heathrow airport expansion masterplan

Uproar of London Heathrow Expansion

London Heathrow expansion has been a debate that has dragged on and on and on. Over 50 years on some books. All the while the world has changed. Severely constrained capacity at the airport still remains. LHR recently released its master-plan ( covered by BBC here ) incorporating the 3rd runway. Public consultation has begun.
Recent history has been filled with inquiries, commissions, consultations, studies and reports. All leading to little in the way of concrete action, but costs for the public purse. What will unfold between now and then?

Brief history and timeline

London Heathrow Airport began commercial operations in 1946.

  • 1949 Labour Government proposes additional 2 runways for newly opened Heathrow airport
  • 1990 Conservative government publishes plan for third runway
  • 2003 Labour government produces white paper proposing short third runway
  • 2007 Consultation begins
  • 2009 Gordon Brown decides to go ahead with third runway
  • 2010 Legal action against the plans wins in High Court
  • 2010 David Cameron elected on promise to ditch third runway ‘no ifs, no buts’
  • 2012 Cameron commissions Sir Howard Davies to look into airport expansion (another consultation!)
  • 2015 Davies report recommends a third runway, you guessed it, at Heathrow!
  • 2016 Theresa May’s cabinet decides to go ahead with third runway
  • 2018 MPS approve the plans for third runway for Heathrow, with the CEO of airports management company claiming it ended 50 years of debate.
  • 2018 Councils promise legal action against it, spending 1.5m doing so, supported by the Mayor of London himself.
  • 2018 Campaigners lose the battle in the High Court this time, https://www.standard.co.uk/news/transport/heathrow-campaigners-lose-high-court-challenge-against-third-runway-a4131091.html

London Heathrow expansion master-plan

Heathrow is full, and has been for the last decade. This has many ramifications for business and opportunities for new connections to parts of the world that are growing.Looking through the proposed master plan, its evident this is a very considered approach. Taking into account the delicate matters of public opinion, environmental responsibility and costs. The plan is by no means a small or easy undertaking. It involves rerouting a major motorway, changing the course of rivers, access roads and wiping out an entire village. Even providing new green spaces.

The arguments against it

The contentious points are two-fold. Displacement of hundreds of homes and levels of noise and pollution adding to the UK’s carbon emissions.
Such arguments were vehemently made, with activists often going to extreme lengths to protest against any form of expansion. Of course they raise valid concerns. A small group of people will be displaced from their homes. Increased noise pollution would affect some, leading to wider pollution for the environment on top.

Hopefully those protest and objections will not have been in vain.

The environment

While expansion does create the potential for increased emissions, this needs to be put in perspective to wider issues and causes. We should consider technological advancements, from bio fuels to more efficient engine designs. Bigger aircraft deployments help etc.
A rather paradoxical element at present is the increasing instances of planes needlessly circling the skies over London. This is due to slot availability. Meaning planes are unable to land when they should, thus burning more fuel and emissions. I’ve personally experienced this holding pattern many times.
Globally air travel accounts for just 2% of co2 emissions. While the motor industry is believed to contribute 17%.  Electric cars increasingly have a role to play. Looking deeper, within EU, even water navigation creates more emissions than aviation, see http://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/headlines/society/20190313STO31218/co2-emissions-from-cars-facts-and-figures-infographics
More specifically, the UK is already leading the way with policies going beyond the Paris accord, by pledging to go carbon neural by 2050. https://www.economist.com/britain/2019/05/02/britains-net-zero-carbon-target-is-one-of-the-worlds-most-ambitious. In the face of it, it may seem counter-intuitive to supporting airport expansion. Is it?
This surely has to be a balancing act for the country as a whole. One which desires to have the best connectivity to the rest of the world. One that is open to business with the wider world, and needs to show its commitment to keep doing so. Especially so in the mist of global protectionist sweeping our shores.
The world is also smaller than ever before and more agile at that. What’s to say, if the demand is there, those extra planes wont simply be flying elsewhere?Companies could take business to Ireland or Netherlands. Holidays makers could opt for alternative nearly destinations or a combination of both. Ultimately those planes that would be flying here would be going to Amsterdam, Paris or Berlin instead? In air travel terms, that’s on our back yards!

Disruption & local communities

I have all the sympathy for the plight of the residents most affected by this. Its important they are heard.
So far, £2.6 billon has been earmarked to compensate residents effected. This includes 25% additional payment on top of market value of any home demolished, all related moving costs and stamp duty. For those not being displaced but within close proximity to the enlarged site, costs for additional insulation will be provided. Additionally, there has been a promise to lengthen duration of night time flight ban.
Those measures could be deemed reasonable. And off course any further grievances, should be raised and addressed appropriately.
Those not directly affected are a secondary matter.  For someone who lives in the general vicinity of the airport, hasn’t noise always been a present factor of life?
Why did they decide to live there? Most people have a choice in what area they decide to live. Bar a handful of pensioners perhaps, let’s not pretend there is no choice involved. Given the airport expansion debate has been going on and in the making for 5 decades now, even more surprising. Sometimes the greater good of the country needs to prevail before a small community.

Managed increase in traffic

Many opposed to the 3rd runway cite environment and resident noise issues insinuate this will go from 0 to 100 from day 1 of opening.
Firstly, that may not even be possible even if Heathrow strived for that. There are tremendous complexities involved in building and opening a new airport facility. A mountain of activities need to be streamlined and executed, to provide the end users the service that they would expect. This cannot be achieved overnight of build completion.
Secondly, ongoing protests has already distilled in a collective responsibility *. To limit and offset the additional flights as far as possible. Say the third runway theoretically has a capacity of 200k flights a year. Even reducing the pressure points on existing 2 runways could eat up to half the capacity of the new runway. This would leave us with about 100-120k potential new flights to build up to over time. Perhaps planning permission could stipulate a gradual phased approach. Say starting with 30k/40k for the first couple of years. So in total in the first couple years we maybe only see 50k more flights.
* on part of the airport as well as the planning team that will eventually approve it

Need for a backup runway

Another reason for restraining from using the full capacity of new runway are the need for more wiggle room in operations. Maintenance, incidents, adverse weather affecting runways happen. Currently this can result in adverse and extreme disruptions to passengers and airlines alike.

Expansion benefits

Besides an airport that can better manage its traffic, the projected economic rewards are also vast. It will create thousands of new jobs with new business opportunities. The travel experience for those using the airport would be enhanced. This maybe more than just these perceived benefits.

London Heathrow expansion consultation

London Heathrow Expansion
London Heathrow Expansion
The public consultation period runs til 3rd September. Its really an opportunity for everyone to come together and finesse the plans to maximise value and benefit of expansion. Minimising impact on environment and the community in the most sustainable way. The project needs to focus on better public transport connectivity. Car use should be restricted and discouraged by extra tolls as planned. London finally deserves a hub airport that matches its status a major global city.
Furthermore, we need to ensure proper competition in all area. From the build, operators of the airport itself, to terminals as well as airlines. Granting new landing slots so there are fairer allocations for all British airlines as well as international carriers.

Bottom line

Whatever happens, we need to move forward and build Heathrow third runway now. The time to review alternatives and go around in circles has come and passed. Too many times.  If London is to remain a top global city, it cannot afford to slip behind on those vital air links with the fast growing parts of the world. In a way, the market still demands an adequate London hub airport. This is Heathrow. Nothing else comes close.
At the same time, yes, we are increasingly in need to be mindful of our carbon footprint. Many areas of our beautiful planet are in a precarious state. With temperatures rising faster than ever, global warming is not a problem we can ignore. These can be tackled in many ways. Halting major infrastructure development for a city as global as London, is perhaps not the best way to go.
Inevitably, its a simple matter supplying where the demand is. That in no uncertain terms, has been Heathrow, again and again for decades.