Over the past couple of decades, you may have heard rumblings about London’s Heathrow Airport adding a new runway. There’s been a lot of back-and-forth about the proposed project, but a recent ruling has it back in the spotlight.
Discussions of building a third runway at Heathrow have been ongoing for quite a while. In fact, building the runway has been called “the longest takeoff in history.”
The expansion was first recommended back in 1993 by an airport commission, but it took the government ten years to endorse the plan. Then, another fifteen years later in 2018, Britain’s Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling, finally approved the project. However, in February of this year, the Court of Appeals ruled that the project could not go forward because it didn’t sit with Great Britain’s obligations to the 2015 Paris Agreement.
The Paris Agreement of 2015 involved almost two hundred countries who collectively pledged to reduce their emissions to help combat climate change. Air travel is a huge (and rapidly growing) source of emissions and a key part of frequent travelers’ carbon footprints.
An additional runway at Heathrow will open up the airport to take on a lot more flights, increasing the collective emissions coming from the airport, and in turn, from the United Kingdom. This has made the project pretty controversial. Boris Johnson has even told protesters that he’d, “lie down with you in front of those bulldozers and…stop the construction”.
On December 16th, the United Kingdom’s highest court -the British Supreme Court- overturned February’s appellate court ruling that banned building the third runway at Heathrow.
The court unanimously decided that Grayling did indeed take the Paris Agreement into account sufficiently. While emissions resulting from a third runway do not support the UK’s current carbon goals, the court made the decision on the grounds that when Grayling initially made the decision the rules were not as strict.
What it Means for Travelers
Heathrow is the world’s most internationally connected airport often serving as a gateway between the United States/Canada and Europe. So, if you travel frequently, chances are you’ve been to Heathrow at least once and are wondering the impact this might have on your travels.
Of course, in the short term, it could make navigating the airport a bit trickier while construction is going on. While in the long term, more flights going in and out of the airport offer up more travel options, or may make it easier to find a good deal on a flight to London.
Before you get too excited or disappointed about the recent decision though, it will likely still be a while before anything concrete happens. At this point, it’s possible that Heathrow will no longer want to move forward with the plan due to poor public perception and the hit that travel has taken during COVID-19. It’s hard to justify expanding an airport when so many flights are getting canceled left and right.
Finally, according to the BBC, a Climate Change Committee has advised Heathrow not to expand unless regional airports reduce their service, in order for aviation emissions across the UK to balance out.
So, despite the latest Supreme Court decision, this long take-off isn’t over yet!
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