Our first blog post about Heathrow’s Winter Resilience Programme detailed some of the key aspects of this initiative. This second part will detail the stand and runway clearance process.
As the world’s busiest two-runway airport, Heathrow is effectively full and, unlike other airports, flights affected by the closing of the runway cannot be moved to later times in the day since there will be no gaps available in the schedule. This means that severe weather conditions will always have a bigger impact at Heathrow than at other airports.
When severe disruption is expected, a decision may be made to reduce the flight schedule in advance. This can introduce slack into the system and improve resilience. A decision to reduce the schedule is always made jointly by representatives from Heathrow, NATS and the airlines.
For safety reasons, snow clearing vehicles cannot access Heathrow’s runway while airplanes are taking off or landing. Since clearing a runway of snow can take up to 45 minutes, between 30 and 40 flights can be affected by the process.
Throughout the year, Heathrow staffers take part in regular drills in order to rehearse snow clearing routes and to ensure that the necessary equipment is in perfect condition. The airport is responsible for clearing stands, airside roads, taxiways and the runways, while airlines are responsible for de-icing their aircrafts.
The following infographic sums up the process for stand clearance as well as runway and taxiway clearance:
It should be pointed out that, where possible, anti-icing is applied to runways, taxiways, stands and airside roads in advance of snow, frost and ice. Snow clearing teams switch between runways, with the aim of keeping one open while the other is being cleared. Snow clearing teams simultaneously clear the taxiways and stands so that, when the runway is clear, aircrafts can move safely from stand to runway.
Airlines are responsible for looking after their passengers under European regulations. However, Heathrow has hundreds of additional staff trained to support passenger welfare with refreshments, free internet access, blankets, mattresses and such.