Proposals for a third runway at congested London Heathrow have been made public, but will face strong opposition

The UK government in November formally kicked off the debate over whether to construct a third runway at London Heathrow with the publication of a three-month public consultation.

There is strong support as well as huge opposition for the extra runway, which would enable the congested airport to handle 702,000 air traffic movements a year by 2030. Air traffic movements are presently capped at 480,000 annually.

On launching the consultation, UK transport secretary Ruth Kelly signalled government support for the third runway by saying: "If nothing changes, Heathrow's status as a world-class airport will be gradually eroded - jobs will be lost and the economy will suffer." However, she also pointed out that stringent environmental standards would need to be met: "Equally, I am clear that any decision on expansion has to be compatible with meeting tough local environment tests on noise and air quality."

Heathrow operator BAA has proposed the construction of a 2,200m (7,218ft) runway, located parallel to the two existing runways on the airport's northern side (see diagram). It also proposes the construction of a sixth terminal. The extra terminal and runway would require the loss of around 700 properties.

If approved, the third runway would come on stream in 2020. In the meantime, BAA is proposing the introduction of mixed-mode operations (allowing take-offs and landings on both runways rather than dedicating each runway to one mode), which it says could add up to 15% more runway capacity.

Airlines based at Heathrow - which operates at near-full capacity - are united in their support for the third runway. "We ­support it. London needs it economically, and all airlines are together in supporting it," says Tim Bye, deputy chief executive of UK carrier bmi. However, Bye hopes that if the runway is constructed it "will be used to relieve congestion, rather than to fill the airport up to 99% capacity again". He adds that the decision on whether to go ahead with the runway "will all come down to politics at the end of the day".

Proponents of the extra runway will face a fierce battle with local residents and environmental campaigners, who are resolute in their opposition to the proposals. "The fight to block a third runway at Heathrow is now one of the biggest environmental battles in Europe, and it's one we intend to win," says Greenpeace senior transport campaigner, Emily Armistad. "We're collecting voices of opposition from across London and the southeast and we'll be blasting them back at the people trying to get this runway built."

Source: Airline Business