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Heathrow Airport: What is causing the delay?

Heathrow Airport: What is causing the delay?

In December 2015, the decision was made to delay the decision on whether to allow a third runway at London Heathrow airport until the summer of 2016, due to environmental concerns.  The government stated that it was supporting more airport capacity in the South by 2030, as was recommended by the Airports Commission.  However, the statement lacked mention of the airport by name, which alluded to the fact that other viable options were still being considered, such as a second runway at London Gatwick airport, located directly to the south of London.  

Source: Airports Commission

Source: Airports Commission

Source: Airports Commission

Source: Airports Commission

Why would more runways help?

Many business leaders from around the United Kingdom are backing the growth as it is claimed that the lack of capacity at Britain’s major airports is causing problems for business.  London Heathrow is one of the world’s busiest airports, placing 3rd only behind Hartsfield-Jackson (Atlanta) and Beijing Capital, with total passengers amounting to over 73 million in 2014.  It is also a major transfer hub, with more than a third of travellers using it to transfer to other connecting flights.    Unfortunately, how Heathrow currently stands, it is operating at 98% of its capacity, with little room for growth.  It is also facing increasing amounts of competition from rival airports such as Paris’s Charles de Gaulle and Amsterdam’s Schiphol.

So, back to the business leaders, it is argued that considering the amount of time to implement a new runway to completion, it would be 2025 at the earliest that the runway would become operational, therefore leaders are pushing a positive decision to ensure that the UK economy still remains competitive in the middle years of the 21st century.  It has also been backed by the Airport Commission stating that the UK economy would benefit significantly from the airport, and it is estimated that expansion at London Heathrow would make up to £211 billion, while expansion at London Gatwick would only make up to £127 billion.  Also, job-wise, if London Heathrow expanded between 64,100 and 108,300 jobs would be created, however if London Gatwick expanded, between 7,900 and 32,000 new jobs would be created.

So what are the two sides of the argument?

The government really has a difficult decision, a catch 22 so to speak, as whatever outcome is, it is likely to be viewed as controversial.  On one side, there are those arguing that airport capacity is needed as soon as possible, to enable the UK economy to continue its growth and not suffer with lack of transport capacity.  However, the other side is argued that the drawbacks of expanding Heathrow would outweigh any benefits, affecting thousands in the immediate vicinity of the new runway.  Residents in the nearby areas of Heathrow, such as Harmondsworth and Sipson, face having their homes compulsorily purchased for land to build the new runway.

Source: Airports Commission

Source: Airports Commission

Environmental issues are another main obstacle for the implementation of the new runway.  Many campaigners are stating that increased traffic pollution from the vehicles associated with a larger airport would be a cause to halt the expansion.  The Environmental Audit Committee stated that the third runway should not go ahead at Heathrow until strict environmental conditions were met.  However, Heathrow Airport is insisting that the current plans would meet the limitations of noise and air quality.

So, only time will tell what will happen with the new runway plans, but we can imagine that the UK business leaders and environmental campaigners will be waiting with baited breath.  It seems that we all want to travel by air, fast and efficiently, but no-one wants to live near an airport or under a flight path.

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