The coronavirus pandemic has struck the airline industry hard once again, this time with ground operations.

London Heathrow, Europe’s largest airport by passengers processed annually, has announced that from April 6th the airport will be transitioning to single-runway operations; in an attempt to save the airport during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has seen mass cuts to flight departures and in turn a steep decline in passenger numbers.

London Heathrow switching to single-runway operation | News ...
Traffic has been rapidly falling at Heathrow. Chart: Eurocontrol ATC

[From 6th April] Heathrow will be transitioning to single runway operations as a temporary measure to increase resilience and safety for colleagues, passengers and cargo. Under this new operation, we will alternate which runway we use on a weekly basis and publish a new alternative schedule that will continue to provide local communities with respite periods.

Heathrow Airport spokesperson
British Airways B787 departing runway 27R of Heathrow Airport.

The airport has two parallel runways – 09L/27R and 09R/27L – which will alternate on a weekly basis, to spread the noise impact on the surrounding London suburbs. The runways will alternate at 13:00 each afternoon.

Heathrow management has remained adamant that the airport needs to continue operation, in the wake of London Gatwick closing its main terminal earlier this week and London City suspending operations.

In a crucial time for the United Kingdom, more than 41 percent of all pharmaceuticals imported into Britain arrive through Heathrow; there will also undoubtedly be a stream of repatriation flights for UK citizens in the coming weeks.

Despite the decline in aircraft and passenger movements, Heathrow Airport has remained adamant that the business is well placed with a strong financial position. Credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s announced last week that they would be lower the long-term ratings on Class A and Class B debt issued by Heathrow Funding Limited, Heathrow’s business operator. The credit ratings on their Class A and Class B debt now stand at BBB+ and BBB- respectively. These ratings still stand at investment grade, which Heathrow believes will keep the airport’s operations during these uncertain times economically viable.

Whilst a single-runway operation is a far cry from the usually overstretched two-runway system of operation, the move is necessary to ensure the airport can remain as Europe’s aviation hub.