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Debate Heathrow's third runway

Heathrow's third runway is expected to be one of the most controversial proposals coming out of next year's Aviation White Paper.

This week we ask: Does Heathrow need a third runway?


Paul Ellis, policy advisor British Airways

Heathrow is still the world's leading international airport in terms of the traffic it handles.

But it is rapidly falling behind its main European competitors in the network of routes it is able to offer. Unlike those airports, it is desperately short of capacity. They have always been able to plan ahead of demand. Heathrow has always been catching up.

Approval for Terminal 5 will help eventually - but it will not maintain and restore the frequency and diversity of air services that is the lifeblood of a world class hub airport.

The hub principle, with multiple connections allowing access to and from a multitude of cities, unable themselves to sustain regular or frequent air services, is now a firmly established feature of world aviation. The UK needs such a hub; Heathrow realistically is the only candidate for many years to come. Other south east airports offer complementary opportunities - for charters, no-frills airlines and cargo operators.

Only another runway will allow Heathrow to play in the world league. Without it Heathrow will become an international also ran. Its restricted runway slots will increasingly be dominated by aircraft on the highest density routes, with connections from the UK provinces run down.

Britain's strength as a trading nation owes much to its legacy of punching beyond its weight in world aviation. Experience shows that international investment in today's global economy will settle where transport links are at their best.

But can it be done? The short runway, set out as an option by the government in its recent consultation paper, would be environmentally far less intrusive than runways considered in the past. Yet its focus on smaller aircraft serving the nearer continent and other UK airports would release substantial capacity on the two main runways for long-haul services.

A third runway could be built within the existing noise disturbance contour, with technology taking care of air quality concerns. It would be in keeping with essential principles of sustainability, while achieving the necessary balance between economic, social and environmental interests.


John Stewart, chairman, Heathrow Association for the Control of Aircraft Noise

Heathrow Airport is virtually full. Yet the airlines want to fly more flights into what is still Europe's premier 'hub' airport.

Wouldn't it make sense to build a third runway? I will argue that there are powerful social, environmental and, indeed, economic reasons why a third runway is a bad idea.

There are two main social reasons for not building it. First, it would result in the demolition of hundreds of homes, decimating well-established communities in the Heathrow area. Secondly, it would mean a third flight path.

SERAS, the government's regional study covering London and the South East, estimates that 600,000 people under the existing flight paths experience noise levels in excess of the maximum of 54 decibels recommended by the World Health Organisation. A new flight path would increase the number by nearly 150,000.

The environmental reasons are equally strong. A recent study by Spelthorne Council showed that, because of Heathrow, the boroughs around the airport would not be able to meet government Air Quality targets. Nitrogen oxide is a particular problem. The SERAS study admits that a new runway could mean as many as 35,000 people would be affected by nitrogen oxide levels in excess of European Union legal standards.

SERAS states that would mean either 'another runway could not be considered' or the government would 'undertake to fully fund the purchase and, if necessary, the demolition' of the properties of the people affected.

The economics do not add up either. The economy of west London and Berkshire is overheating. Ordinary workers are being priced out of the area.

A survey commissioned by HACAN in 2000 found that there was a total of only 9,000 people registered unemployed in the six boroughs closest to the airport. A third runway would bring more noise, pollution and traffic congestion while having little positive effect on the local economy.

The facts

The government's Regional Airport Studies (RAS) published on July 23 set out an option for a new 2km runway at Heathrow.

The new runway would relieve the two existing runways of short haul traffic to UK and European destinations (NCE 25 July).

lThe government's Regional Airport Studies are now out to consultation until the end of November. Responses will feed into an Aviation White Paper expected in the spring.

Respond to the consultation at www. airconsult. gov. uk

A Heathrow runway could be one of the first major infrastructure projects to benefit from government plans to streamline the planning process after a tortuous five year public inquiry for the Heathrow Terminal 5 project.

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