In Brief

Third runway at Heathrow airport

THE ARGUMENTS FOR

Air passenger numbers are expected to double in the next 20 years and Heathrow, the world’s busiest airport, is already operating at full capacity. It has not been expanded since it was first built in 1946.

It is unusual for a major international airport to have fewer than three runways; this extension is needed to keep Heathrow competitive with its European rivals – Schiphol in Amsterdam, Charles de Gaulle in Paris and Frankfurt am Main. The projected extra 220,000 flights a year could contribute a potential £9bn to the UK economy from travellers using Heathrow as a stop-off point.

Trade unions support the plans and say that the major new building project will create thousands of jobs while it is being constructed and thousands more when it is completed. Those jobs will be especially valuable if the economic downturn continues.

The noise will not be as bad as people think. By the time the new runway becomes operational in around 2020, quieter planes will have been developed.

THE ARGUMENTS AGAINST

With the world threatened by climate change, it would simply be dangerous to encourage more air travel and the pollution it causes.

There are already multi-billion pound proposals for a new London airport built in the Thames Estuary. If such plans come to fruition, there will be no need to expand Heathrow.

Heathrow extension plans are hugely unpopular with the public, and some 50 Labour MPs, including cabinet members, have rebelled against the proposal.

Some London residents fear that a third runway further increases the risk of a devastating terrorist attack by increasing the amount of air traffic over central London.

The third runway will worsen air quality over London. The Environment Agency maintains that the added nitrogen dioxide pollution from a third runway is likely to breach EU regulations. Furthermore, added noise pollution will affect the millions of Londoners who live below flight paths.

Despite the ever-growing number of flights, Heathrow does not necessarily need a third runway. The problem could be solved with better air traffic management on the two existing runways, and by high-speed rail links between British cities. These measures would also ease gridlock on the roads around Heathrow.

The construction of a third runway will mean that 700 houses, as well as schools, businesses and even nature reserves will have to be destroyed.

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