Third Runway at Heathrow: What Does it Mean?

Roshan Patel

A lineup of British Airways long-haul planes at Heathrow Airport. Photo Credits: Roshan Patel (author)

London, a city known for its great history, diversity, and transportation systems, has been looking to expand its most far reaching commuting network: air travel. The plan to build an additional runway at one of the five major airports serving the city (excluding London City) has been in the making for nearly a decade. Each airport has valid reasons for expanding their respective airfields, however, the busiest of them all seems to be the favorite of the UK government: Heathrow.

Heathrow Airport, the busiest airport in Europe, has been approved for a third runway, of which, according to BBC, “would bring economic benefits to passengers and the wider economy worth up to £61bn and create as many as 77,000 additional local jobs over the next 14 years”. The additional runway, would open up more landing slots and opportunities to serve smaller secondary and tertiary cities domestically within Europe or intercontinentally as well.

A major drawback to those who live in the UK that wish to connect through the major European hub is that there are only 8 destinations throughout the entire region that are served with a direct flight to Heathrow, none of which are to the south of the airport. While Heathrow might be the UK’s hub to the world, to most people throughout the UK, it is not an airport for them; a third runway would help accommodate some regional jet traffic and could be used to link the hub with cities such as Exeter, Cardiff and Norwich.

A British Airways Airbus A380-800 departing Heathrow Airport. A new runway at Heathrow would mean more takeoff and landing slots for airlines, meaning more service for underserved markets in Europe and beyond. Photo Credits: Nick McGowan

Not only does this provide benefits for the future, in terms of growth and opportunity, but it also serves as a relief to the other two runways immediately after opening to alleviate congestion and lengthy arrival approaches. There are currently four arrival holding patterns used by Heathrow that can support 7 aircraft each. With a third runway, especially in the first few years of operation, the in-air delays are expected to decrease.

Despite all of the benefits, there are still reservations about the expansion of Heathrow concerning noise and cost, as well as the carbon footprint that the airport will create. However, an additional runway at any of the other four airports will be beneficial to said airport as it still provides more opportunities for flights to London from other untapped markets.

Considering all of the factors, and the fact that constructing the runway will have a positive impact on British airspace wherever it is built, it will be beneficial for the city as a whole, boosting air travel, providing economic benefits as well as creating more jobs. However, the advantages of another runway at Heathrow clearly exceed the advantages of the other airports. Whether traveling to or through London, another runway would clearly help the flow of air traffic into the city, expanding the gateway to the world for Londoners and creating a more viable destination for the rest of the world.