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New UK system could squeeze more capacity out of Chek Lap Kok airport

Technology allowing jets to land closer could squeeze more capacity from Chek Lap Kok

Chek Lap Kok airport could use a new method to space out aircraft landings to cut delays and allow additional flight movements, said the UK-based consultant that carried out analysis of Hong Kong’s airspace and runway capacity in 2008.

National Air Traffic Services (NATS), which also provides air traffic control services to aircraft flying in British airspace, said the use of a system called Time Based Separation (TBS) at London’s Heathrow airport could cut arrival delays on windy days by half. It allows aircraft to be brought in closer together according to wind speeds rather than maintaining a constant distance.

This comes as controversy over the construction of a third runway at Chek Lap Kok airport grows, with critics arguing that the current two runways have not been fully utilised and amid fears an unwillingness by Shenzhen to give up its airspace would undermine the performance of the new HK$140 billion runway.

Strong headwinds cause delays and even flight cancellations because planes landing into the wind take longer to reach the runway even if they maintain a constant speed. The overall landing rate then drops.

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Andy Shand, NATS general manager in charge of customer affairs, told the South China Morning Post that TBS simply moved aircraft closer together to regain some lost landings. This can be achieved because the spirals of air generated by aircraft dissipate quicker in strong headwinds and therefore the distance between aircraft can be reduced.

“Heathrow is probably the most heavily scheduled two-runway airport in the world, so if you get any impact on the landing rate then there could be a knock-on in terms of delay and airborne holdings,” he said, adding strong headwinds were the single biggest cause of delays at Heathrow.

Like Hong Kong, Heathrow has only two runways and is approaching maximum capacity.

But to ease current congestion, Heathrow last month adopted TBS, which was developed by NATS and US aircraft maker Lockheed Martin. The airport had previously used distance-based separation.

TBS will be installed at 17 other major airports in Europe by 2024.

NATS is now analysing the results of the first few weeks of operation. Shand said they were looking positive, with significant gains in operational resilience.

While Shand noted TBS was not a replacement for a new runway, he said: “By increasing the consistency of service to a degree, you may be able to see one additional movement an hour or something that’s scheduled … You get the maximum out of your runway capacity.”

Asked if Hong Kong could use TBS, Shand said: “It’s the air traffic control authority and the airport’s decision whether they want to or are interested in implementing that sort of tool.”

At Chek Lap Kok, about 51,900 passenger flights were delayed by more than 15 minutes on arrival last year, representing 13 per cent of total movements. However, the Civil Aviation Department (CAD) said it did not have a breakdown of reasons for flight delays. It said they were mainly caused by bad weather and airlines’ operational reasons.

The department sidestepped questions about introducing TBS to Hong Kong.

“CAD will continue to monitor the air traffic growth situation and work closely with the Airport Authority Hong Kong as well as airlines to enhance the efficient use of the remaining runway capacity of the existing two-runway system,” a spokeswoman said.

But Shand said as airlines used bigger aircraft such as the Airbus A380, runway capacity effectively declined as a bigger gap was required to accommodate them. “By delivering this sort of resilience measure [TBS] and also additional capacity we effectively mitigate the impact of additional A380 movements,” he said.

“The airport capacity is going up in terms of passengers, but airport punctuality is being kept where it is.”

Source URL (modified on Apr 20th 2015, 9:12am):

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