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Preparing for the big freeze

Sustainability case study

Heathrow is the world’s busiest two runway airport.  Running at 99% capacity, we can’t afford to let bad weather disrupt our flights, as this will cause delays or cancellations for our passengers.   That’s why we have a comprehensive weather plan to make sure that, come rain or shine, all 1,288 daily flights can leave the airport safely.

As the temperature falls in winter, Heathrow uses its dedicated on-site Met Office forecaster to help predict what action to take.  This could mean applying de-icer to runways, taxiways, stands and airside roads in advance of snow, frost & ice to help stop snow settling, and ensuring safe conditions for flights.  Some of this de-icer ends up in the airport surface water drains which flows into the airport Pollution Control System (PCS); a series of ponds and systems which treat water before going back into local rivers and the foul sewer.

Under certain weather conditions, it can be a challenge to treat all surface water to a high standard before going back into the environment, so Heathrow is working closely with the Environment Agency to develop a programme of improvements.

During winter 2013, this included conducting a trial to evaluate the technical, operational and financial opportunities of recovering the “glycol” from de-icer and improving the water quality being discharged into the local water courses.

The project involved trialling new equipment that could extract glycol from the waste water, which could then be re-used. The trial was successful, providing useful information on the operational constraints and performance of this system and Heathrow is now looking to develop a long terms solution which will recover and reuse glycol to produce de-icer for aircraft.

Sustainability awards

Sustainability BITC pink planters