Environmental Issue Blocks Runway Construction


Heathrow Airport will have to prove that a proposed third runway falls in line with the U.K.’s commitments on climate change, the British Court of Appeal has determined. Environmental groups, town councils and the mayor of London brought the case and it was originally rejected but the appeals court overturned that decision. The court did not say the runway couldn’t go ahead, just that its proponents have to show that it meets the U.K.’s responsibilities as a signatory to the Paris Agreement. The accord mandates, among other things, a 20 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.

Climate activists celebrated the appeals court decision and predicted it would be the death knell for the project, noting it also has other issues. “The third runway is already on its knees over costs, noise, air pollution, habitat loss and lack of access, and now Heathrow has yet another impossibly high hurdle to clear,” said Greenpeace Executive Director John Sauven. Heathrow says it will appeal the decision but the U.K. government won’t take part in that. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he opposes the expansion and even British Airways is skeptical, largely because cost estimates have ballooned to almost $40 billion.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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  1. So…. people will have to drive farther and air traffic will make shorter connecting hops around Heathrow and that will save emissions? Just curious.

  2. They can solve the climate change issue easily here, shutter Heathrow, Gatwick, and Stansted completely. The UK, like the rest of Europe, has a good train system so passengers can easily travel to – from Manchester or even Glasgow to catch a flight. Heck, close all the UK airports for a better result. After all, Shannon is on the west coast of Ireland, closer to the US, and there is great ferry service across the Irish Sea….

    • Not sure everyone got the sarcasm – I find I usually have to include #sarcasm or people often reply completely agreeing with me 🙂

  3. I wonder if the court took into account the amount of jet fuel being wasted while the planes sit in long lines waiting to use the current two runways. An idling turbofan engine on a wide body is not exactly producing zero emissions. But, $40 billion for one runway? Are they paving it with gold?

  4. One way to reconcile these constraints is to have the industry fly fewer passenger-kilometres. That is one of the long-term ways to address the travel industry’s contribution to human-caused climate change. Fewer passenger-kilometres can mean fewer takeoffs and landings, which can perhaps mean that the present set of runways is adequate. Maybe the COVID-19 slowdown is a rehearsal of that? Let’s not take it as axiomatic that passenger-kilometres flown will increase without limit.

    • What is the percentage of the UK’s contribution to human-caused climate change based on observable data? There must be a quantitative number and is at least more than the margin of error in the data. Anyone?