Heathrow plays it’s ace card for 3rd runway

Heathrow has today announced it will meet the conditions set out in the Airports Commission’s recommendation for a runway expansion. While Gatwick airport is still fighting it's own case; its CEO Stewart Wingate described Wednesday's announcement by Heathrow's owners as a "desperate last throw".

However, BBC transport correspondent Richard Westcott says Heathrow may have just played it’s ace - the airport's gone further than many people expected in this latest bid to convince MPs, the government, and locals, that it should have a third runway.

So what was announced this week from Heathrow in regards to the Airport Commission’s conditions?


• Heathrow will exceed the overall package of conditions the Commission set

• Measures include support for early introduction of ban on scheduled flights for six and a half hours every night after expansion planning consent received, and airspace modernisations

• Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye writes to Prime Minister will plan to enable Government to make right choice for Britain – delivering up to £211bn in economic benefit and 180,000 jobs with third runway

In July last year, the independent Airports Commission unanimously and unambiguously recommended expanding Heathrow, after a three year, £20 million study into the best option for maintaining the UK’s global aviation hub status.

“The right choice for the country” – Heathrow CEO writes to PM

Today, Heathrow Chief Executive John Holland-Kaye has written to the Prime Minister setting out a world leading, ambitious and affordable plan which balances the huge national and local economic gain from expansion with the environmental impacts. Highlighting Heathrow’s place as a “cornerstone” of Britain’s economic security for the last 70 years and a symbol of an outward looking country, he said:

“You set up the Airports Commission and it unanimously recommended expanding Heathrow. You demanded ambitious plans from my team to deliver expansion with a bold and fair deal for our neighbours.
Today, I am proud to submit a comprehensive plan that meets and exceeds your demands. This is a big commitment from us, but it is the right choice for the country, local communities and jobs across Britain.
We have acted now to let you and your government make the right choice, in the long term interest of our country. It will enable you to choose Heathrow and secure a stronger economy and Britain’s place in the world.
Expanding Heathrow can help Britain win thousands more jobs and ensure that future generations have the same economic opportunity that we have enjoyed. “

• The introduction of a ban by Government on scheduled flights for six and a half hours between 2300 and 0530 – an increase from five hours today – and supporting the earlier introduction of the ban after planning consent is received and airspace is modernised.

• A proposal for the Environment Agency to be given the role of an independent aviation air quality authority, to provide transparent scrutiny of the measures Heathrow will introduce to enable it to expand only in accordance with air quality rules

• Establishing an Education and Skills Taskforce that will identify how best to develop the airport’s future skilled workforce and to create a legacy for UK infrastructure projects.

Download the full response, here.

So what are the arguments against the third runway?

1. We need to reduce, not increase, emissions

Heathrow generates 50% of UK aviation emissions. This makes 6% of total emissions, according to Department for Transport figures.

With a third runway and as the UK as a whole cuts emissions, Heathrow's contribution to overall UK emissions would rise significantly by 2050, some calculate to as much as 50% of total.

A third runway could mean an extra 200,000 flights a year over London. Why should aviation capacity be increased indefinitely? At a time when most accept the need for emission cuts, say opponents, should we not stick with the capacity we have and allow market forces to price out inessential flyers?

2. Health of Londoners at risk

A Greater London Authority (GLA) report suggested Heathrow would even now breach the EU regulations on levels of Nitrous Oxide due to come into force in 2010. Extra flights would only make this worse.

Even the Environment Agency admits that with a third runway, Heathrow would breach these limits.

The GLA study also found that the airport would breach noise pollution limits as a result of the extra flights.

3. Economic case overstated

Many of the new passengers the extra runway would bring would be transit passengers. According to former BA boss Bob Ayling they would spend little or nothing in London, only boosting airline profits.

According to Sir David King, former chief scientific adviser to the government, the runway would over time come to be seen as a 'white elephant'.

Long before investment in it were repaid, demand for flying will have fallen away as pressure to reduce carbon increases and competition with other forms of travel grows. The downturn is already forcing people to find substitutes for air travel. This pattern will continue, he suggests.

4. Impact on the local area

Transport infrastructure around Heathrow already struggles. The extra demands would create gridlock.

To make way for the runway, Sipson - a village of 700 houses - would be demolished and hundreds of acres of greenbelt land would be swallowed up.

4. Alternatives

For historical reasons, Heathrow is badly located. It is the only major airport with flight paths over a large capital city, for instance.

Some, like London Mayor Boris Johnson, believe this is a perfect opportunity to start again and propose a new airport in the Thames Estuary.

Planes would approach and leave over water, reducing the impact of noise and the airport could operate 24 hours a day.


In the past, Conservative Zac Goldsmith (who recently lost the London Mayor election race) has said he'd resign as an MP if ministers went with Heathrow. Other cabinet members are known to oppose the scheme. It's not clear yet whether these concessions are enough to sway any of their opinions but one thing for sure is that it’s divided camps for the past 5 years.