HEATHROW airport has posted a big improvement in flights leaving on time, according to new figures released by the Civil Aviation Authority.

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Better still, it’s the much-criticised new Terminal 5 that is behind the leap in punctuality between the first quarter of 2008 and the same period in 2009.

In the space of a year, London’s biggest airport saw the proportion of flights taking off on time* go up from 59% to 79%, while delays were cut from an average of 24 to 12 minutes.

“The 20% improvement in flights departing on time has been helped by Terminal 5 which is performing extremely well and which has enabled greater efficiency across all Heathrow terminals,” said a spokesperson for BAA, the company which operates Heathrow.

Heathrow’s stats showed the best upgrade in the period, but there were similar improvements at most other British airports. Overall, 81% of flights left on time from January to March this year, compared to 70% in 2008.

London City Airport showed almost as big an improvement as Heathrow, its punctual flights score taking off from 66% to 84%.

Even charter flights, often notorious for their time keeping, saw a change for the better. For example, at Catwick, 65% of charter flights departed on time in early 2009, a rise of 6 points from the year before.

* The CAA defines on time as leaving within 15 minutes of the scheduled flight time.