New Option for London Heathrow Airport?

Original post was published on December 24, 2014 with update to include the latest final Airports Commission report results on July 1, 2015.

London has been suffering from over capacity for many years. While many assessments and studies were performed, a concrete solution has not been finalized. Many ideas such as expanding London Gatwick Airport (IATA Airport Code – LGW), building a new airport at the Thames and building a new runway(s) at London Heathrow Airport (LHR) have been floating around with many opponents.  Back in November, a former Concorde captain Gwyn Topham introduced a new advertising campaign for his radical idea named the Heathrow Hub. What is it about?

London Heathrow Airport

Under the Heathrow Hub proposal, the focus is to expand one of the two runways used at LHR by 6,800 meters and create a gap of 650 meters to separate traffic.

Some of the benefits noted in the video proposal below include 1) shorter timespan to build a new runway through the building of the extension and gap, 2. lower costs than building a new or renovating an existing airport like LGW, and 3. manage local residents expectations by minimizing the noise footprint implications.

Costs and Timelines

The Airport Commission will issue its final report in Summer 2015 with a recommendation on London airport. If the Heathrow Hub proposal is chosen, it will cost an estimated 12 Billion UK Pounds and 8 years to build.


Heathrow Hub Cost Estimation

Information taken from Table 8-1 in on December 21, 2014 (All Rights Reserved)


Heathrow Hub Proposal

Image is taken from on December 21, 2014 (All Rights Reserved)


The idea to extend a runway such that it can operate as two independent ones is a novel idea. There are many benefits noted above. However the key to success is whether regulators would be able to support the separation between the two runways. 650 meters is not a lot of room for error.  There is not a lot of airports with this type of setup for regulators to determine if the separation is safe.

The Airport Commission will issue its final report in the Summer of 2015. We will continue coverage in London airport development in future posts.

Other Options

The other options in the running are 1. build a third runway parallel to the existing ones in the Northwest part of London Heathrow, 2. build a new runway at London Gatwick, 3. Build a completely new airport at London Thames.

Experience The Skies expected the building a third runway at London Heathrow Airport as it is the hub for all international traffic in the city region. Additionally, the airport has the most connected transportation currently and will expand further with the introduction of the Crossrail network (refer to link for website) to be completed in the next 3 years. This will add new east and west connecting nodes to Heathrow that is not available for the other options.

Crossrail UK First Phase

Crossrail UK First Phase – Network Map – Image taken from Crossrail’s website on July 1, 2015 (All Rights Reserved)

July 1, 2015

After consultation with the public/airlines/experts, the Airports Commission released its final report today (refer to link for the press release).

The widely expected report endorses the expansion of a third runway at London Heathrow Airport.  As Sir Howard Davies, Chairman of the Airports Commission explain below,

A new northwest runway at Heathrow will not increase noise above current levels, will generate up to £147 billion in GDP impacts over 60 years and over 70,000 new jobs by 2050, and will add regular daily services from the airport to around 40 new destinations, including 10-12 new long-haul routes.

Sir Howard Davies said:

“Over the past 2 and a half years, the Airports Commission has reviewed the evidence without preconceptions, consulted widely, and followed an inclusive and integrated process. At the end of this extensive work programme our conclusions are clear and unanimous: the best answer is to expand Heathrow’s capacity through a new northwest runway.

Heathrow is best-placed to provide the type of capacity which is most urgently required: long haul destinations to new markets. It provides the greatest benefits for business passengers, freight operators and the broader economy.

Adding capacity at Heathrow also provides an opportunity to change the airport’s relationship with its local communities as some overseas airports have done. To make expansion possible the Commission recommends a comprehensive package of accompanying measures including a ban on night flights and a new noise levy to fund a far stronger and more generous set of compensation and mitigation schemes. And as there is no environmental or operational case for a fourth runway, the government should take action in Parliament to rule it out firmly and finally.”

The report also highlighted some restrictions to ensure air quality and noise controls would be managed. In particular,

  • a ban on all scheduled night flights in the period from 11.30pm to 6.00am, which is only possible with expansion
  • no fourth runway: the government should make a firm commitment in Parliament not to expand the airport further – there is no sound operational or environmental case for a fourth runway at Heathrow
  • a legally binding ‘noise envelope’ putting firm limits on the level of noise created by the airport
  • a new aviation noise levy to fund an expanded programme of mitigation, including noise insulation for homes, schools and other community facilities
  • a legal commitment on air quality that new capacity will only be released when it is clear that compliance with EU limits will not be delayed

Additional Analysis

Thus far, the UK government has not commented on the report or officially decided on next steps. However, London Mayor, Boris Johnson was the first to disagree with the findings by telling the BBC that,  “I think it’s very interesting that Sir Howard has tried to build in all sorts of restrictions on his proposed new runway – you can’t land there at certain times of the night, there have to be respite periods and so on and so forth.

“Heathrow airport will immediately move to try to negate the value of these and I’m afraid all you’re doing is intensifying a planning error building a colossal hub airport in the middle of the westerns suburbs of [London]. There are much better solutions.”

It is noted that all London airports already have curfews to manage air quality and noise controls.

If the UK government decides to build a new runway at London Heathrow, it would not be completed until the mid 2020s. There is also a potential for a second runway to be built at London Gatwick available by 2040/50s should expansion needs arise.

Final Call

The Airports Commission reported back to the government on schedule on July 1, 2015 with an endorsement for London Heathrow runway expansion. It will be important for the government to move swiftly to deter competing airlines (such as Emirates, Etihad Airways, Turkish Airlines, Air France, etc) and nearby airports (from Paris and Amsterdam) to take away international traffic marketshare as capacity is constrained.