Skip to main content

Heathrow north-west third runway option short-listed by Airports Commission

17 December, 2013

Airport (general)

A third runway at Heathrow is the best solution for linking UK to fast-growing markets
The shortlisted option is a new westerly proposal that delivers less noise
Heathrow will now work with local communities to develop proposals further

Heathrow welcomes today’s interim report from the Airports Commission, which short-lists a Heathrow north-west third runway as one of the options for solving the UK’s aviation capacity crisis. As the UK’s only hub airport, and the only airport with a proven ability to deliver direct and frequent flights to long-haul markets, Heathrow is the quickest, cheapest and surest way to connect the UK to growth.

Heathrow’s shortlisted option for a full-length runway located to the north-west is better than the 2003 Air Transport White Paper proposal for a short third runway. There will be fewer households within Heathrow’s noise footprint with a third runway than there are today due to quieter aircraft, steeper landing approaches, and the runway’s location further to the west. Unlike the previous proposal, the north-west option will deliver periods of community respite from noise with no aircraft overhead.

We will now work with local authorities, local communities and other stakeholders to develop its runway option further. We plan on consulting next year as we develop our proposals in more detail.

Colin Matthews, Heathrow’s Chief Executive, said:

“Britain is better off when we’re connected. The world economy is changing fast and Britain needs a world-class hub airport with the capacity to compete against Paris, Frankfurt and Amsterdam. A third runway is the quickest, cheapest and surest way of connecting the UK to growth.

“We have thought afresh about how a third runway can be delivered. Our new option is different from the previous proposal for a third runway and will deliver the flights Britain needs while continuing to reduce the total number of people affected by aircraft noise.”

We do not oppose other airports being permitted to grow or add new runways. Heathrow is the UK’s only hub airport and competes with Frankfurt, Paris and Amsterdam for transfer passengers to support long haul routes. Point-to-point airports like Gatwick serve a different market. Heathrow does not agree with Gatwick’s stance that there can only be one new runway in the South East. We are pleased that the Commission recognises that there is not a binary choice between providing additional hub capacity or additional point-to-point capacity. We would welcome a solution in which point to point airports were allowed to grow alongside the UK’s only hub airport to deliver choice for passengers and airlines.

The length of the process for making a policy decision on new runways harms UK competitiveness, creates unnecessary anxiety for residents whose homes may be affected and fosters an uncertain climate for business investment. Heathrow encourages the Government to make a clear decision as soon as the Commission releases its final report and consider what steps could be taken to accelerate any subsequent planning process.

Heathrow is today reiterating the commitments it made when it published this option in July. If the Government supports a third runway, Heathrow will:

  1. Connect Britain to economic growth - by enabling airlines to add new flights to fast-growing markets
  2. Connect UK nations and regions to global markets - by working with airlines and government to deliver better air and rail links between UK regions and Heathrow
  3. Protect 114,000 existing local jobs and create tens of thousands of new jobs nationwide - by developing our local employment, apprenticeships and skills programmes and supporting a supply chain throughout the UK
  4. Build more quickly and at lower cost to taxpayers than building a new airport - by building on the strength the UK already has at Heathrow
  5. Reduce aircraft noise - by encouraging the world’s quietest aircraft to use Heathrow and routing aircraft higher over London so that fewer people are affected by noise than today
  6. Lessen noise impacts for people under flight-paths - by delivering periods of noise respite with no aircraft overhead and providing noise insulation for people in high-noise areas
  7. Treat those most affected by a third runway fairly - by ensuring compensation greater than market value is offered to anyone whose home needs to be purchased
  8. Keep CO2 emissions within UK climate change targets and play our part in meeting local air quality limits - by incentivising cleaner aircraft, supporting global carbon trading and increasing public transport use
  9. Increase the proportion of passengers using public transport to access Heathrow to more than 50% - by supporting new rail, bus and coach schemes to improve public transport to Heathrow
  10. Reduce delays and disruption - by further improving Heathrow’s resilience to severe weather and unforeseen events

Notes to editors:

Heathrow’s north-west third runway option would raise the capacity at Heathrow to 740,000 flights a year (from the current limit of 480,000). That would cater for 130 million passengers compared to 70 million today, allowing the UK to compete with our international rivals and providing capacity for the foreseeable future. The runway is 3,500 metres, which is 1,500 metres longer than the 2003 proposal. It is a full-length runway and every type of aircraft operating from Heathrow could use it for take-offs and landings. Passengers would travel through a new Terminal 6 and extended Terminal 2 with satellite piers serving the new runway.

The north-west third runway option is to the west of the previous proposal for a short third runway at Heathrow. It performs better on noise and residential property impact than the option to the north and can be delivered comparatively quickly and cost-effectively and without some of the wider construction challenges presented by the south-west option.

The third runway would be constructed on the site of Old Slade sewage works, Harmondsworth

Moor, Harmondsworth, and Longford. The location to the west limits the number of properties that would have to be demolished compared to building a full-length runway on the previously proposed site. Properties in Longford and Harmondsworth would be subject to compulsory purchase under the option, but the communities of Sipson, Stanwell Moor, Harlington, Cranford Cross, Colnbrook and Poyle would be preserved. In total around 950 residential properties could face demolition. We are working to see whether this option could be developed to reduce the number of residential properties affected and to preserve the Tithe Barn and St Mary’s Church in Harmondsworth.

With a north-west third runway there will be 15% fewer people within Heathrow’s noise footprint in 2030 than today. This is due in part to the north-west option being positioned further from London than the existing runways. Each mile the runway is moved to the west puts arriving aircraft approximately 300ft higher over London. The option maintains the principle of runway alternation to provide periods of respite from noise for all communities around Heathrow.

Construction of the new runway could be completed in six years with an estimated operational date of 2026. The costs of the north-west third runway option is £17bn, which is comprised of £11bn of airport infrastructure costs, £2.1bn of surface access costs, and £3.8bn of environmental or community costs. Of this, it is estimated that up to £6bn might be funded by Government.

A third runway would provide benefits to the UK worth £100bn present value. Heathrow expansion would bring considerable benefits to the local community by protecting the 114,000 jobs already dependent on the airport and creating more than 70,000 new jobs.

A third runway delivers sufficient capacity for the foreseeable future but could be turned into a four runway solution should it ever be required. This is a more cost effective solution than building a new four runway airport from scratch when we may never need one.

Heathrow is better located for UK passengers than any other option and planned improvements to public transport, such as Crossrail, Western Rail Access, and High Speed 2 will improve this further. The Airports Commission has also recognised the case for new southern rail access.

Expansion at Heathrow can be met within EU climate change targets. This is made possible by continued improvements to aircraft efficiency which means that air traffic could double by 2050 without a substantial increase in emissions. If carbon trading is included, emissions would be reduced. Similarly Heathrow would improve local air quality in line with EU standards because of cleaner vehicles and the increased proportion of passengers using public transport.

Performance of shortlisted Heathrow north-west third runway option:

Heathrow today

North-west option

Passenger capacity



Maximum flights



Total Cost



Length of new runway



Noise (population within the 57dBA Leq contour)



Residential properties lost



Opening date



Ecology impact (hectares)



Volume of flood zone 3 storage lost (m3)



Grade I/II* listed buildings lost



Construction complexity



Contact information

Heathrow Airport media centre
Heathrow Airport media centre
Job Title
Heathrow Airport
+44 (0)20 8745 7224

Media Centre provided by NASDAQ OMX