Heathrow is the world’s busiest two-runway airport, operating at 98% capacity, with over 73 million passengers passing through the terminals every year. That’s in addition to the £133 billion worth of goods, freight and cargo. The air traffic controllers (ATCOs) handle 1,350 aircraft on a daily basis.
No two days are the same for the ATCOs and other staff at the tower. The main challenge is to make sure that all these flights arrive and depart safely and on time. It’s a demanding job, so much so that it can take up to three years to ‘go solo’ as a Heathrow controller.
Heathrow’s busy schedule requires four holding stacks where aircraft are queued to land during peak times. This is how an airport with constrained runway capacity can efficiently maximise the limited number of landing slots.
Jon Proudlove, NATS’ General Manger at Heathrow says: “Nobody in the world moves as many aircraft over two “strips of concrete” as we do at Heathrow and the team understands the importance and significance of a fully functioning Heathrow not just to the wider air traffic network, but to UK plc as a piece of critical national infrastructure. That’s what gives the team a real buzz.”
Jon has one of the best office windows in the world with a view from the tower, the highest visual control room (VCR) in the country, 87 metres above the terminals and taxiways. From here he has panoramic views of the London skyline – not that he has much time to sit back and take them in.
Eighty airlines operate out of Heathrow’s five terminals, serving 84 countries with everything from the giant A380 through to the much smaller E195 flying through the airport on a daily basis.
The environment in the tower is designed to be very calm, which enables the controllers to concentrate fully on the job in hand. Although a significant aspect of the operation is being able to look out of the window and interact with the aircraft visually, they can also operate “blind” with cutting edge support tools to help them run the operation, especially at times of low visibility. As the UK’s primary hub airport, Heathrow’s competition is the other big European hubs, so 24/7/365 performance is key to maintaining the edge.
Listen to NATS’ General Manager at Heathrow, Jon Proudlove, as he talks about Heathrow as a hub and critical piece of the UK’s infrastructure in this video clip.
Please respect our commenting policy and guidelines when posting on this website.