The first microwave landing system (MLS) in the world to be approved for low visibility operations comes into operation at Heathrow Airport today. On days when aircraft movements are restricted by fog it will improve airline punctuality and airport capacity.
The new system, commissioned and operated by NATS, the UKs leading air navigation service provider, has been developed and supplied by Thales. Approval to operate in low visibility conditions (known as Category III) was granted earlier this month by UK aviation safety regulator the Civil Aviation Authority the first approval of its kind at any commercial airport in the world. The MLS equipment has been installed at both ends of Heathrows two runways. Microwave landing systems are particularly important for keeping up the landing rate at busy airports in times of bad weather, as they are less susceptible to interference from other aircraft moving around the airport than the instrument landing systems in place at commercial airports around the world. Iain Harris, Head of NSL Engineering for NATS, said: At Heathrow, the restrictions required for operations in fog or low cloud mean that the hourly landing rate drops from 40+ to around 24. As Heathrow normally operates close to its design capacity, this leads to significant delays and/or cancelled flights, particularly for intensive short-haul operations where there is little opportunity to recover any delay. MLS enables suitably-equipped aircraft to maintain a higher landing rate during poor weather conditions, resulting in less disruption for passengers and an operational and financial benefit for both the airport and airlines. British Airways Director of Flight Operations Captain Stephen Riley added: This pioneer initiative will mean less disruption and congestion, which is great news for our customers. BA has already equipped most of its short-haul Airbus A320 and A321 fleet with on-board MLS equipment and expects to complete the programme by the end of this year. Heathrow Airport Airside Operations Director Colin Wood commented: This is an important step forward for Heathrow, reinforcing its position as a leading hub airport and boosting its ability to continue operating in challenging weather conditions.