Photo by Tim Ockenden/PA
Originally uploaded by vivido.

More than 1,000 flights were cancelled run-up to Christmas because of dense fog. Why do such weather conditions result in chaos at airports at Heathrow?

Despite planes have the ability to fly blind and all aviation technology, pilots still rely a surprising amount on a very simple piece of technology – their eyes when landing and taxiing planes. So with less visibility, traffic controllers increase the airspace between planes. This means less aircraft can use the airport resulting in cancellations.

The Heathrow airport operates at 98% capacity and severe weather and new security measures throw things into chaos and cost economy.

The infrastructure needs to be expanded in a sustainable way. Obviously it needs an another runway, which the government has reaffirmed. The terminal 5, which is surprisingly 11 months ahead of schedule and going to be opened in May 2010, can accommodate more passengers, not in marquees in the event of an emergency.

There has been an inconsistency in the government’s policy, future aviation growth and climate change. More flights and more vehicles in and out of the airport will increase carbon emissions. It’s not a bad idea to charge airlines (or even passed to passengers) and vehicles reaching to the airport under the missions trading plan.

I might be talking rubbish. But, here is my two cents.

The number of flights should be limited (by law if necessary) to 70% capacity (this is my wild guess) or a rate where the airport can operate all flights on time towing every airplane to a runway with its main engine off as a trial by Virgin Atlantic. That could save two tonnes of fuel per airplane. Environmentalists complain that is only 3% of fuel for a transatlantic flight, but that’s what we can do right now to reduce carbon emissions before a major breakthrough in renewable energy technologies.

It’s a bit off topic, but most of passengers’ complaints in recent airport chaos were lack of information about their flights. TV and news coverage of the chaos provided a free phone number and websites for the latest information, but I doubt if they were effective. Presumably most passengers have mobiles with them and airlines or BAA could provide a mobile text service to keep them updated with their flight and other essential information. In fact, BAA has Flying Messenger Plus service (costs 75p plus network charge). Why can’t they provide this service free of charge in the event of an emergency?

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