Case Studies

London Luton Airport

London Luton Airport installs groundbreaking new stormwater treatment system


As part of its long term surface water drainage strategy defined in September 2014, London Luton Airport Operations Limited (LLAOL) commissioned Veolia Water Projects Ltd, supported by Mott MacDonald, to develop a surface water management strategy which would address the prerequisites to achieve planning consent for the airport’s further expansion.

LLAOL has subsequently embarked on a systematic programme of facilities and services development that ensures the Airport is able to comply with all current and anticipated future environmental regulations; this will prevent surface water and groundwater pollution in accordance with the objectives of the Luton Local Plan and the National Planning Policy Framework.

Data collected from water quality monitoring conducted at the Airport between 2005 and 2012 identified the main pollution risks from the Airport as oil spills and de-icing chemicals, for which oil interceptors and first flush drainage systems were considered the most appropriate pollution mitigation assets.

As well as providing storage and flow balancing to deal with contaminated surface water runoff, the Airport’s drainage scheme also includes methods to manage acute and chronic pollution events and techniques to continuously monitor the quality and quantity of surface water runoff from all points of discharge to either groundwater or surface waters.

The measures that have been adopted are based on sustainable mitigation, which balances environmental, social and economic factors. Hazardous substances are prevented from entering controlled waters, whilst non-hazardous substances may enter but should not cause pollution.

The water resource receptors, into which any contaminated surface water may flow, are identified as Luton Hoo Lake (via a Thames Water surface water sewer) and the River Lea, to which UK/EU Environmental Quality Standards have been applied, along with an underlying Principal Chalk aquifer which is monitored against UK Drinking Water Standards for Groundwater.

Phase 1 of the Airport’s new development programme has included the resurfacing and expansion of car parking areas, extensions to buildings and the construction of a new dual carriageway.

In addition to a known flooding problem that already existed on Airport Way, which provides main access to and from the airport, the main impact of this first phase of development has been the increased risk of flooding caused by multiple new impermeable areas, due in the main to a new road layout and the construction of a second carriageway. The removal of pre-existing soakaways, installation of additional piping and the diversion of manholes required that a new SuDS system should not only prevent the increased risk of flooding but also protect habitat and amenity by improving water quality.

How it works

In late April 2016 SDS installed a new SuDS system to handle surface water runoff from Luton Airport’s extended medium term car park. Five SDS GEOlight® attenuation tanks have the combined capacity to store up to 4,277 cubic metres of water which has first been cleansed by each of two SDS Aqua-Swirl™ hydro dynamic vortex separators, designed to remove approximately 90 to 95% of the total pollutants in the surface water runoff volume.

SDS Aqua-Swirl™ separators use gravitational forces to separate out of suspension a diverse range of particulates that are typically found in surface water runoff, in the process removing attached pollutants such as free floating oil, poly-aromatic hydrocarbons and heavy metals. Inspection chambers provide direct access from the surface to the sediment and oils that accumulate in the reservoir enabling their simple and effective long term maintenance.

Most notably, these devices are largely of high strength HDPE plastic construction, thereby providing a light weight and low cost alternative to the concrete devices which until now have been the only option available. In the UK, SDS’s Aqua-Swirl™ Separator is unique in achieving stringent US ‘NJDEP’ and ‘NJCAT’ field certification, having been proven to achieve reliable and sustainable performance through both field and laboratory based testing programmes.

Sufficient capacity exists within the underground storage facility landside to accommodate excess airside surface water runoff, the first flush of which will be highly contaminated with substances such as de-icing chemicals and will be diverted to the Thames Water foul system for treatment. Whilst airside and landside runoff have more typically been considered two entirely separate wastewater streams, LLAOL is developing plans to manage holistically all sources of surface water, including the control of their dispersal, in the most environmentally friendly / ecologically conscious way.

The system has been designed to series 500 of the specification for highways works and sewers for adoption and follows engineering consultancy Mott MacDonald’s flood risk design for a 1:100 year storm event including an allowance for an additional 20% due to climate change. Surface water drainage is managed in accordance with the ‘Design Manual for Roads and Bridges’ (‘DMRB’), the ‘Manual of Contract Documents for Highways Works’ (‘MCHW’) and ‘Sewers for Adoption Seventh Edition’. Future publications of ‘DMRB’ will recommend SDS Aqua-Swirl™ as the first water treatment system of choice.


As well as providing the site with essential control over water quality, of particular benefit to the infrastructure drainage contractor, Whitemountain, has been the robust build and light weight of the SDS Aqua-Swirl™ treatment device which could be lifted and manoeuvred easily into position by excavation plant that was already in use on site and without the need for heavy machinery.

Site Engineer at Whitemountain, Brian Fegan, explains: “The installation of a system comprising a device of concrete construction, until now our only option, would have required the use of a 350 tonne crane and most likely, due to the massive inconvenience not just to us but to the airport and local road network, would not have been feasible at all. The Aqua-Swirl™’s versatility meant that we could design the devices for the specific requirements of this site, without the need for any bends in piping, whilst their inherent strength allowed us to save on time and cost through not requiring a concrete surround. Their compact size and small footprint, together with the lifting supports and straps provided, meant installation was very quick and simple and final placement could be done manually; we needed only a single day in which to dig, position, connect up and back fill.”

An additional benefit of the SuDS system has been the reduction, to a great extent, in the frequency and volume of the flooding that occurred in the neighbouring Airport Way underpass. Whilst the flooding hazard for both carriageways continues to remain categorised as ‘significant’ for a 1 in 100 year storm event, the severity of flooding across the access route in a 30 year event has been reduced to the category of ‘moderate’ for one carriageway whilst, for a 1 in 10 year event, the second carriageway is deemed entirely clear. Furthermore, for all return periods the hazard remains in place for a maximum of only 2 hours, thereby significantly reducing the duration of restricted access, whilst the installation of a pump, which is able to transfer flows to the SDS GEOlight® tanks, ensures that emergency access can still be gained at all times.

Recent UK legislative policy, including the 2015 Water Framework Directive (WFD), 2010 Water Management Act and River Basin Act, has placed increasing importance on the ability of SuDS to achieve prescribed Environmental Quality Standards (EQS) on water quality. Over the course of the next 10 years, the UK Government has put in place milestones by which a series of stringent EQS requirements should be met. Latest SuDS guidance requires planners to incorporate the management of water quality into their designs, through specifying proprietary devices that enable proactive scheduled maintenance to be carried out.

London Luton Airport is the UK’s 5th largest airport carrying over 12 million passengers in 2015, an increase of almost 17% on the previous year. £110 million has been invested over the next 5 years to improve access and passenger facilities both inside and outside the terminal, including rail shuttle bus connections and new and upgraded car parks. This expansion will create circa 10,500 new jobs over the next 15 years and see passenger volumes rise to 18 million. At its current rate of growth, the Airport, which already supports £1.3 billion of economic activity and 27,000 jobs, is anticipated to contribute £2.3 billion to the economy by 2030.

What our other Customers say

SDS helped us to engineer a successful SuDS outcome at an extremely challenging brownfield location. SDS GEOlight® tanks were integral to the drainage solution, providing attenuation to meet the very low site discharge rate on a steeplysloping site with limited space and no opportunity to infiltrate. Using below-ground storage in conjunction with surface water drainage features facilitated environmental and wildlife benefits above-ground, while achieving sufficient surface water storage necessary to satisfy planning requirements at this sensitive location.

Ben Rayner, Principal Engineer, Stomor Group.

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