Decisions, decisions...Heathrow

Written by: Steve Leighton
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Finally. After previous false starts, an independent Commission, and seemingly years of agonising over where to put a 3km strip of concrete in a field in the South East of the UK, the Government has made the runway decision. The people wearing the Cheshire Cat-sized grin today are the staff and investors at Heathrow Airport - congratulations. Commiserations to both Gatwick Airport and Heathrow Hub.

It is fair to say that in a process as up and down as this one has been, it will only be truly possible to declare a winner once an aeroplane is actually taking off or landing on the new runway. Between now and the proposed operational date of the third runway there will be amongst other things: a public consultation, a national policy statement, a Parliamentary vote, a substantial planning process, potentially a judicial review or two, other legal challenges, airspace change processes, no doubt direct action protests, construction challenges, Brexit (of some sort) and at least three general elections. Clearly stamina, perseverance and crossed fingers still have a sizeable role to play in the process.

Prior to the new runway being available we have between thirteen to fifteen years' worth of passenger growth to accommodate with the existing airport, airspace and ATM infrastructure that is in place today. The additional growth is going to place pressure on the airports in the South-East to perform. Whilst Heathrow is mostly full from a movements perspective (still some scope for passenger growth), Gatwick is also filling rapidly, having grown particularly impressively in the last couple of years. The Airports Commission also expected London City to be full in the third runway timescales too. From new point to point services for short-haul destinations, through to feeder services to foreign hubs for long-haul, the passenger growth is all to play for.

In order for this demand to be fulfilled, the other South-East airports (as well as those further afield in the UK who are primarily 'spokes' to Heathrow's hub) will need to deliver incremental capacity growth or improve operational performance, so that as existing capacity is used it does not result in greater delays and poor passenger experiences. So whilst the announcement is clearly good news for Heathrow Airport, in the time between now and the third runway becoming operational there are plenty of opportunities for other airports to grow, enable new services and build strong relationships with passengers to position themselves for the future.

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