London’s Heathrow airport, facing calls for its demolition, should remain Britain’s aviation hub and be allowed to build one more runway to add capacity while diminishing the impact of aircraft noise, its owner said.

Heathrow Airport Ltd. will today submit three alternative plans to the state-appointed Davies Commission on U.K. airport capacity, all capable of delivering extra flights by 2025-29 at a cost of no more than 18 billion pounds ($27 billion), making them “quicker and cheaper” than rival plans, the company said.

Europe’s busiest aviation hub is fighting for survival after London Mayor Boris Johnson said he favored a four-runway model at the existing Stansted airport or in the Thames estuary, with Heathrow replaced by a new borough housing 250,000 people. That strategy would cost too much, take decades to implement and lead to tens of thousands of job losses, Heathrow said today.

“After half a century of vigorous debate but little action, it is clear the U.K. desperately needs a single hub airport with the capacity to provide the links to emerging economies,” Chief Executive Colin Matthews said in a statement. “The best solution for taxpayers, passengers and business is to build on the strength we already have at Heathrow.”

John Holland-Kaye, Heathrow’s development director, said in an interview that three runways will provide sufficient capacity until 2040 at least, allowing the airport to fend off competition from the Paris Charles de Gaulle and Frankfurt hubs.

Heading West

The Board of Airline Representatives in the UK, which represents 80 scheduled airlines in Britain, said Johnson’s figures of approaching 70 billion pounds “do not stack up well” against the Heathrow plans. A survey of U.K. carriers showed 90 percent support for expanding the existing hub, it added.

Britain’s Institute of Directors said it also favors Heathrow, with the site “far easier to get to” than others.

Of the three proposals put forward today, Heathrow said its preference is for two westerly options, which would allow a new runway to be built with minimum disruption for the local community from both aircraft noise and demolition of houses.

130 Million Capacity

Both options would lift capacity to 740,000 flights a year from the current limit of 480,000 and cater for 130 million passengers, versus the 70 million handled in 2012, it said.

The westerly proposals envisage the creation of a full-length runway measuring 3,500 meters (11,500 feet).

One, focused to the northwest of the airport, involves a runway constructed on the site of a former sewage works and would entail the reconfiguration of the M25 orbital motorway. About 950 homes would go and the runway could be operational in 2026 at a cost of 17 billion pounds, Heathrow said today.

The other calls for a runway to the southwest, above two reservoirs, and would require a larger section of the orbital road to be tunneled. Some 850 houses would be pulled down and the project has a cost of 18 billion pounds, opening in 2029.

The third option, for a runway to the north of the existing ones, is quickest and cheapest but offers the least benefit in terms of noise, with the biggest impact on residential property.

The blueprint involves a runway measuring 2,800 meters — 800 meters longer than envisaged in a previous plan for the area around Sipson village, but 1,000 meters shorter than the hub’s existing strips. While all planes could land there, four-engine models such as the Airbus SAS A380 wouldn’t be able to take off.

Noise Footprint

The northerly project would cost 14 billion pounds and open in 2025. Some 2,700 homes would be demolished, with capacity raised to 702,000 annual flights or 123 million people.

Each of the three plans could also be turned into a four-runway solution if required in the future, the company said.

Expansion to the west of London would ease the impact of noise by extending flight paths away from the city, increasing the altitude of jets over the most populated areas. Each mile the runway is moved to the west puts arriving aircraft about 300 feet higher over London, Heathrow said today. Planes generally take off to the west at Heathrow, gaining extra lift from the prevailing winds, and fly in from the east to land.

Combined with quieter jet models and enhanced air-traffic control technology, even with a third runway some 10 to 20 percent of the 243,000 people within Heathrow’s 57-decibel noise footprint would be removed, the company said.

Demolition Plan

Johnson said two days ago that Heathrow was unsuitable for further growth because of noise, pollution and congestion issues and should be closed, adding that it would be “wrong” to build a third runway there and “catastrophic” to construct a fourth.

The government could buy Heathrow for about 15 billion pounds, raze it and use the 1,220-hectare (3,000 acre) site for a new town, easing a national housing shortage, he said.

Construction of a new hub would cost about 50 billion pounds, including transport links, according to Johnson, whose preferred site is the Isle of Grain in north Kent. The second option proposed by the mayor is for an offshore airport in the Thames Estuary, and the third for the expansion of Stansted.

The sites would reduce noise-pollution concerns, minimize disruption for the local population and easily accommodate four runways, he said. Building a new hub would also support 375,000 new jobs by 2050 and add 742 billion pounds to the value of U.K. goods and services, the mayor reckons.


London Gatwick has said it favors the development of a “constellation” of airports ringing the capital, rather than a one “megahub.” The world’s busiest single runway site would get a second strip, as might Stansted, with Heathrow also retained.

Gatwick, acquired by Global Infrastructure Partners Ltd. from Heathrow owner BAA Ltd. in 2009 and the biggest base for EasyJet Plc, Britain’s No. 1 discount airline, argues that major global cities are generally served by several airports.

Commission Chairman Howard Davies said in November he’d examine all options for securing additional runway capacity in southeast England, including the upgrading of Heathrow.

David Cameron has said that no decision will be reached until after the 2015 general election. The prime minister’s Conservative party is in coalition with the Liberal Democrats, who are opposed to any expansion of Heathrow, and he also needs to keep seats below west-London flight paths to stay in power.

Conservative lawmaker Zac Goldsmith, who represents Richmond, one of the constituencies affected, has previously threatened to quit if growth at Heathrow is approved, forcing a special by-election vote, and Johnson himself has said he’d be prepared to protest against adding flights there.

Residents of two west London boroughs close to Heathrow also voted almost 3 to 1 in May against building a third runway.

–Editors: Chris Jasper, Andrew Noel.

To contact the reporter on this story: Kari Lundgren in London at


To contact the editor responsible for this story: Benedikt Kammel at

Tags: heathrow
Photo Credit: A sign protesting against a third runway is seen in the village of Sipson near Heathrow Airport in west London August 28, 2012. Stefan Wermuth / Reuters