Friday, 16 January 2009

Is it really a sensible idea to increase flight numbers over London?

Well the timing couldn't have been much worse....

The same day that the government approved huge increases in flights over London, an Airbus crashed into the Hudson River near New York City. There was a lucky escape for 150 passengers and the pilot is being widely praised for his deft flying abilities.

This got me thinking.... What might have happened if this plane had taken off from Heathrow (or more specifically, the 3rd runway)? Where in the South East would the plane have come down?

Let's have a look shall we?

For starters I checked the flightpath of US Airways 1549. From this map, I measured 2 distances:

  • Distance 1 - This is the total distance flown from LaGuardia Airport to the plane's eventual crash site in the Hudson River. Using some simple maths and a ruler I estimate this to be approximately 16.4 miles
  • Distance 2 - This is the straight-line distance from takeoff to crash site. I estimate this to be approximately 6.5 miles
If we plot these distances on a map of the South East, originating from Heathrow, quite a wide area is covered (click image to expand)....

Using "Distance 1" from our example...
  • If the plane were taking off in a Westerly direction, then the crash site could be somewhere near Farnborough, Wokingham or even High Wycombe.
  • If the plane were taking off in an Easterly direction, then we'd be looking at a direct hit on an area such as Shoreditch, Whitechapel, Highbury or Bermondsey
Clearly this analysis is purely hypothetical and doesn't prove a great deal. However, when you consider this recent accident and last year's crash at Heathrow, the decision to increase flight numbers over a heavily populated area begins to look like a very reckless one.

And the consequences of a plane coming down in central London don't bear thinking about...

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