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Stansted Airport: A timely boost in new airport report

Stansted Airport

Stansted Airport

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Stansted was the region’s most punctual major airport last year, it has been revealed.

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Figures released by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) showed 83% of flights from the Essex airport were on time or early in 2013.

The figure is the highest of any of the London airports, and above the 79% recorded at Manchester Airport, which is owned by the same group as Stansted.

The airport also recorded the shortest average delay within the region for major airports, with flights delayed by an average of just 9.5 minutes across the year.

The report does not include smaller airports such as Norwich or Southend.

It strengthens Stansted’s case to attract new operators with new destinations to use the airport, and also to draw passengers to the Essex terminal.

A Stansted spokesman said: “Stansted is improving all aspects of the passenger experience at the airport, including retail and security in the terminal and on-time performance on the airfield.

“Working in partnerships with air traffic control, our airline customers and handling agents, we are striving for operational excellence, providing fast, safe and efficient aircraft turnarounds, maximising runway availability and making Stansted the airport of choice in London for passengers and airlines alike.”

Last week Stansted Airport also recorded its maximum capacity of 50 runway movements in just one hour from 7-8am on its single runway, meaning a plane took off or landed almost once every minute.

It is thought this has not been achieved since 2007 and the airport has welcomed the landmark as a sign of increased use and a turnaround in fortunes since the economic recession.

The record is held by Gatwick Airport which has recorded a “53 hour” in the past, while other two- runway airports have higher figures but double the capacity.

Jon Barber, airfield operations duty manager, described the figures as “really encouraging”, and highlighted how the early morning is one of the airport’s busiest times of day.

There are a whole raft of measures in place at Stansted Airport to help maintain such a high punctuality rate. Examples include fast exit taxiways angled off the runway to allow planes to get to the terminal more quickly than a conventional 90 degree turn would allow, while a hi-tech laser system tells pilots exactly when to stop at the stand, meaning planes can park up faster than relying on human signals.

Each stand has a left and right spot, doubling the number of planes which can be boarding or off-loading passengers, and meaning ground handling crews can turn around two aircraft at a time.

It also means the next set of passengers can be waiting at the gate ready to board while the last set are coming down the airplane steps.

Pilots are told on the ground which exit flight path they are taking out of Stansted’s airspace, saving valuable time for the air traffic team, while a recorded message covering aspects such as the conditions is also played when a plane is on the ground to avoid repetition for a staff member.

Safety is also an important aspect, and by taking carefully planned preventative measures the operations team can make sure the day-to-day running of the airport remains smooth – and to schedule.

One example is dealing with birds, and one ranger is deployed full-time to tackle the feathered creatures.

Mr Barber said: “The grass is kept deliberately long as small birds are deterred by it as they cannot see potential predators.

“Some birds however like to nest in it so it is a balancing act.

“It is about managing risk. Flocks of birds, or big birds such as Canada Geese, are dangerous, while if a small bird passes through an engine it will only trouble the bird.

“We monitor the area for 13km around the airport, looking at nesting and feeding sites.

“We are also aware of where things such as tips are, which attract birds for food, and potential water sources. So if someone wants to put in a big pond which might draw birds across our airspace then we know about it and can comment on the plans.”

The operations team also inspects the runway every two hours as a minimum, and immediately after a potential bird strike is reported to keep everything running to plan.

The combination package of measures both in the terminal, which has flexible passenger flows, and on the airfield itself allow a typical Ryanair flight to be turned around in just 25 minutes.

The airport not only has to ensure flights are on time, but also that it remains a good neighbour.

Planes are rated according to how noisy they are and this strictly dictates whether or not they are allowed to take off or land late at night.

The noise emissions are monitored by sensors along the initial flight path and if a plane breaks the set limits the airport will fine the operator.

There are also set flight paths to enter and exit the airport which avoid towns and villages, and again operators are fined if they deviate from these routes.

Mr Barber added: “Modern planes are so quiet you could not hear them land if you were facing the other way, even at 3am.

“The noisiest part is usually the auxiliary engine used to provide power when the plane is on the ground.

“To help with that we provide a ‘plug-in’ point at each stand for aeroplanes to use for power so they do not have to keep these noisy engines running.”

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