What impact would a new runway at Heathrow have on the UK Economy?

The Airports Commission’s brief was to maintain the UK’s position as Europe’s most important aviation hub. The Commission’s conclusion and recommendation for a northwest runway (NWR) at Heathrow is not supported by its own evidence.

This Fact Sheet, updated to reflect the Commission’s Final report, shows that:

  • There is already significant spare capacity at almost all UK airports, including Heathrow, which has existing capacity for an additional 34 million terminating passengers a year.
  • Heathrow’s north-west runway expansion results in 17 million fewer passengers a year across the UK, fewer business passengers, fewer flights, and less connectivity.
  • Heathrow’s 41 million additional passengers a year result in a loss of 58 million passengers a year at other UK airports, including Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow.
  • An extra 22 million international-to-international transfer passengers a year (over 50% of the north-west runway capacity) provide little or no economic value to the UK.
  • Heathrow adds only 9 long-haul destinations, 2 million long-haul business passengers a year and 1 new domestic destination but 37 new short-haul destinations. All of this is offset by reduced connectivity elsewhere: the overall number of destinations from the UK is reduced by 3.
  • The £17.6 billion investment produces just £1.4 billion of net benefit (present value over 60 years), which is negligible in macro-economic terms and within the margin for statistical error. Omitted are: £15 billion of surface access costs needed to avoid road congestion and to meet air quality limits; full recognition of noise costs; and the negative impact on the UK aviation market.
  • State funding of surface access costs of £20 billion in total is unjustified, but without it, the scheme is potentially undeliverable.

For more info see rhcfacts.org/economy

Is a new runway at Heathrow deliverable?

With an additional runway, Heathrow is estimated to require £28 billion in debt and £6 billion in equity financing through to 2050 (Airports Commission estimate). Up to £20 billion (Transport for London estimate) will be needed for improved surface access.

So the project may require up to £54 billion in total. This may be difficult to obtain through the markets. For comparison, the total of all investment grade bonds issued by UK corporates in 2013 was around £46 billion.

State aid to fund this may require further Government cuts elsewhere in the economy, and may be contrary to competition legislation. It would also be difficult to justify given the spare capacity at other airports and the prevalence at Heathrow of transfers and leisure passengers from the UK, which provide little benefit to the UK economy.

For more info see rhcfacts.org/deliverable

What impact would a new runway at Heathrow have on UK Carbon commitments?

In 2009 the government adopted a target to reduce UK aviation emissions back to the 2005 levels of 37.5 million metric tonnes of CO2 by 2050, which is 25% of the UK’s total CO2.

Carbon capping may provide some scope to meet this but would result in re-distributing growth to Heathrow at the expense of the rest of the UK economy. Carbon trading would challenge the rest of the UK economy for limited carbon credits and only be practical if adopted worldwide.

There is therefore a risk that Heathrow airport’s growth will be constrained even more than currently predicted in the Airports Commission’s modelling by the impact of carbon emissions, potentially rendering a third runway uneconomic.

For more info see rhcfacts.org/carbon

What impact would a new runway at Heathrow have on Air Quality?

The UK as a whole is already breaching legal air quality standards. Reducing these levels is challenging, and may be costly. Expanding Heathrow would increase local air pollution as the number of flights and passenger land based journeys to and from the airport rise. This could affect over 100,000 additional people.

Given that existing airport operations already result in a breach of legal air pollution limits, it seems unlikely that a third runway could be built while remaining within the law.

For more info see rhcfacts.org/air

What impact would a new runway at Heathrow have on Noise?

Heathrow’s noise impact dwarfs that of all European airports. It is estimated that 725,500 people are exposed to noise from Heathrow. The next noisiest airport, Frankfurt, exposes only around one third of this number. Heathrow night flights, from 4:30am onwards, currently impact at least 420,000 people.

Although World Health Organisation (WHO) guideline noise levels have been in place for over 15 years, they are not yet applied to Heathrow. If they were applied, the number of people exposed to Heathrow aircraft noise in 2050 could rise from 1 million to 1.5 million with a new Heathrow runway.

Heathrow expansion is likely to expose several hundred thousand Londoners to aircraft noise for the first time and the uncertainty of flight paths may blight London for several years.

For more info see rhcfacts.org/noise

What impact would a new runway at Heathrow have on the Local Economy?

The local economy will grow whether or not Heathrow expands. Expected Heathrow passenger growth even without an additional runway is as much as 30%. So any decrease in the number of jobs would be due to increased productivity and would happen over many years.

With an additional runway, the Airports Commission recognises that providing the number of houses and other infrastructure required for additional employees could be challenging. It has not yet been shown how sufficient housing could be provided to support Heathrow expansion.

For more info see rhcfacts.org/local

What impact would a new runway at Heathrow have on Surface Transport?

Demand for road and rail transport in London is set to rise substantially. 52 million passengers currently end or start their journeys at Heathrow. This, without a third runway, is set to rise to 90 million by 2050. With a third runway it will be 112 million – a 100% increase on today.

Transport for London (TfL) has calculated that an investment of up to £20 billion will be needed to support this increase. The consequences of inadequate investment would be poor travelling experience on public transport and increased resort to road transport, generating more air pollution and traffic congestion.

For more info see rhcfacts.org/surface

How would safety be assured with Heathrow expansion?

New flight paths need to be integrated with the general re-design of London’s airspace currently underway. Proposals for steeper flight paths on landing and for curved approaches to reduce noise raise new safety concerns. The multi-use of a single extended runway for take-off and landing has not been tested at any airport in the world, let alone one as busy as Heathrow.

For more info see rhcfacts.org/safety

About us

The Richmond Heathrow Campaign represents three amenity groups in the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames: The Richmond Society, The Friends of Richmond Green, and the Kew Society, which together have over 2000 members. We have been active in responding to the Airports Commission’s consultations, having submitted fifteen papers totalling 185 pages of evidence. Based on this evidence, we believe there is no case for an additional runway. You can contact us via email: contact@richmondheathrowcampaign.org.

For more info see rhcfacts.org/about