Go to content

Heathrow expansion- A brief guide to the most frequently asked questions

Expanding Heathrow is set to be one of the biggest infrastructure projects in Europe. It’s also one of the most debated. Our expansion plans have been developed and refined after years of consultation with stakeholders. After consideration of over 50 options during a nearly three year process, our plans were unanimously backed by the independent Airports Commission in 2015. Both the Government and the Transport Select Committee have endorsed the expansion of the airport, and a vote on the final Airports National Policy Statement in Parliament will take place in the coming days.

In this section, we answer the 12 most frequently asked questions we get about expanding Heathrow.

1. Is Heathrow expansion politically deliverable?

Political support for expanding Heathrow has been growing for years, with the latest polling showing that 75% of MPs now back a third runway at Heathrow. This complements broad support from Britain’s major business groups (CBI, BCC, FSB), trade unions (Unite, GMB, TUC, Prospect, BALPA), over 30 UK airports, airlines like easyJet and Flybe and more local people who support than oppose.

In addition to the Westminster Government’s support for the project, both the Scottish and Welsh Governments back expanding Heathrow, alongside support from the DUP in their 2017 election manifesto and a large number of Conservative and Labour politicians from across the UK. Their constituencies stand to benefit directly from the thousands of new skilled jobs and billions of pounds of growth from increased tourism and trade that expanding Heathrow will deliver.

2. What do local people think of your plan?

Since the Airports Commission process commenced in 2012, polling by Populus in the constituencies around Heathrow shows that more local people support expanding the airport than oppose. Over 100,000 local people have also joined community group Back Heathrow to show their support for expanding the airport. Heathrow is already an economic engine for West London and provides quality employment for one in four people living near the airport.

We know we will be judged by what we do rather than what we say – that’s why we’ve deliberately designed our expansion plans to treat local people fairly. We have set aside £700m to insulate local homes and will institute a 6.5 hour ban on scheduled night flights – one of the strictest in the world. We will create up to 40,000 new local jobs and double the number of apprenticeships to 10,000 – laying the groundwork to end youth unemployment in our local boroughs.

We’ve also established an independent Community Engagement Board chaired by Rachel Cerfontyne whose job it is to hold us to account when it comes to delivering our commitments both today and in the future.

We’re confident that expanding Heathrow is a net positive for West London and we will continue to prioritise engaging with our communities to deliver the project responsibly and sustainably.

3. Won't expansion mean far more noise for local people

No one likes aircraft noise – that’s why Heathrow has been working hard to design innovative ways to reduce its impact.

Over the past 30 years, we have implemented strict operating procedures at Heathrow, and encouraged airlines to use their quietest aircraft at the airport. Since the 1970s, despite a doubling of the number of flights, the population significantly affected by aircraft noise around Heathrow has reduced by around 90%. We believe the number of people impacted by aircraft noise will continue to reduce as we work towards a quieter, better future for Heathrow through the use of noise envelopes and our Noise Action Plan.

With expansion, we have pledged to introduce a 6.5 hour ban on scheduled night flights and offer a world-class noise insulation scheme, worth more than £700 million, and which goes well beyond existing UK policy requirements, for those living closest to the airport.

Our submission to the Airports Commission showed how a combination of quieter planes, quieter airport design, quieter operations and an extended night flight ban to 6.5 hours mean that it is possible to grow to 740,000 ATMs by 2040 while affecting fewer people by noise than were affected in 2013. The Airports Commission’s own analysis confirmed that this is possible and that’s exactly the plan we will deliver.

4. Won’t expansion worsen air quality?

We have an ambitious plan to treble our rail capacity by 2040 and enable 30 million more passengers to use public transport – tackling the real source of emissions affecting air quality: road vehicles. New projects like Crossrail, HS2 and western and southern rail links will help us achieve it. If needed, we could also implement an emissions charge which could be another way to reduce road journeys and support our sustainable transport plans as part of our “triple lock” guarantee. Our commitment to meeting air quality targets is sealed with a promise that capacity will only be released when it is clear that the airport’s direct contribution will not materially delay compliance with the UK’s legal air quality obligations.

Heathrow has a good record when it comes to reducing emissions from airport operations. Already, we have cut ground-based NOx emissions from airport activity by 16% between 2008 -2013. Our actions to reduce operational emissions and our performance on increasing the use of sustainable public transport have been influential in driving this reduction. Over the last 20 years, Heathrow’s passenger numbers have risen by almost 80% whilst airport-related road traffic has remained broadly static.

We’ve invested over £5m already in electric charging points at the airport, converted much of our fleet to entirely electric vehicles and are exploring how we can make the airport an Ultra-Low Emission Zone. Recent research has shown that with continuing innovations in electric vehicle technology, nearly 60% of the vehicles on London’s roads will be electric by 2030 making a significant contribution to improved local air quality.

5. Won’t expansion cost too much for passengers?

Currently, Heathrow receives on average £22 per ticket from airlines for passengers to use the airport – a relatively small amount considering the average ticket price airlines charge at Heathrow runs in the hundreds of pounds. This money helps us invest in providing a reliable and world-class experience for our passengers every time they use the airport. It means that nearly 98% of passengers are through security within 5 minutes, over 80% of flights depart on-schedule and nearly 99% of bags travel with their passengers – a performance nearly unrivalled amongst other hub airports and which has attracted more and more passengers year-on-year.

It’s also why Heathrow has been named by passengers as the Best Airport in Western Europe, Terminal 2 as the World’s Best Terminal and Terminal 5 as the fourth best terminal in the world. We have achieved our highest passenger satisfaction scores on record – with 84% of passengers rating their experience as “very good” or “excellent”.

But we know cost is important; that’s why we’ve agreed to expand the airport whilst keeping the charge per passengers close to current levels to ensure it is affordable. We’ve already cut the overall cost of expanding Heathrow by £2.5bn to £14bn and will continue to look for more options to drive down costs without compromising our commitments to local communities.

Heathrow achieving such an ambition on cost would be a remarkable result compared to other global hubs. Airports like Hong Kong, Singapore, Frankfurt and Dubai have all had to increase their charges to deliver new capacity.

6. What will happen to airfares with expansion

At the moment, rising demand to fly and heavily constrained supply at Heathrow means airlines can charge more for flights.

For example, one airline, IAG has over 54% of the slots at Heathrow. Their nearest rival, Virgin Atlantic, holds only 3%. Other airlines like easyJet cannot enter Heathrow at all. While good for short term airline profitability, this limits the competition at the airport and pushes up ticket prices.

Expanding Heathrow will relieve this constraint. It will unlock competition and choice for passengers, by enabling new airlines to fly from Heathrow and existing airlines to expand. It will mean more opportunities for airlines to compete on different routes. Research has shown that expansion will stimulate airline competition and will deliver lower airfares for passengers.

Passengers’ choice of UK routes has already improved by measures we’ve been taking. Over the last 18 months we’ve lowered domestic charges by 50 percent. This has helped encourage Flybe, for example, to launch routes to Edinburgh and Aberdeen.

7. How much will expansion cost UK taxpayers?

Expanding Heathrow will be entirely privately funded at no cost to the taxpayer. We have already invested over £12 billion of private money into the airport since going private in 2006, and backed by some of the most sophisticated investors in the world, will be able to secure further attractive private financing for our expansion without public loans or guarantees.

8. Is Heathrow really Britain’s biggest port?

Heathrow is Britain’s global gateway and biggest port by value for markets outside the EU, with over £100bn in trade goods travelling through last year, including over 30% by value of the UK’s non-EU exports. Almost all of this travels in the cargo holds beneath the feet of passengers bound for destinations like Shanghai, Santiago and San Diego. With expansion, we intend to double our cargo capacity at Heathrow and create up to 40 new trading links, helping more of Britain’s exporters reach customers in new markets around the world.

9. What do airlines have to say about the expansion plans?

The airlines that operate at Heathrow are clear – at a recent Transport Select Committee evidence session, IAG, Virgin Atlantic and Flybe told MPs that the airport must be expanded, that it will benefit the UK economy and that failing to do so would see growth at other rival European hubs to Britain’s detriment.

We’ve spent the past 18 months refining our plans with our airline partners. Our work has resulted in £2.5bn of identified savings which will ensure that we can meet the affordability challenge of expanding with airport charges staying close to today’s levels. We will continue to look for other ways to reduce costs without compromising on our local commitments.

Every pound invested at the airport must deliver value for money and is agreed by our airlines and our regulator. In the latest regulatory period, neither have disagreed with any investment made at Heathrow. No other airport in the world is subject to as much regulatory scrutiny or undertakes such a high level of consultation and engagement as Heathrow.

10. Why not break up Heathrow’s monopoly and introduce competition at the airport?

There is more choice and competition between airports in London than anywhere in the world. Passengers can choose from at least six different airports – City, Gatwick, Heathrow, Luton, Stansted and Southend – all owned by different bodies. In addition, competition for business is fierce across the major hubs of Europe and the Middle East.

Splitting up the operation of a complex airport is not a common-sense solution. No other country delivering world-class and growing hub airports – think of Singapore, Atlanta or Dubai – has adopted the fragmented model because it ultimately damages passenger experience and undermines competition between airlines at the airport. New York’s JFK is a prime example – during the recent snow that hit both the UK and the US, JFK’s operations ground to halt whilst Heathrow’s unified management kept the UK’s hub operational throughout.

Other examples suggest there are would be a reduction in airline competition. By having control of a terminal, an airline could have a say over the rate at which future flight slots are released, use of infrastructure or even set pricing. This has been the subject of court cases and competition issues elsewhere because it allows an airline to stifle competition and undermine consumers interests.

11. Aren’t there other plans – like the Arora or Heathrow Hub schemes – which are cheaper and quicker to deliver?

On a like-for-like comparison the Arora group plans appear to cost the same or slightly more than Heathrow’s latest estimates of £14bn for expanding the airport. However, with little publicly available detail, it is not clear if the Arora plans include community compensation, runway build or associated road and rail improvements. That investment has already been factored into Heathrow’s plans to deliver expansion whilst keeping airport charges close to today’s levels. Because the Arora Group’s plans have not had the scrutiny of the rigorous independent Airports Commission and Government’s further analysis as part of the NPS process, they are untested. Heathrow will seek to evaluate the scheme. But the actual price impact is unknown. Likewise, the real impacts on local communities are unclear. Arora seems to have no experience in building or operating a complex airport, so it is also unclear if they can deliver the critical hub capacity Britain needs, without delay.

The Heathrow Hub scheme was carefully examined by the Airports Commission which found it had fewer benefits and extra challenges to implement. The scheme appeared slightly cheaper before compensation was factored in, but it provided significantly less capacity with worse noise and other impacts for the local community. It would also involve using an un-tested concept with significant operational challenges. Analysis by both the Department for Transport and the independent Airports Commission found that Heathrow’s own scheme to build a new northwest runway would provide significantly more economic benefits and would be far better for the community than the Heathrow Hub proposal.

12. What will expanding Heathrow deliver for Britain?

Expanding the UK’s hub airport will benefit every part of the country. From Plymouth to Perth and Swansea to Southend, Britain’s exporters will have up to 40 new long-haul trading links, billions of pounds in growth will flow from boosted inbound tourism and investment and the project will drive the creation of thousands of new skilled jobs across the UK.

Passengers will benefit from lower fares and new connections, whilst those living closest can expect strict operating rules to reduce aircraft noise exposure, tough measures to improve air quality and millions of pounds in investments to improve their communities.

Heathrow expansion is about building Britain’s future and securing our prosperity for the next generation. We’re ready to go and Britain can count on us to deliver it affordably and sustainably.

How can you make your voice heard?

MPs are set to vote on Heathrow Expansion in Parliament today. We’ve made it easy for you to show your support for the project in just 2 minutes using our easy Contact your MP tool