ALL GOOD THINGS TAKE TIME
In democracies, development of big infrastructure projects can take decades. This especially applies to airports, which have a huge impact beyond their perimeter. For example, Amsterdam Schiphol's newest runway opened in 2003, 35 years after it first appeared in planning documents.
London Heathrow's third runway takes the cake however. Did you know that plans to construct new runways north of Heathrow date back all the way to 1946?
According to the airport's original development plan, initially Heathrow would boast six runways laid out in a Star-of-David pattern: two main east-west runways, which could handle the heaviest aircraft of the time, along with four shorter diagonal runways.
Passenger terminals were to be located in the middle of the field in order to optimize aircraft taxiing times to and from the runways.
In a second development phase, a further three runways in a triangular pattern would be built north of Bath Road, bringing the total to nine runways!
The expansion would have necessitated the demolition of the two nearby villages of Harlington and Sipson. The Illustrated London News article mentioned that: "This work will not be undertaken before 1950 in order to... give ample warning to the householders concerned."
The first six runways as well as the central terminal area were built as planned. The northward expansion, however, was thought to be costly and unnecessary, and plans were shelved.
FROM SIX RUNWAYS TO TWO
Due the expansion of the central terminal area, as well as the new generation of jets needing longer runways, three of Heathrow's four diagonal runways had been closed by the 1970s, leaving Heathrow with three runways.
The last remaining diagonal runway, runway 5/23, was decommissioned in 2003, leaving Heathrow with its current two runways.
Discussions about the construction of a third parallel runway resurfaced again in the 1980s. Between 1990 and 2015, three major studies were undertaken, all of which concluded that a third runway at Heathrow afforded the greatest benefits.
THE THIRD RUNWAY IS FINALLY COMING...OR NOT?
In 2018, the UK House of Commons voted in favor of the expansion, after which a public consultation started. According to the planning, the third runway would open in 2026, 80 years after it was first conceived!
However, in February 2020, plans were blocked by an appeals court on environmental grounds. At the time of writing, the project could face many more years of delays, and with climate change now becoming a political priority, there is a chance that the scheme will be cancelled altogether.
You can read many more details about Heathrow's history in the book Heathrow Airport 70 years and Counting, written by aviation journalist Kevan James. You can find more analysis on the recent court decision his website KJM Today.
What are your thoughts about London's third runway project? Let us know in the comments below!
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AMSTERDAM SCHIPHOL IN THE MID-1980S
As the aviation community celebrates the 100th anniversary of KLM, AirportHistory.org is preparing a detailed history on Schiphol Airport, which actually predates KLM by more than three years!
To get in the mood, I wanted to share this amazing illustration below of Amsterdam Schiphol Airport in the mid-1980s. When I was a kid, I used to have this image as a huge poster. I was so happy to find it back during one of my recent archival digs!
It shows the Schiphol that I knew as a kid: state-of-the-art, small and convenient! Since then, the terminal has doubled in size and several new concourses have been built and existing ones extended.
Have a close look at the details of the photo. The round structure adjacent to the terminal (center of image) is the "old" railway station. Opened in 1978, the station was torn down after only 15 years and rebuilt into the "Schiphol Plaza" complex we know today. Can some of you still remember the tunnel connecting the railway station to the terminal?
Note the open parking lot on the right, which is now a huge multi-level parking structure with offices built on top. Also note the still-empty polder landscape south of the airport.
The motorway running through it used to offer expansive views of the beautiful Dutch skies. Nowadays, the polder is cluttered with office parks, housing developments, infrastructure and--in the finest tradition--huge windmills!
Foreign visitors in the image include 747s of Braniff, CP Air, Singapore Airlines and Qantas, as well as DC-10s of Malaysian Airline System and Finnair, as well as a DC-8 from Surinam Airways. Surinam is one of Holland's former colonies.
Interestingly, you'll see planes are parked parallel to the concourse as well as nose-in. Indeed, for a number of years, Schiphol used a combination of the two, with newly built wide-body gates in the 1970s being nose-in positions. Gates for smaller aircraft were converted in the mid-1980s.
SOMETHING IS NOT QUITE RIGHT
I'm sure that readers familiar with Schiphol have already noticed that something about this illustration is "off" and that's what makes it so unique: Pier E, the second concourse from the right (then called Pier C) has been expanded with a "Y-shaped" structure, similar to the other piers.
Indeed, this was originally the plan. But in the early 1980s, it was decided to completely rebuild Pier E, with the design departing from this "Y" shape. See below for how it turned out.
From this interesting deviation and the visiting aircraft, I gather that the drawing dates back to the early 1980s or even late 1970s.
I have been unable to properly identify the artist who made this drawing. Only his given name "Hubert" is visible on the edge of the drawing. Can one of our readers perhaps help?
Hope you enjoyed! This was just a snapshot of Schiphol's history but we are working on a muti-part history as well as several photo specials.
Did you notice other interesting things about this illustration? Please share your thoughts below ↓
With a title inspired by the setting of the iconic 70s film "Airport", this blog is the ultimate destination for airport history fans.
Marnix (Max) Groot Founder of AirportHistory.org. Max is an airport development expert and historian.