Heathrow Airport third runway recommended by Airports Commission

Heathrow Airport proposed North West runway

A third runway has been recommended for Heathrow Airport by the UK government’s Airports Commission. Its study found that airfreight gross domestic product will increase by 3.3 per cent by 2040 with Heathrow expansion, compared to 0.3 per cent with Gatwick Airport.

Called the North West runway, it would be a full-length runway at 3,500 metres, and every type of aircraft operating from Heathrow could use it for take-offs and landings. According to the commission report, Heathrow’s North West runway scheme masterplan has provision for an expanded freight handling capacity within the airport boundary, designed to handle a, “significant increase in the airport’s freight operations. It could accommodate a rapid throughput of freight-handling across all areas of its airfield.”

Heathrow Airport states that with the third runway its cargo capacity could increase from 1.5 million tonnes today to three million tonnes. The members of the Airport Commission, set up by the UK government in 2012 to recommend options for UK runway capacity, were unanimous in their decision in favour of an extra Heathrow runway. At the commission’s press conference, its chair, Sir Howard Davies, says: “Heathrow is the freight airport and that is a very important part of the calculations.”

But, the commission is opposed to a fourth runway at Heathrow, ruling it out completely. This would mean a future three runway Heathrow at full freight capacity would mean more cargo would have to be flown in and out of other UK airports (see page two).

In an interim report, the commission had put forward a second runway at Gatwick as a possible option. In its final report, the commission’s arguments against Gatwick are that it is an airport that mainly serves short haul, low cost airlines, it does not have the long haul East, West routes needed for airfreight, and its location south of London is not advantagous for trucking shipments.

Heathrow, however, provides more than 70 per cent of the UK’s long haul flights, and carries more freight by value than all the UK’s other airports combined. The commission says of Heathrow’s long haul connectivity: “Industry projections show that the strongest growth for freight in the developed world is expected to be with emerging economies, emphasising the continuing importance of the role of Heathrow Airport as the UK’s most important freight hub.”

Heathrow’s freight operations are significantly larger than those at Gatwick. According to the commission, about 17 times larger in terms of tonnage and more than 170 times larger in terms of value. Heathrow’s motorway links are also important, it adds. Earlier this year Heathrow appointed a head of cargo, Nick Platts. He says: “We welcome the Airports Commission’s clear recommendation and their recognition that the benefits of expansion at Heathrow are, ‘significantly greater,’ for freight operators.”