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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Marnix (Max) Groot Founder of AirportHistory.org. Max is an airport development expert and historian.