Heathrow: Third runway is only solution

Heathrow today said there are no short-term solutions to increase capacity at the UK’s hub airport with the “only realistic option” being a third runway.

The airport said it did not want to use “mixed mode” operations to add flights because of the increased noise it would create for local residents. Mixed mode involves using both of Heathrow’s runways for taking off and landing at the same time – it was trialled on a temporary basis last year to reduce delays rather than increase flights.

Heathrow made its position clear in a submission to the Airports Commission, which is looking into how to increase airport capacity in the south-east and is due to produce a report on short-term solutions by the end of 2013.

The commission yesterday said that the UK could host two airport hubs instead of one and that one of the three global airline alliances at Heathrow could move to another airport, the most likely being Gatwick, without damage to its business.

Heathrow chief executive Colin Matthews said: “The Airports Commission has a challenging task in its bid to find short-term solutions to long term problems. The only real solution to a lack of runway capacity at our hub airport is to build another runway.

“We are not proposing the use of mixed mode as a short-term measure because of the impact on local communities of ending periods of respite from noise.

“We are listening to local residents’ concerns and we are working hard to develop new long-term solutions that can deliver additional flights whilst also reducing noise.”

Heathrow has instead made a series of suggestions of how to improve reliability and punctuality over the next few years without increasing capacity. The airport is currently operating at around 98 per cent of its 480,000 annual cap on flights.

“Heathrow is proposing a new package of measures to the commission that would improve hub competitiveness and deliver noise benefits,” said the airport in its submission.

“The measures include redesigning airspace and changing operating procedures to deliver a more efficient and resilient airport. Some of the measures are designed to ensure that fewer people are affected by noise. None of the measures would result in more flights at the airport.”

Gatwick, which has spare capacity of around 25 per cent, yesterday called for increased competition between London’s airports to help solve the capacity squeeze (see online news, May 16).

For more information, visit heathrow.com.

Report by Rob Gill


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  • A third runway at Heathrow is a sensible tactical option for the short term (5-15 years). I don’t think Heathrow is viable as an airport in the long term because it is land locked and politically sensitive.

    In the medium term London needs a new airport, preferably in a location that is politically sensitive. I am probably one of the few people that Boris Island on the Isle of Grain actually makes some sense. Other people will have different views, particularly those living near the Isle of Grain and conservationists. The fact remains though that London needs a new airport, if not at the Isle of Grain, then somewhere.

    What makes the Isle of Grain a good site is that there is enough space out there for multiple runways, allowing the UK to compete with the likes of Amsterdam. Planes can take off and arrive over water, there is connectivity to HS1 for trains into London and the rest of the country, and Dover is down the road which could boost the airport as a major freight terminal. The government (or new airport owners) could even possibly shut down Stansted.

    A new airport would take a long time to build and it would require public funding but pining our hopes on Heathrow is not sensible in the long term.

  • I am not sure, why the easiest and cheapest option is not discussed and talked about.
    Make a fast and dedicated train link between Heathrow and Gatwick and build the second runway at Gatwick.
    A huge capacity could be created by this and both airport could run as twin airport. A 30 minutes train ride would not be much longer than bus rides at many airport. And if mag-lev train is selected, the journey will be only 8 minutes.

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