Idea 6: Preferential runway system review

Our Best Practices in Noise Management Report (PDF, 3.2 MB) found that many major international airports have a preferential runway program aimed at focusing aircraft on the least populated or unpopulated areas.

Toronto Pearson has a preferential runway system from midnight to 6:30 am with the objective of flying over the fewest people possible during these hours when noise is considered more bothersome.

This preferential runway system was implemented in the 1970s, and since then the population around the airport has changed and additional runways have been built. This combined with the factors below suggest it is time to review the system:

  • The current system identifies preferential runways, but factors such wind, weather or runway availability sometimes necessitates the use of runways that are not identified as preferential runways. Because of this, we need to identify preferential runway system that better balances number of residents flown over with a more reliable usage of the system.
  • The first choice for departures and the first choice for arrivals under the current system cannot be used together for safety reasons. Therefore, if we are using the first choice for departures, the second or third choice is used for arrivals and vice versa; thereby avoiding head-on operations. So we need to identify preferential runway system that better reflects how the airport operates, to allow for more reliable usage of the system.

The technical analysis concluded the current preferential runway system needed to be updated to meet the objectives of flying over the fewest people possible, and provide residents with greater clarity on preference runway pairings.

Combined with NAV CANADA’s proposed new night-time arrival and departure routes (Idea 1 night-time approaches and Idea 2 night-time departures) that will overall reduce the total population under flight paths and reduce the overall noise, the proposed new preferential runway pairings will reduce the number of residents who experience nighttime noise.

Proposed action

We are proposing a preferential runway system that provides feasible runway pairings that:

  • Minimize the total population impacted by aircraft noise of 45 dB or higher between midnight and 6:30 am
  • Enables more consistent use of runways identified as the preferential runways
  • Provides alternatives for into-the-wind configurations for each direction, which would be used when the crosswinds and/or tailwinds don’t allow use of the first or second choice preferential runway configurations

First choice

Whenever crosswind, tailwinds and winds-aloft allow

Second choice

Whenever crosswind, tailwinds and winds-aloft allow

The selection is driven by weather conditions and infrastructure availability when first or second choice are not operable. Ultimately any single or pair of runways can be used.

Operation for northerly wind

Operation for southerly wind

Operation for westerly wind

Operation for easterly wind

Combined with the new night-time arrival and departure paths, the new system will minimize the total population impacted by an average noise (Lnight) of over 45 dB. The threshold of 45 dB was selected because it is quiet and in an urban environment would likely be difficult to distinguish from the background noise for most of the night.

The impacts and benefits

As part of our 2018–2022 Noise Management Action Plan, we are committed to exploring enhancements to our existing Night Flight Restriction Program. The proposed changes to the preferential runway system will minimize the population affected by night-time aircraft noise and provide residents with more clarity on which runways will be used in which weather conditions.

Current System

Proposed System

When crosswinds and tailwinds allow.

Learn more about the detailed benefits/impacts for your community below.

Conclusion and next steps

Testing the new preferential runway system will provide more clarity about which runways pairings should be used during the preferential runway period and under what conditions. This will determine the effectiveness of the proposed preferential runway system compared to the current system.

The exact timing of the test depends on the implementation of NAV CANADA’s new night-time flight paths.

This test program will also allow us to survey residents to see what impacts/benefits of the new system and review noise monitoring data. Following the test period, we would report back on next steps.

We look forward to sharing more details around the test program once the guidelines are finalized and we are ready to move forward with the testing.

Additional info

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