Heathrow runway closure leads to ‘peace and quiet’ for communities

Communities in swathes of London and surrounding areas are enjoying a week without planes flying overhead after Heathrow closed one of its runways.

The west London airport usually uses one runway for take-offs and the other for landings, but from Monday it is using one strip for both functions due to the collapse in flight numbers.

The runway being used will alternate each week, giving many people living under flight paths seven days of respite for the first time in decades.

This week sees the northern runway open but only around a 10th of Heathrow’s typical 1,300 daily combined take-offs and landings are operating.

Airlines have grounded the majority of their fleets as demand for travel has plummeted because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Heathrow is also closing two of its terminals.

John Stewart, who lives in south-west London and chairs anti-Heathrow expansion group Hacan, said people will “enjoy peace and quiet for the first time in decades”.

He told the PA news agency: “People are already saying they will be able to have good sleep, they will be able to open their windows, they will be able to sit out in their gardens.

“We’re getting people saying to us ‘isn’t the silence wonderful, I could live with this level of planes’.”

Mr Stewart lives in south-west London under several flight paths.

“Most of the time planes are crossing over us to go to one runway or the other,” he said. “At the moment there’s virtually no crossover.

“I’m enjoying the peace and quiet.”

Planes landing at Heathrow Airport
Planes landing at Heathrow Airport

He predicted that the conditions could lead to demands for a permanent reduction in plane noise.

“I think what people are noticing is the quiet in London,” he said.

“That’s partly because there’s less traffic but I think they’re also noticing the quiet in the skies and enjoying it and saying ‘I don’t want to go back to a plane every 90 seconds going over my house’.

“I think there will be pressure on Heathrow to do something about the number of planes using the airport.”

The last time there were limited flights over London for several days was when Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull volcano erupted in 2010, causing an ash cloud which grounded European air traffic.

Air traffic control provider Nats said on Friday that flight numbers were down 89% compared with the equivalent day last year.

The firm said it is “doing everything sensible to reduce costs” and has reduced staffing levels “where it’s safe and appropriate to do so in line with falling traffic”.