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Frequently Asked Questions

Below are some FAQ’s on Heathrow’s expansion. For information on our first Airport Expansion Consultation, please see Airport Expansion Consultation Document. For all the information on our first Airspace Consultation, please see the Airspace Principles Consultation Document.

What was Consultation 1 about?

In October 2016, the Government announced that a northwest runway at Heathrow is its preferred scheme for the expansion of airport capacity in the South East. The Government then published its draft Airports National Policy Statement in February 2017 for consultation, setting out the draft policy for expansion at Heathrow.

Since then, we have been working hard to evolve the plans submitted to the Airports Commission. Between 17th January 2018 – 28th March 2018 we sought peoples views on these emerging proposals and options as part of a 10 week public consultation.

There were two parts to our consultation:

  • The first related to the physical changes on the ground needed to build a new north-west runway and operate an expanded airport.  The main Consultation booklet for this consultation can be found here.
  • The second related to potential principles that we can apply when designing the new airspace required for an expanded airport. At this early stage, were not consulting on future flight path options. The main Consultation booklet for this consultation can be found here.

For more information please see the question “What did we consult on?” below.

This was the first of two consultations planned by Heathrow on the proposed physical design for an expanded airport, and the first of three consultations on future airspace design for an expanded Heathrow.

When was Consultation 1?

The consultation ran between 17 January 2018 and 11:55pm on 28 March 2018.

Who can take part in our consultations?

Anyone who wanted to, was able to respond to the consultation, we welcomed views from all interested parties. People could respond to the consultation through a variety of channels either via internet poll, email or post.

The consultation was about the physical changes on the ground needed to build a new north-west runway and operate an expanded airport, the mitigation of the potential effects of the new runway, and the potential principles we could apply when designing the new airspace required for an expanded airport. As such we particularly wanted to hear from those living closer to the airport, who potentially may experience some of the effects of expansion.

We held open consultation events, where people were be able to learn about our plans, ask questions, and provide us with their feedback. Dates and venues for these events was published here.

Was Consultation 1 different to the Government’s consultation?

Yes. The Government’s recent consultation related to its draft Airports National Policy Statement (NPS)

National Policy Statements are put in place by the Government.They set out the Government’s policy objectives for the development of nationally significant infrastructure projects in particular sectors and can set out the amount, type or size of development that is needed nationally or for a certain area. Once an NPS is in place for a particular sector, it provides the primary policy framework for decisions on applications for development consent for nationally significant infrastructure within that sector. An NPS must be prepared in line with a defined process which includes public consultation and Parliamentary scrutiny.

The Government consulted publicly on its draft Airports NPS in February 2017 and held a 16 week consultation. It opened a short period of further consultation between October and December 2017 to allow updated evidence to be considered. The draft Airports NPS sets out the Government’s policy on the need for new airport capacity in the South East of England, its preferred location and scheme to deliver new capacity and the considerations that would be relevant to a future planning (known as development consent) application for that scheme.

In addition to public consultation, ongoing is the parliamentary scrutiny of the draft NPS by the Transport Select Committee, made up of MPs from across the different political parties. The Secretary of State for Transport has said there will then be a vote in the House of Commons, expected in the first half of 2018, to formally approve the Government designating (adopting) the NPS, if that is what the Government decides to do after the outcome of the public consultations on the draft NPS and the Parliamentary scrutiny of it have been considered.

If then designated, the Airports NPS will set out the tests that any application for development consent for a new north west runway at Heathrow must meet. This NPS process is run independently from Heathrow. The draft NPS is the Government’s draft policy document and it is for Government to consult widely and seek views from all interested parties, including Heathrow. Heathrow is simply a consultee in this process. Information on the draft Airports NPS can be found on the Department for Transport’s website pages on Heathrow Expansion, here.

Our own consultation which started on 17th January was designed to gather views on our emerging proposals, it was run by Heathrow and was entirely separate from the Government’s consultation on the draft Airports NPS.

What did we consult on?

There were two parts to Consultation 1.

Airport Expansion – This part related to the physical changes on the ground needed to build a new north west runway and operate an expanded airport.

As well as the new runway and terminal infrastructure, we need to use nearby land for construction and make changes to the local road network, the M25 and local rivers.

We have identified options for how we could deliver an expanded Heathrow. These are introduced in the ‘Our emerging plans’ and ‘Around the airport’ sections of our consultation website.  We also set out potential approaches to managing and reducing the effects of expansion on local communities and the environment, introduced in the ‘Managing effects’ section of our Consultation 1 website.

We sought views on these options and our emerging proposals at an early stage, and welcomed all feedback to help shape our plans. We expect to run a second consultation on physical changes to the airport in 2019, prior to submitting our development consent order (DCO) application (for planning consent).

The second part of the consultation is on Airspace Design Principles. An important part of expanding Heathrow will be the changes that have to be made to airspace and flight paths around Heathrow to accommodate the new runway. This is subject to a separate Airspace Change Process and  requires Heathrow to undertake three stages of consultation.

Before designing possible future flight paths, we need to build a set of principles or ‘rules’ that will form the basis for the overall design. We sought views on these principles in Consultation 1. Information on the principles consulted on can be found in the Airspace Principles Consultation Booklet, and on our consultation website in the section entitled “Airspace Design Principles”.

We then expect to run a second consultation on airspace for an expanded Heathrow in 2019, where we will present the geographic areas within which flight paths could be positioned. We will ask what local factors should be taken into account when developing new flight paths within these geographically defined areas known as ‘design envelopes’

Final flight paths will be consulted on at a separate, third consultation on airspace for an expanded Heathrow.

When will the runway open?

We are on track for the new runway to open in late 2025/2026. Consultation 1 was a critical step in delivering Heathrow expansion, and a major milestone to deliver Heathrow expansion in a way that is fair to our local communities, meets strict environmental tests, and connects all of the UK to global growth.

For all the information on or Airspace Consultation, please see the Airspace Principles Consultation Document.

What are you consulting on in the Airspace Principles consultation?

There will be three stages of consultation over the next few years to inform where the final flight paths will be.  Before designing possible future flight paths, we need to build a set of principles or ‘rules’ that will form the basis for their design. We sought views on some of these key principles in Consultation 1 – this was so that peoples views can help shape flight path options from the outset.

We will then use these design principles to create options for flight paths and will consult with you again – providing more detail – once we have started this work. The next, second, stage of consultation will focus on design envelopes, with flight path options covered in the third and final stage of consultation.

Because we are still at this early stage, we do not yet have any future flight path options to consult on.

When will we know where the final flight paths will be for expansion?

There will be three stages of consultation over the next few years to help us determine options for the final flight paths.  This is to ensure your views are considered throughout the airspace design process.  We will have more detail to share with each consultation. For the third and final stage of consultation known as ‘Flight path options’, we will be presenting final options and full analysis of each route. We expect this consultation to be around 2021.

Why does it take so long to design the new flight paths?

We will be developing an airspace design that best meets the needs of all stakeholders.  Finding out those needs and developing a range of options to meet them is necessarily a lengthy process, as defined by the CAA.  We recognise that this means there will be a period of uncertainty for communities living around Heathrow. However, the phased consultation approach will give you a number of opportunities to provide your views throughout the design process, and help shape the options from the outset.

In addition to this, Heathrow’s airspace is also affected by other airspace changes at neighbouring airports and airfields, along with moves to modernise airspace across the UK. Therefore, before Heathrow’s routes can be finalised, we must make sure they join up with the wider changes across the south east. This includes ensuring that the new routes can be safely operated within the air traffic control system. Consequently, Heathrow’s final flight paths are partly dependent on the development of other changes and vice versa.  This means that our timescales are partly linked to the other changes which are not expected to be finalised before 2021.  We are however satisfied that sufficient information (including environmental information on noise impacts) will be available during the development consent order application process (for the physical design of the airport) to allow those interested to make their views known at that time, having regard to the likely significant effects of our plans.

How will my area be affected by the new flight paths?

At this stage in the process it is not possible to know where or how many flights will be over particular areas, this is because before designing possible future flight paths, we need to build a set of principles or ‘rules’ that will form the basis for their design.  ‘Design envelopes’ will then be consulted on, before options for flight paths are developed.

We are developing a design that best meets the needs of all stakeholders.  Finding out those needs and developing a range of options to meet them is necessarily a lengthy process.  We recognise that this means there will be a period of uncertainty for communities living around Heathrow. However, the phased consultation approach will give you opportunities to provide your views throughout the design process, and help shape the options from the outset.

Who are you consulting with?

The airspace above London and the south east is one of the busiest in the world and it will not be possible to design flight paths for a new runway at Heathrow without affecting its existing flight paths. We also need to meet Government plans to modernise the whole of UK airspace to accommodate the move to modern navigational technology. This means that we will be redesigning the whole of Heathrow’s airspace. This will inevitably lead to changes to flight patterns.

Communities closer to the airport are likely to experience most change, however, some areas further away could also notice changes, albeit to a lesser extent. At this stage, nothing has been decided.  However, we want to ensure that all communities, not just those closest to Heathrow, have an early say is how Heathrow’s new flight paths are designed so this consultation is open to anyone who would like to respond, and so we are consulting over a wide area.

Why can’t you keep the same flight paths as today?

The airspace above London and the south east is one of the busiest in the world, and so it will not be possible to design flight paths for a new runway at Heathrow without affecting existing flight paths.

In addition, the modernisation of the UK’s airspace is required regardless of the expansion of Heathrow and will see the move to modern navigational technology known as Performance Based Navigation (PBN) which will inevitably lead to changes to where and how aircraft fly in the future.

While some change is inevitable, we could choose to prioritise designs that minimise the amount of change.  However, this would limit the opportunities to reduce noise in some areas.  We are therefore asking you for your views on how you would make design choices – please see our consultation materials.

How can I respond to this consultation without knowing how I will be affected by the future flight paths?

The Airspace Change Process only requires us to consult once on final options.  However, we recognise that some people will want to contribute from the outset before options have been developed, hence our 3-stage consultation strategy.  We encourage stakeholders to contribute at each stage as this is the best way to influence the process, however, you may wish to wait and only contribute once the detailed options are developed.

Who makes the decision on where the final flight paths will be?

After the final consultation on changes to airspace for expansion, we will finalise our proposed new airspace design and submit it to the CAA who will decide whether to approve the changes.

The CAA will consider a range of factors including safety, security, operational and environmental impacts. For certain types of airspace change, where there is a national interest or a significant environmental impact the Secretary of State may decide to intervene and to make the decision instead of the CAA. This is known as a “call in”.  The Secretary of State will refer to certain criteria to determine whether or not to call in.