The United Kingdom’s supreme court has approved a controversial third runway at London Heathrow. The action had previously been halted by the Court of Appeals, whose decision has now been overruled by the supreme court. As the final court of appeal in the UK legal system, today’s ruling cannot be appealed.
Before the current crisis, London was the busiest city airport system globally, surpassing New York by almost 40 million total passengers in 2019. However, the system is also running near capacity. Indeed, getting slots at Heathrow can be as tricky for a newcomer as winning the lottery.
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The third runway can proceed
This morning the UK’s Supreme court ruled that Heathrow’s third runway can proceed as planned. The ruling was unanimously allowed by the case’s five justices. The court rejected the argument of environmental group Plan B, who had said that the plan would go against the UK’s commitments as part of the Paris Climate Agreement.
Commenting on the ruling, a Heathrow spokesperson said,
“This is the right result for the country, which will allow Global Britain to become a reality… Demand for aviation will recover from Covid, and the additional capacity at an expanded Heathrow will allow Britain as a sovereign nation to compete for trade and win against our rivals in France and Germany.”
What will an expanded Heathrow look like?
The main aim of Heathrow’s expansion would be to build a third runway north of the existing 09L-27R. This would allow the airport to increase its capacity for aircraft, as more landing and takeoff slots would become available. According to provisional 2019 numbers, Heathrow was the busiest airport in Europe. The second through eight busiest European airports all have three or more runways.
More infrastructure would also be required to handle the additional flights. This would see a new terminal area being built between Runway 09L-27R and the new runway. However, such expansion would mean that some of the local lands would need to be built on. This would include Waterside, the home of British Airways, in addition to some houses.
Demand remains down
As mentioned in Heathrow’s statement, the airport expects to recover from the global aviation downturn. Many airlines and industry bodies are hoping 2019 passenger levels to be regained by 2024 at the latest. Heathrow Airport does not need additional capacity at the present moment in time. When traffic does return in the future, the new capacity will once again be required. In May, it was revealed that the current crisis could push back Heathrow’s new runway by five years to 2030 or beyond.
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