ABTA believes that there is a need for increased airport capacity in the UK.


    The Department for Transport (DfT) Aviation White Paper in December 2003 set out the Government’s plans for the future of aviation. The Government was generally in favour of capacity expansion across the UK and proposed new runways at Stansted and at either Edinburgh or Glasgow. A third short runway was also supported at Heathrow provided environmental issues could be resolved. Failing this a second runway would be considered at Gatwick (but not before 2019 when the agreement with the West Sussex County Council expires).

    The Government announced in January 2009 that a third runway and additional terminal facilities at Heathrow had been given the go-ahead (work expected to commence in 2015 with opening in 2019), once strict air quality and noise conditions were shown to be met.

    The political controversy surrounding new runways, and the local opposition they inspired, was aired extensively in the run-up to the 2010 General Election. This led the newly formed Coalition Government to place a moratorium on the building of any new runways in the South-East. Instead, the Coalition advocated a ‘better, not bigger’ approach to aviation policy.

    In autumn 2012 the Government announced an independent Airports Commission, chaired by Sir Howard Davies, on identifying and recommending options for maintaining the UK’s status as an international hub for aviation. Following a series of consultations on a variety of subjects including airport operational models, aviation noise, connectivity and the economy, the Commission made an interim report in December 2013 and a final report on 1 July 2015.

    The Commission’s analysis showed that expanded airport capacity was crucial for the UK’s long-term prosperity. Each of the three schemes shortlisted (second runway at Gatwick; two separate proposals for Heathrow) was considered a credible option for expansion. The Commission unanimously concluded that Heathrow Airport Ltd’s (HAL) own proposal for a new 3,500m runway to the north-west of the existing airport spaced sufficiently to permit fully independent operation, presented the strongest case and offered the greatest strategic and economic benefits.

    On 25 October 2016, following undertaking a package of further work on the air quality and greenhouse gas emissions implications of the three shortlisted options, the Government confirmed its backing for Heathrow Airport’s proposal for a third runway. 

    Draft Airports National Policy Statement

    On 2 February 2017, the Government published its draft Airports National Policy Statement setting out:

    • the need for additional airport capacity in the south-east of England
    • why Government believes that need is best met by a north-west runway at Heathrow
    • the specific requirements that the applicant for a new north-west runway will need to meet to gain development consent

    The NPS is accompanied by an Appraisal of Sustainability of the draft Airports NPS, incorporating a Strategic Environmental Assessment, an assessment of the policy under the Habitats and Wild Birds Directive, a Health Impact Analysis, and an Equality Impact Assessment.

    For a scheme to be compliant with the NPS, HAL will inter alia be expected to:

    • Add 6 more domestic routes across the UK by 2030.
    • Improve surface access so that over 50% airport users travel by public transport; this includes people with impairments; HAL must prepare a surface access strategy.
    • Demonstrate air quality will not affect the UK’s ability to comply with legal requirements; implement a package of measures to limit carbon and air quality impacts
    • Introduce noise mitigations to include a noise envelope, runway alternation scheme providing predictable periods of respite; ban on scheduled night flights of 6½ hours (HAL has offered 2300-0530).
    • Put in place bio diversity and ecological conservation, flood risk assessment, landscape impacts.
    • Honour its commitment of paying home owners 25% above market value rate plus costs for the compulsory purchase of their homes if needed to make way for the new runway.
    • Set up a Community Engagement Board.

    The Government has ruled out a fourth runway.

    The Heathrow expansion: draft Airports National Policy Statement consultation is open for 16 weeks to Thursday, 25 May. 

    Next steps

    • Separately, the Government is progressing work on developing a new strategy for UK aviation; updating the 2013 Aviation Policy Framework which will cover the whole of the UK and include interim solutions, regional connectivity, and the climate change impacts of aviation. 
    • Heathrow Airport is expected to publish its own consultation in summer 2017 on the design of the new runway and associated infrastructure.
    • Following Parliamentary scrutiny, a final Airports NPS is expected to be laid before Parliament for debate and vote in winter 2017-18.
    • Once this is approved, Heathrow would submit a Development Consent application to the Planning Inspectorate.
    • The Planning Inspectorate would expect to make a recommendation to the Transport Secretary in 2020 on whether planning consent should be granted.
    • The third runway could be operational by 2025-26.

    ABTA’s position

    ABTA welcomed the Government’s announcement that it would follow the Airports Commission’s recommendation that Heathrow should be allowed to build a third runway. Increasing airport capacity is essential to the UK’s economy, growth and global competitiveness and we are pleased that this decision has been arrived at after fair, transparent, and thorough processes and consultations.

    ABTA takes a long-term view on growing airport capacity. We have urged expansion at both Heathrow and Gatwick to meet the 2050 demand, rather than just 2030 capacity needs. The case for expansion at both airports remains clear: Heathrow is full and Gatwick operates at full capacity at peak times. Additional capacity is essential at both airports to cope with growing passenger demand and provide resilience.

    ABTA agrees that it is essential for environmental impacts to be minimised and mitigated. It is also vital that there is comprehensive public transport access to support demand. The scheme must be cost-efficient and affordable and passengers today must not be expected to pay for a runway that won’t be open until 2025-26.  

    ABTA has called on the Government to work across party boundaries and achieve a robust political consensus which will create the necessary infrastructure to deliver the new runway by 2025.  ABTA will work with the Government as well as the opposition parties to achieve this.

    In the meantime, it’s business as usual at all the airports and we need to see continuous improvements to the air passenger experience.