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Third runway Heathrow debate divides London members

London’s civil engineers are divided on whether a third runway at Heathrow should go ahead, a debate at the ICE revealed last week.

Airport operator BAA chief executive Colin Matthews faced director of campaigns for the WWF David Norman in front of an audience of ICE members and aviation experts. Head of environmental direction at Hounslow Council Rob Gibson and International Air Transport Association assistant director David Stewart also sat on the panel, chaired by NCE editor Antony Oliver.

The UK needs to face up to making a decision on this “crucial issue” according to Matthews, who admitted:  “Heathrow needs to improve, BAA needs to change.” He also rejected the assumption that economic growth and environmental responsibility is a binary choice.

The WWF highlighted the burden on other industries, including construction, for reducing CO2 emissions in theface of what Norman described as the “uncontrolled expansion of the UK’s aviation sector”. 

“The UK needs a competitive hub, but not at any cost“

Colin Matthews, chief executive, BAA

New technologies and changes to the way people communicate with colleagues, clients, friends and family could also render Heathrow a “white elephant”, according to Norman, who rejected Matthews’ assertion that increased capacity at Heathrow would reduce congestion and CO2 emissions. “We’re in a new CO2 constrainedworld,” he said. “Let’s wake up to that reality and invest in new technologies.”

However, Matthews argued that high speed rail cannot compete with air travel and will instead bring more passengers to an already stretched facility. Stewart agreed, arguing that if Heathrow’s capacity was not improved, passengers “won’t stop flying, they’ll just stop flying from Heathrow”.

Gibson revealed that 96% of local residents are against expansion of the airport and criticised both BAA and successive governments for “letting the community down” with their “broken promises”.

Matthews underlined BAA’s commitment to dialogue with environmental and local community groups: “The UK needs a competitive hub, but not at any cost.”

The debate was organised by Atkins graduate engineer Kiran Gowda, who is a member of the ICE London G&S Committee.

Readers' comments (5)

  • I recently travelled from Manchester to the States and had to connect domestically through Heathrow T5. Whilst the flight to Heathrow was only of about 25 minutes, we were stacked in a holding pattern waiting to land for the best part of 40 minutes!

    All this talk of reducing CO2 is a nonsense given that there are dozens of aircraft circling the capital waiting to get on the ground.

    Do Londoners really want to have these aircraft flying overhead for any longer than is absolutely necessary? It is no good ignoring the fact that they are still polluting your airspace, even more than if they were allowed to land on a third runway. Not even considering the safety aspects.

    If Heathrow is already at capacity there is no other option to increasing the landing capacity, other than for airlines to take their business to other parts of the country. However, the latter will never happen because Heathrow IS a hub whether we like it or not. London is the draw and we should be building on that for the sake of business and future growth.

    There is nothing to stop the planners and the Government putting a restriction on numbers of aircraft so any new expanded capacity doesn’t get out of hand. We have to keep up pace with worldwide development. If we unilaterally take this hard line approach to CO2 and dither on decisions like this our economy will never reach the heights of old and we will be left behind in the world for both business and tourism.

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  • Increased CO2 emissions from the increased numbers of aircraft with an expanded Heathrow, far outweigh the CO2 emissions from aircraft in a holding patterns.

    Please do the maths!

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  • The first Anonymous commenter is obviously concerned about CO2 emissions which begs the question: Why did the person not use the train instead from Manchester to Heathrow? Thereby reducing the need for short polluting flights circling over London and the need for a Third Runway at Heathrow.

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  • I've done the maths but have you done the physics? - the simple fact is people want to fly. As DEFRA's own 2006 study showed people unfortunately have few environmental morals when it comes to adjusting their own behaviour, they fly in aircraft (only way most of the time), and the longer these things spend in the sky the more fuel is burnt. People keep flying and they keep waiting up there. As Boeing themselves calculate, reducing every flight by just 1 minute would prevent 4.8 million tons of CO2 emissions each year. So, either fly less, or when we are flying, get down on the ground as soon as you can.

    Oh, and if I understand the first comment correctly, the holding pattern seems to have occurred on the inbound flight from the US - no real train option here I'm afraid. Could have possibly flown direct to Manchester?

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  • I regularly fly from Heathrow, often to the same destination, a three hour flight so the train is not an option. Everytime the incoming flight requires at least one circle of London prior to being able to land at Heathrow. The third runway would no doubt reduce those unnecessary loops in the sky.

    I'm not against this runway being located elsewhere, such as Gatwick, but that airport would need a massive upgrading to make it as attractive to airlines and customers as Heathrow is, as well as a high speed rail link between the two airports.

    Not building any runway will not stop people flying long haul, or on flights over 1 hour. It also will direct transit customers, such as the large US to Europe market, to other regional hubs such as Amsterdam or Paris, resulting in a reduction in our nation's capabilities and a loss of potential income.

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