Heathrow Airport has closed its southern runway until October to carry out repairs – leaving communities around the northern runway fearing greater disruption.
Anti-expansion campaigners say the move will mean “noise misery” for residents as Covid-19 travel restrictions ease and flights begin to increase.
But the airport says it needs to carry out maintenance on the runway, and working during the pandemic will lessen disruption.
In normal times, Heathrow uses both runways every day, with flights landing at one and departing from the other. The runways rotate at 3pm to provide noise relief to locals.
During the coronavirus outbreak, amid reduced demand, Heathrow switched to so-called ‘mixed mode’ operation – using a single runway each day, and alternating between the two.
But the airport closed the southern runway at midnight on Sunday (12 July) – good news for residents of nearby Stanwell, East Bedfont and Hatton.
Until October 1, all flights departing and arriving at Heathrow will use the northern runway, near Longford, Harmondsworth and Harlington.
The southern runway will be reinstated just days before the Supreme Court hears an appeal from the airport on plans for a long-anticipated third runway.
In February, the Court of Appeal ruled plans for an extra runway unlawful because of the environmental impact of expanding the airport.
Now Stop Heathrow Expansion campaigner Geraldine Nicholson says the airport must prioritise residents by ending night flights “altogether”.
“This [closing the southern runway] means noise misery for hundreds of thousands of people living under the northern runway flight paths,” she said.
“Mixed mode operations set a dangerous precedent for operations to increase at Heathrow once both runways are back open and flight numbers return to pre-pandemic levels.
“The airport must not be allowed to expand in this or any other way.”
A spokesperson for Heathrow Airport said reduced flight demand during the pandemic had provided the “opportunity” to carry out “necessary repairs” on the southern runway with less disruption.
“Over coming weeks, we will close the southern runway for an initial short period to allow preliminary works to take place,” they said.
“Once these initial works are completed, we will reopen the runway during the day and undertake subsequent works at night. This will allow us to limit the impact on local communities by providing runway alternation.”