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Managing Impacts

Expansion will bring huge opportunities and improvements to the local area, but also unwelcome impacts for those affected by noise and other environmental factors and most particularly for those who will have to relocate their home or business to make way for an enlarged airport.

Following the Government’s announcement in October 2016 that Heathrow’s north-west runway scheme is the preferred option to provide increased airport capacity, we have been assessing the design options for developing a scheme which meets the government’s requirements for an expanded airport, whilst responding to the needs of local communities and mitigating environmental impacts.

We are still working through this process, therefore there is not yet a fixed master plan for the expansion of Heathrow.  As a result, it is not yet possible to map out the exact locations where expansion will impact on local communities, beyond the areas proposed for compulsory and voluntary purchase or those in the immediate vicinity of the expanded airport that are likely to be impacted by increased aircraft noise. We will update these pages regularly as we develop and refine our plans.

We have been clear that the expansion of Heathrow should not be at any cost, which is why our plans involve significant proposals to manage airport impact.

We are committed to being a good neighbour and investing in the local area. We know that access to common green space, good quality jobs and local infrastructure is important to our communities and have set out a number of commitments for investment in these areas (see Local Benefits for more information).

Flight paths

The expansion of Heathrow will inevitably lead to changes to where and how planes fly in the future.

There are many different ways that flight paths can be designed – depending on whether they are being designed to minimise the total number of people overflown, the number of new people being overflown, or to provide respite and share the noise between communities.

Nothing has been decided yet.

Although approval to build the physical infrastructure for an expanded airport will be granted via the Development Consent Order (DCO), changes to flight paths will be confirmed through a separate airspace change process which is determined by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). However, both applications will be heavily connected.

The first opportunity communities will have to provide feedback on airspace design will be during our first consultation on the airspace changes needed for a third runway, which will take place at the same time as our first DCO consultation.

Consultation approach
To ensure that all stakeholders are engaged and have the opportunity to influence the design for future flight paths, we plan to carry out a multi-staged consultation over the next few years. This approach involves three stages of consultation on airspace change needed for a third runway:

Stage 1 – design principles

The first stage of our airspace consultation will seek feedback on the design principles for airspace changes. This consultation will ask people for their views on a set of principles that Heathrow should apply when designing new routes for the airport, for example, whether flight paths should be designed to minimise the total number of people significantly affected by noise, or to prioritise minimising the total of new people overflown, or to share the noise more fairly but affecting more people.

Stage 2 – design envelopes

Using the feedback gathered in Stage 1 we will develop a set of principles that can be used for designing new flight paths at Heathrow. We will use these principles to narrow down the area within which possible flight paths could be positioned.

These areas are known as design envelopes. At our second stage of consultation, we will consult on these design envelopes, and will ask for feedback on what local factors we should consider when determining where the route(s) could be positioned within these areas.

Stage 3 – flight path options (post DCO Consent)

Building on the feedback gathered at the previous two stages of consultation, at the final stage of consultation we will be presenting flight path options for each route (i.e. the actual routes that aircraft will fly). In this consultation we will be seeking feedback on proposed flight path options. The date of the consultation has not been confirmed but is expected to be around 2020/21.

Because of the extensive consultation process required, it is not possible to confirm right now where new flight paths will be. We recognise that this is a lengthy process, which means there will be a period of uncertainty for those living around Heathrow. However, by carrying out this phased consultation approach we will ensure that we carry out a transparent process that allows communities and all relevant stakeholders the chance to provide their views from the earliest opportunity.

Minimising aircraft noise

As we look to expand we remain committed to being a good neighbour. That means continuing to take our responsibilities to local communities and the environment seriously.

Modelling carried out by both the Airports Commission and CAA has shown that it is possible to significantly reduce the number of people affected by noise while increasing the number of flights at Heathrow.

In preparing our submissions to the Airports Commission, we found this could be achieved by the following:

  • Using quieter aircraft – by the time the third runway opens, 90 per cent of aircraft at Heathrow are expected to be next generation aircraft like the Boeing 787;
  • Increasing the time without scheduled night flights to 6.5 hours with expansion;
  • Maintaining runway alternation for communities living under the final approach paths;
  • Keeping planes coming into land higher for longer;
  • Alternating arrival and departure flight paths so that residents experience periods of time without overflight, something that isn’t done today;
  • And ending routine aircraft stacking.

We recognise that there will be some communities who will experience aircraft noise for the first time when the new runway becomes operational, and it is crucial that they, and communities who are currently overflown get there say on the design of Heathrow’s future flight paths.

As described above (see Flight Paths), all our designs for Heathrow’s future airspace and how we operate a three runway airport will be subject to consultation.

We have set out proposals to compensate residents most impacted by aircraft noise. You can find more information here.

Roads and rail

One of the main issues raised by local residents is how Heathrow can increase the number of flights and passengers without increasing congestion on local roads.

Heathrow already has a strong track record of increasing passengers without increasing road traffic. Over the last 20 years, Heathrow’s passenger numbers have risen by almost 80% while airport-related road traffic has remained broadly static. The number of passengers using public transport has nearly doubled from 10 million to 19 million and car use has fallen significantly amongst airport staff.

New public transport infrastructure such as Crossrail, HS2, Western Rail Access, Southern Rail Access and upgrades to the Piccadilly Line have the capacity to treble Heathrow’s rail capacity by 2040 and enable 30 million more passengers to use public transport.

Existing bus and coach routes will be improved and new connections developed, including an increase in bus routes and 24-hour buses, funded in part by Heathrow.

We will continue to encourage the use of car sharing and public transport by employees – better rail and bus links will increase the number of employees travelling to Heathrow by public transport.


Air quality

We understand that air quality is a real concern that needs to be tackled urgently in London and the South East for the sake of people’s health.

Aircraft themselves have little impact on local air quality. Pollution from aircraft once in the air disperses rapidly in the atmosphere with very little contribution to local air quality, and once aircraft climb above 500-600ft, the contribution that aircraft make to local air quality is negligible.

Pollution from road vehicles is the main source of emissions affecting local air quality. We have been clear that we will only expand Heathrow in accordance with air quality rules and during the Airports Commission process we made a commitment that, with a third runway, landside airport-related traffic would be no greater than today.

History proves this is possible. Over the last 20 years, Heathrow’s passenger numbers have risen by almost 80 per cent yet airport related road traffic has remained broadly static.

We have proposed a “triple lock” guarantee to ensure we play our part in helping air quality in the area surrounding the airport:

  • Meeting our existing commitment to improve air quality: by supporting improved surface access that would increase the number of people, both passengers and employees, using public transport and encouraging and incentivising the use of new technology and cleaner vehicles. This will include new rail lines to the north, east and west of Heathrow that will be transformational and put Heathrow at the heart of an integrated transport system.
  • Ensuring further options are ready to be introduced if required to reduce traffic: We are developing options to improve air quality that can be implemented if needed. An airport congestion charge is a good example as it would help to reduce road journeys, reduce emissions and support more sustainable travel patterns. We will consult on our air quality proposals as part of our DCO consultation.
  • Binding our commitment: by guaranteeing that new capacity at an expanded airport will only be released when it is clear that the airport’s contribution will not delay compliance with EU air quality limits