600 more flights a year due at airport

Radical changes at Heathrow could lead to a massive increase in flights without the need for a third runway.

Making better use if the existing two runways could see an extra 60,000 flights a year and 20 million more passengers.

But the move will enrage airport campaigners who say it could lead to more noise for thousands in the region.

At the moment planes take off from one runway and land on the other. But a new scheme - already being tested - means at less busy times planes can take off and land on both runways at the same time.

It makes use of spare capacity and could be an alternative to a third runway which the Government has ruled out. That would mean the demolition of hundreds of homes to make way for it.It could also lead to an end to suggestions of a new airport to rival or replace Heathrow off the Thames Estuary.

The problem with the plan is that more people will be hit with noise. An extra 60,000 flights a year will mean many more flights over the Thames Valley.

Campaigner John Stewart said: "The problem is that many more people will be affected by noise. At the moment people have times of the day when they do not get noise from planes and that could change. For many tens of thousands in Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, South Oxfordshire and Surrey they will not be happy with that."

The Government trial will be extended next weekend for another nine weeks.

The key problem is that Heathrow is full and we are losing passengers to other European airports who have better onward connections.

A Government consultation paper will be published in a few weeks starting a debate on all the options including a new airport off the north Kent coast, a third Heathrow Runway and possibly a second runway at Gatwick.

One thing does seem clear. More air capacity is needed. The debate is where to put it.

Weekend newspaper reports again suggest another runway at Gatwick.

The reality is that the new Government consultation will again look at all the options with final decisions not expected before the next election.