Skift Take

The ongoing argument about how London can manage more flights won't die down until ground (or water) is broken or political battles stretch out so long that Frankfurt or another German airport becomes Europe's de-facto hub.

Dr Steven Barrett from MIT explains a new report which says a third runway at Heathrow would triple the number of early deaths from pollution linked to the airport.

A third runway at Heathrow would triple the number of early deaths from pollution linked to the airport, a new study claims.

In contrast, moving London’s main airport to the Thames Estuary – a plan championed by London mayor Boris Johnson – would cut the number of deaths, the report by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Cambridge University says.

Rendering of Thames Estuary airport by Gensler.

They say a third runway at Heathrow would increase deaths from air pollution linked to the airport from the current 50 a year to 150 by 2030, with deaths more than doubling to 110 a year even if the extra runway is not built.

A third runway at Heathrow would add a further 10 deaths a year because of an expected reduction in pollution at other airports, which will lose flights to the new, expanded hub.

The scientists say that moving the UK’s main airport to the Thames Estuary, the plan championed by the London mayor, could cut deaths by up to 70 per cent.

“On a nationwide basis, early deaths due to UK airport emissions decrease by a quarter relative to an unexpanded Heathrow,” they wrote in the report by MIT’s Laboratory for Aviation and the Environment, which looked at pollution emissions at the top 20 UK airports.

“In other words, airport capacity would be expanded and health impacts reduced under the Thames Hub scenario.”

As Dr Steven Barrett from MIT explains, the difference is explained by the south-westerly prevailing wind, which currently blows pollution north east from Heathrow into London.

Pollution from a Thames Estuary airport would be carried out to sea.

MIT said a full academic paper on the subject had been accepted for publication in the journal Atmospheric Environment.

Expanding Heathrow during the current parliament was ruled out in the coalition agreement in 2010.

The Government has appointed former Financial Services Authority chief Sir Howard Davies to lead an independent commission into airport capacity needs.

But his final report is not due until summer 2015 – after the next general election.


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Tags: green, lhr, london

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