After decades of wrangling over the issue, Britain’s government has made a controversial decision and approved a third runway and a new, sixth terminal for Heathrow Airport.
The decision also entails a landing curfew, so arrivals in the very early morning will end. British Airways, Cathay Pacific and Virgin Atlantic will have to delay their departures from Hong Kong until after midnight so they touch down no earlier than 0530 in London, the BBC reported.
Plans involve a new runway and a new terminal to serve it, Terminal 6. British Airways, with about half of all slots at Heathrow, is likely to stay in Terminal 5 and the Star Alliance airlines are tipped to remain in Terminal 2. Easyjet, which already serves four London airports – Luton, Stansted, Southend and Gatwick – is likely to expand to Heathrow and open a new base at Terminal 4, the BBC says.
None of this will happen soon. The UK Airports Commission says runway construction is not likely to start until 2020 or 2021. With legal challenges looming and a final vote by politicians in a year’s time, the runway’s earliest opening date is 2025. Critics say the final political vote could be delayed by three years, making the opening date 2029 or later.
The issue of Heathrow expansion has split communities and political parties for 25 years – the ultimate political “hot potato”. The equivalent in Australia is the seemingly endless decision on where to site a second Sydney Airport, which was batted to and fro for decades before the politicians finally opted for Badgerys Creek.
A big loser from yesterday’s British decision is London’s second-largest airport, Gatwick, which campaigned strongly for expansion plans to be redirected. Gatwick wanted the new runway, arguing that it is connected by fast train to Victoria and is located on main rail lines and motorways, giving it a large transport catchment in England’s north, south, east and west.
Gatwick said it was disappointed with the decision, which was “not the right answer for Britain”. Britain’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson also opposed the Heathrow decision, saying the new AUD 28.8-billion third runway for Heathrow is “undeliverable”.
Heathrow Airport supporters say a bigger Heathrow will help keep Britain competitive in the coming post-Brexit era, now that Britain has voted to leave the European Union.
Heathrow says the expansion will allow it to offer more direct flights to UK destinations and up to 40 new cities abroad such as Wuhan, Osaka and Quito.
London mayor Sadiq Khan said the airport was the wrong decision for both London and the UK.
“There are more people affected by noise because of Heathrow than people affected by the airports in Paris, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Munich and Madrid combined,” Khan said. “The air in London is a killer. It makes you sick and it’s unlawful.”
IATA threw its support behind the conclusion that Heathrow needs a new runway.
“It’s the right decision,” IATA said. “But it needs to have the right price tag.
“To maximise the potential of the new capacity, Heathrow costs must become even more competitive and cost effective. The government’s desire to keep charges close to current levels cannot be compromised. In fact, the aim should be much more ambitious given the already high costs of doing business at Heathrow.”
IATA continued: “The government’s objective to facilitate the expansion without hitting passengers in the pocket must also not be compromised. Passengers using the airport deserve value for money when they fly from Heathrow. Under no circumstances should travellers today be expected to pay for benefits that will only be enjoyed by those travelling after the runway becomes operational.”
Written by Peter Needham