Heathrow is reverting to single runway operations from Monday as coronavirus hits global airline services.
Aircraft departures and arrivals will take place on a single runway using mixed mode operations instead of operating one runway for departures and another for arrivals.
The London hub is not able to predict how long it will need to operate in this way.
The airport said that the situation would continue to be reviewed and it will look to resume usual operations when the number of daily aircraft movements “significantly increases”.
Heathrow said: “This is a temporary measure due to the unprecedented impacts of the coronavirus outbreak and it will provide us with greater resilience and safety for our colleagues, passengers and cargo.
“It should be noted that at this time we are facilitating significantly fewer flights due to travel restrictions around the world.”
The London hub will alternate which runway is used on a weekly basis “to ensure our local communities continue to get respite periods”.
Heathrow added: “Due to the significantly lower number of aircraft operating from the runway we will also be able to provide alternation on easterly operations – something we can’t currently provide during our usual schedule.
“We are making this change as we believe that it is vital that Heathrow remains open so that critical repatriation flights and cargo services can continue to operate.
“The airport is playing a crucial role in facilitating the supply chain of vital medical goods and food for the nation, with 41% of the UK’s pharmaceutical products being imported via Heathrow.
“We can only remain open if we can continue to operate safely and this move to single runway operations will improve our resilience should we see a further Covid-19-related reduction in staffing levels either from air traffic controllers or our airfield operations colleagues.”
Geraldine Nicholson, of local campaign group Stop Heathrow Expansion, said: “We hope this is just as it says – a temporary measure.
“Mixed mode can give Heathrow expansion by stealth and will not be acceptable to residents around the airport.
“Heathrow had a big defeat at the High Court recently and we know they want to increase the number of planes using the airport and have previously wanted mixed-mode operations in place permanently. We will hold them to their word that this is a temporary measure.”
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