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People living near Heathrow are being warned of the impact from changes to the rules on how the airport’s runways are used.

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Leaflets have been sent to around 150,000 homes ahead of trials starting next month.

At the moment Heathrow uses a ‘runway alternation system’ which means using one runway for arrivals and the other for departures.

Their use is switched halfway through each day to provide respite from noise for residents living near the end of the runways.

At certain times airport operator BAA is allowed to use both runways simultaneously for arrivals, mainly to clear backlogs of flights.

During the trials, which are a recommendation of the government’s South East Airport Taskforce, there will be more flexibility on when these measures can be used, and they will also be extended to cover take-offs.

The measures will only be used once one or more conditions agreed by the Department for Transport (DfT) and Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) have been met, such as 30 per cent of flights running more than 15 minutes late or disruption caused by severe weather.

The first trial will run from November 1 to February 29, with a second scheduled for July 1 to September 30 next year, coinciding with the Olympics.

Heathrow says the trials will allow it to explore how the runways can be used more efficiently.

Possible benefits include fewer late-running flights and reduced aircraft emissions.

However, there could be a negative impact on people living near the airport.

While it is claimed there will be no increase in flights in or out of Heathrow, with the cap remaining at 480,000 aircraft movements a year, residents could face increased noise from losing some of their respite periods.

Hillingdon Council in west London is warning there will be occasions during the trials when the northern runway is used for take-offs in an easterly direction, which has generally not happened in the past.

Councillor Keith Burrows, cabinet member for planning, transportation and recycling, said BAA’s plans could have “a significant impact on those living in the borough”.

He added: “However, we will be working with BAA to ensure residents are adequately informed, properly consulted and that the trial is undertaken in an open and transparent manner.”

John Stewart, chairman of the HACAN Clearskies campaign, said, “Although the total number of planes landing each day would not change, people are very angry indeed about the fact that they will no longer be guaranteed a half day’s break from the noise of the planes.”

Announcing the trials earlier this year, aviation minster Theresa Villiers said: “These measures have the potential to deliver greater reliability for passengers, while reducing the impact of unscheduled night flights on local communities.

“Trialling these changes will allow their benefits and impacts to be assessed and there will be extensive engagement and consultation with local communities before any decision is taken on whether to make the changes permanent.”

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