Remind Me: What’s Happening With Heathrow’s Third Runway?

It’s been nearly one year since the British Courts ruled in favor of Heathrow’s third runway. However, the plans have not advanced much. At the tail end of 2019, Heathrow’s development plans were hindered after a funding extension was denied. Since then, the trail on the third runway has gone a bit cold. However, new developments this week could change that. Here’s what’s going on.

Plane flying over Heathrow airport sign
What’s going on with Heathrow’s third runway? Photo: Getty Images

Why does Heathrow need a third runway?

Talk about Heathrow’s runway expansion has been circulating for many years. With take-off and landing slots in short supply, the creation of an additional runway would really help. It would allow for new opportunities for airlines to invest in Heathrow and maintain the position of the busiest airport in Europe.

From a strategic point of view, Heathrow sees the development of the third runway as crucial. In comparison to other airports around the world, Heathrow is working on a deficit of runways. For example, Charles De Gaulle in Paris, which will soon become Europe’s busiest airport, has four runways. Amsterdam Schiphol, also in the top three, has six.

Heathrow' third runway, Artist impression
This is what Heathrow’s third runway could look like. Photo: Ohole12 via Wikimedia Commons

In a recent press release on Heathrow’s 2019 Financial Results, the CEO of Heathrow John Holland-Kaye said:

“Heathrow’s new runway is ready to turn ‘global Britain’ into more than just a campaign slogan. It’s the key to the UK’s success after Brexit and will ensure we stay ahead of our European rivals. …It’s time to get on with it.”

However, despite Holland-Kaye’s determination, this week Heathrow is bracing itself for another blow to its development.

Pressure to build alongside fierce opposition

Plans to construct the third-runway at Heathrow should have been completed by 2026. However, after the Civil Aviation Authority denied a funding extension at Heathrow, the date for completion was shifted. The airport now expects that work will be completed by 2028 or 2029.

That said, Heathrow is looking set to receive a further blow today (Thursday 27th February). Concerns around Heathrow’s expansion plans formerly centered around the adverse effect on local communities, but that’s now changed. Now, there is now fierce opposition to the construction of the airport amid climate change anxiety.

Anti-expansion protesters fear that Heathrow’s third runway will be in breach of the Paris Climate Agreement. To allow the runway construction and operation to go ahead would be, in their minds, allowing global temperatures to increase by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Protesters warns of global warming
Environmental protesters are against Heathrow’s expansion plans. Photo: Getty Images

Today there will be a court ruling in which judges will decide whether the runway is in-keeping with current environmental concerns. It’s not likely to work in Heathrow Airport’s favor.

What will happen to the third runway?

Earlier this month, another UK airport’s expansion was blocked. Bristol Airport, which was also looking to alleviate pressure from overcapacity, met with opposition on the grounds of climate change. Councilors agreed that the development of the airport did not support a reduction in rising global temperatures.

Could this decision levy opposition against Heathrow’s own expansion? It’s very likely. Global warming is becoming an ever-more serious concern that’s dictating all industries and their development. None as much as the aviation industry.

Heathrow’s third runway plans have also had to factor in a lot, including rerouting a major motorway and the destruction of local homes. With so much thought given to these conundrums, has enough been said for the environmental impact of the expansion? Perhaps not. Heathrow will have a lot of work to do to convince us that adding an extra runway at one of the busiest airports will not have an adverse effect on the environment.

If Heathrow’s expansion plans are not approved, airport officials will need to make a watertight argument which demonstrates just how Heathrow will mitigate the additional greenhouse gases it will produce.

That said, perhaps the court will determine that the benefits outweigh the consequences and the runway plans will be approved. Not only will that upset environmentalists but it would allow Heathrow to continue its third runway construction as normal.

How do you think Heathrow will fare in the court ruling? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.