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There’s an all out battle going on regarding the proposed expansion of a third runway at Heathrow. I say go for it, but I’m not a doctor. For now, there are two runways and that’s what controllers must work with. As Heathrow is always one of the five busiest airports in the world, it’s frankly miraculous that it operates as well as it currently does. You can thanks NATS, your National Air Traffic Services for that, and you can double thank them for their brand new approach path which will shave minutes off your flight…

So, a plane on average hurls through the sky at roughly 550mph and a cruising altitude between 33,000 and 42,000 feet. To avoid feeling like a bad ride at the amusement park, planes descend at between 1,200 and 2,500 feet per minute, gently. Some simple math will tell you that it takes almost half an hour to descend down at that rate, while reducing air speed. Yes, not only do you need to descend down, you need to slow down, as landings take place at a graceful speed between 120mph and 150mph. Long story short, if you’ve flown into any major airport, you’ve done a bit of a loop to allow for the plane to continue it’s descent and slow down while in tight airspace. That’s changing

NATS has successfully trialled a new approach path which collaborates with air traffic control outside of it’s coasts, namely from the west with Ireland and from the east with France and The Netherlands. Before the hand off to Heathrow approach, planes will now decrease speed and altitude further out, allowing for more direct controlled approaches. All in all, it saves an average of one minute per approach. It might not sound like a shocking number at first, but when you think of all the landing slots in an hour, it’s HUGE. If every flight shaved one minute, and thousands of flights operated, think about that.

NATS, not only control some of the most complicated and impressive air space, they also make adorable videos for the holidays. Talk about unsung heroes! My guess is that the successful trialling, and now implementation at Heathrow will lead to trialling and eventual implementation at many airports world wide, improving the passenger experience one minute at a time…

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