ap­proved by Par­lia­ment in the com­ing months.

But Heathrow is much more than what the pas­sen­gers see, with an es­ti­mated 78,000 peo­ple em­ployed di­rectly to work at the air­port.

Re­mark­ably, the way the air­port ran barely changed in the mod­ern era, but Heathrow Air­port Lim­ited, the com­pany which runs the air­port, has been mak­ing changes be­hind the scenes, which re­porter

ex­clu­sively ex­plored for Get West Lon­don.

Here’s his first per­son ac­count af­ter gain­ing ac­cess to the ar­eas com­pletely re­stricted to the gen­eral pub­lic:

First I had to don a bright pink high vis­i­bil­ity jacket and go through air­port se­cu­rity and on to the air­side. Be­yond the dis­crete cabin just off Ter­mi­nal 2 lies the air­field.

Be­ing on the other side feels strange. Heathrow spans over 3,000 hectares and has to run like clock­work if it is to op­er­ate. Look­ing in the sky, you can see planes queu­ing up to land, while on the ground, there are al­ways three or four air­craft wait­ing to take off.

Each plane holds hun­dreds of pas­sen­gers, who have been checked in, gone through se­cu­rity and had their lug­gage put on to planes. The planes have been cleaned and food is cooked and taken on board for the pas­sen­gers while the plane it­self is fu­elled from pipe­lines run­ning di­rectly to each air­port stand un­der­neath the tar­mac of the air­field.

There are so many mov­ing parts to Heathrow that it be­comes im­me­di­ately clear why the whole oper­a­tion can be jeop­ar­dised by some­thing as triv­ial as some light snow­fall.

The most re­cent change at the air­port is Heathrow 2.0, a sus­tain­abil­ity strat­egy de­signed to cut emis­sions at the air­port and cre­ate sus­tain­able growth on the way to an ex­panded Heathrow.

Part of this is stuff like pre-con­di­tioned air, a flu­o­res­cent yel­low hose which plugs in to a plane pump­ing cold air into it so that the planes don’t burn fuel run­ning their aux­il­iary en­gine in its tail while it is parked on the tar­mac for hours be­tween flights.

The air­port is also on a drive to go elec­tric, and cur­rently has one of the largest cor­po­rate elec­tric ve­hi­cle fleets in the coun­try. How­ever, Heathrow con­tin­ues to face crit­i­cism for air qual­ity in and around the air­port.

The lat­est an­nounce­ment is that the air­port is buy­ing up to 200 new Jaguar I-PACE cars, fully elec­tric lux­ury ve­hi­cles which are be­ing re­leased this year, to chauf­feur pas­sen­gers in and out of cen­tral Lon­don, in part­ner­ship with WeKnow Group.

Emma Gilthorpe, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor at Heathrow, said: “We are thrilled to be work­ing with two Bri­tish com­pa­nies on this land­mark ini­tia­tive to sup­port more sus­tain­able trans­porta­tion choices for our pas­sen­gers.

“We will not com­pro­mise on our com­mit­ments to the en­vi­ron­ment and our lo­cal com­mu­nity and we re­main fo­cused on ad­dress­ing the im­pact road ve­hi­cles have on air qual­ity on the roads around the air­port.

“These I-PACEs are the lat­est in a long line of ini­tia­tives we are tak­ing to en­sure that we do not force a choice be­tween the econ­omy and the en­vi­ron­ment – and that we can de­liver ben­e­fits for both.”

Within the vast air­field, sev­eral Nis­san Leaf and Mit­subishi Out­lander elec­tric ve­hi­cles are sta­tioned for engi­neers and air­port op­er­a­tors to use. How­ever the air­port is also look­ing at mak­ing the air­port-spe­cific ve­hi­cles elec­tric.

Al­most all the bag­gage tugs at Heathrow, which trans­port your lug­gage be­tween the ter­mi­nal and plane, are elec­tric and the air­port are tri­alling four dif­fer­ent elec­tric buses which could be used to move staff and pas­sen­gers around the air­port.

Bri­tish Air­ways has in­tro­duced a new sys­tem to move planes away from the gates, re­plac­ing big, heavy, dieselpow­ered ve­hi­cles who push the air­craft down the tar­mac with small, elec­tric, re­mote-con­trolled Mo­to­toks.

Used for short haul BA flights at Ter­mi­nal 5, these ma­chines are tiny com­pared to their pre­de­ces­sors and re­lease no harm­ful gases into the en­vi­ron­ment.

A quick ride to the top of the air­port’s traf­fic con­trol tower showed the real scale of the oper­a­tion to cut emis­sions. Air traf­fic con­trollers are deal­ing with an av­er­age of 45 air­craft tak­ing off and land­ing at the air­port ev­ery hour, but that also presents a ma­jor chal­lenge on the ground.

Planes taxi­ing to and from gates at the air­port are a large source of emis­sions and ground traf­fic con­trollers must con­stantly me mak­ing sure the plane’s en­gines are run­ning for the short­est pos­si­ble time.

It’s dif­fi­cult work and re­quires max­i­mum con­cen­tra­tion, which means con­trollers only work for 90 min­utes at a time be­fore they have to take a break.

Once in­side Heathrow, you come to ap­pre­ci­ate it is like its own town. It is cer­tainly more than large enough to be one, and even has its own po­lice sta­tion and fire brigade.

It’s easy to ig­nore the amount of work that goes into mak­ing hu­mans fly long dis­tances. But han­dling over 200,000 pas­sen­gers ev­ery sin­gle day is sig­nif­i­cant work.

The air traf­fic tower at Heathrow Air­port

Heathrow has ex­panded its elec­tric ve­hi­cle fleet

In­side air traf­fic con­trol

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