An examination of take-off scheduling constraints at London Heathrow airport

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

operations - scheduling, place - airport


In this paper, we focus upon the departure system for London Heathrow airport, one of the busiest airports in the world. Decreasing the delay for aircraft awaiting take-off with their engines running would decrease fuel usage and have consequent cost and pollution benefits. We explain how the departure system at Heathrow currently works and we describe the various constraints that apply to take-off schedules. A model for the take-off order problem is presented from the point of view of the runway controller, the person who is responsible for the take-off scheduling. We investigate the effects of each constraint and combination of constraints, using a simulation of the Heathrow departure system. The role of the runway controller in the simulation is performed by a search which was designed to form the basis of an online decision support system. Both the simulation and the decision support system are fully described. We use the results to evaluate the effect upon delay that we would expect from various changes that could be made to the departure system. We end the paper by drawing conclusions about the predicted effectiveness of different changes that could be made to the departure system and focus upon a further opportunity for decision support research.