Our innovative Heathrow plan could expand capacity without huge costs

Jock Lowe
IN JUST three weeks, Sir Howard Davies and the Airports Commission will publish a shortlist of ideas to solve a problem critical to Britain’s future success – how to enhance our airport capacity. We hope that our innovative Heathrow Hub concept – which is unconnected to any proposals from the current airport owners – will feature on the shortlist. We believe it provides the best answer to the difficult questions which Davies and his team have to consider on capacity, cost, noise, ease of construction, and ground transport.

So what is our idea? The most important element is runway capacity. Our proposal suggests increasing the length of both the existing runways at Heathrow to about 6,500 metres and simply splitting them in half. The first half would be used for landings and, after a safety zone of 600 metres, the second half would be used for take offs. Do this on both runways and the number of available aircraft slots would be doubled to 1m. This also avoids building a new third runway to the north of Heathrow, which would destroy at least one complete village and bring 200,000 new residents into the airport’s noise footprint. In any case, a third runway would soon prove inadequate.

Beyond capacity, our concept also suggests re-routing one junction of the M25 around the runway extensions and through an area which is mostly made up of reservoirs. This would assist in reducing congestion on the M25 and facilitate improved traffic flows near the airport. An additional important feature is a long overdue connection between Heathrow and the mainline rail network. The Great Western rail line and Crossrail run just to the north of Heathrow but, bizarrely, there is no station. We suggest the obvious, which is to build a station and a short connection into the airport. We have identified a large area of available land where it is possible to build anything from a station, a car park, or even a full working airport terminal.

Our Heathrow Hub proposal is also far cheaper than rival solutions. This is because it will be simple to do. It can be constructed in phases, uses existing runways and terminals, and requires the smallest number of houses to be relocated and compensated. URS, our internationally respected technical consultants, have drawn up the plans and estimate the total cost of runways, terminals, roads, and the station to be £12.5bn – to be fully-funded by private capital and not the taxpayer.

Finally, we address the crucial issue of noise. As there will be no new flight paths, no new residents would come into the noise footprint. Many of the excess slots that will become available with the new runway extensions can be blocked out to facilitate alternation of approaches and rest periods during the day. We have suggested that 200,000 slots be set aside for this purpose. In any case, it will be many decades before demand even comes close to requiring the full extra capacity available.

A particular benefit will come in the crucial early morning period, which is mostly taken up by arrivals. By utilising the new western runway extensions, the entire noise footprint will effectively be moved more than 3,500 metres westwards, dramatically reducing the exposure of some 250,000 residents in West London to the inconvenience of noisy early morning flights coming in to land.

Aircraft are also becoming quieter, and shortly all new aircraft will need to meet even more restrictive noise criteria. Furthermore, aircraft using Heathrow can fly accurately on approach but are currently not asked to do so, spreading noise over a wider area. This will change when the modern aircraft navigation systems are used by Air Traffic Control, enabling more to be done with precise approaches. Steeper approaches and improved pilot operating procedures could also help.

Heathrow is probably the best known airport in the world and has contributed greatly to the commercial success of the UK. It contributes about 1 per cent to GDP, not just in London but in the Thames Valley too, which is home to the European headquarters of 11 of the top 30 global brands. To say Heathrow is one of the jewels in the economic crown of our country is not an exaggeration. We are a global trading nation, and London is a premier global city and a major centre for tourism, culture, business, finance and diplomacy. We must retain this position and a properly expanded Heathrow is crucial to achieving this objective.

Jock Lowe is director of Runway Innovations and Heathrow Hub, the longest serving Concorde pilot, and a former flight operations director for British Airways. More details on the proposal can be found at www.heathrowhub.com