Heathrow wins the battle for third runway

London’s hub airport has been given the green light for a third runway. This will be the first runway laid in the South East since the 1940s. The decision comes just three months after London City Airport was given approval for a £344 million expansion.

The on-going issue of expanding one of the London airports has been resolved this morning as the expansion of London Heathrow has been approved by a committee of ministers. The decision means Heathrow will get a third runway, as opposed to Gatwick building a second runway or one of the existing runways at Heathrow being extended in order to deal with capacity issues.

The Airports Commission released a report in July 2015 which stated, “While London is a well-connected city its airports are showing unambiguous signs of strain.” London Heathrow has been operating almost to full capacity, and is closer to operating at capacity than some of their fellow European hubs.

It is also explained in the final report that a third runway and a sixth terminal at Heathrow would be the most expensive option – a project estimated to cost £18.6 billion in comparison to Gatwick’s £9.4 billion expansion proposal - in order to deal with growing passenger numbers, but it was also the option that would be most beneficial for the wider community. The Department for Transport estimates that the additional runway will bring benefits worth up to £61 billion, with up to 77,000 additional local jobs expected to be created over the next 14 years.

Announced today, it is believed Heathrow will add a further six domestic routes to Belfast International, Liverpool, Newquay, Humberside, Prestwick and Durham Tees Valley after expansion, providing 14 domestic links in total. 

Heathrow’s expansion was depicted as the most plausible option because, “the benefits are significantly greater, for business passengers, freight operators and the broader economy. All passengers will benefit from enhanced competition.”

With the decision to build a new runway at Heathrow, there are 11 conditions that must be adhered to. These include the assurance that a fourth runway will not be built in future and a ban on all scheduled night flights in the period between 11.30pm to 6.00am.

The final report from the Airports Commission also stated that at the time of publication, there was spare capacity for point-to-point operations but the lack of space for long-haul flights would put the London hub at a disadvantage compared to rival European hubs.

A spokesperson for Heathrow Airport has stated: "We welcome the news that Heathrow is the Government's preferred site for a new runway and look forward to hearing the full details later from the Transport Secretary. Expansion of Heathrow is the only option that will connect all the UK to global growth, helping to build a stronger and fairer economy.

"We await the full details, but Heathrow stands ready to work with Government, businesses, airlines and our local communities to deliver an airport that is fair, affordable and secures the benefits of expansion for the whole of the UK."

Although the decision to build a runway at Heathrow is unsurprising, it is a blow for London Gatwick Airport who have experienced tremendous growth in the last 12 months, particularly in the areas mentioned in the final report. Last year, Gatwick recorded a two percent gain in London Airport market share. The airport is also recognised as the European airport with the most long haul routes in the last 12 months. In 2016 alone, 20 new long haul routes have been opened, and the airport now serves more long haul destinations than was predicted with a new runway in 2050.

A spokesperson for Norwegian, an airline who has been key in Gatwick's growth due to their long-haul links has commented, “Norwegian has always backed Gatwick as the right choice for the UK’s next runway but we respect the decision of the UK Government. Our plans for huge expansion at our Gatwick base and other UK airports remain unchanged and 2017 will see even more new routes, increased flights and brand new aircraft in our growing UK operation.”

Following the announcement, transport secretary Chris Grayling said: "The step that government is taking today is truly momentous. I am proud that after years of discussion and delay this government is taking decisive action to secure the UK’s place in the global aviation market – securing jobs and business opportunities for the next decade and beyond.

"A new runway at Heathrow will improve connectivity in the UK itself and crucially boost our connections with the rest of the world, supporting exports, trade and job opportunities. This isn’t just a great deal for business, it’s a great deal for passengers who will also benefit from access to more airlines, destinations and flights."

Confederation of British Industry (CBI) president Paul Drechsler CBE has also spoken out in favour of the decision, saying: "A new runway at Heathrow is really fantastic news, especially as the country has waited nearly 50 years for this decision. It will create the air links that will do so much to drive jobs and unlock growth across the UK, allowing even more of our innovative, ambitious and internationally focussed firms, from Bristol to Belfast, to take off and break into new markets.

“With contracts to tender for, apprentices to recruit and supply chains to build, this decision must be taken forward swiftly, giving businesses the confidence to invest. Our aviation capacity is set to run out as early as 2025, so it’s crucial we get spades in the ground as soon as possible to reap the benefits for jobs and growth, precisely when the country needs them most."

At the time of publication, the Airports Commission’s Final Report stated a new runway would be needed in the South East by 2030. The new runway at Heathrow is believed to begin construction in 2020 or 2021 and to be operational in 2025. This new runway will be able to deal with the growing strain on capacity until at least 2040.