Heathrow Planes

What are the pros and cons for a third runway?

Thanks to a decision by MPs on 25th June, a third runway has been given the go ahead at Heathrow. The move comes after years of debate over whether Heathrow is the right place for this expansion, as well as the impact this will have, not just on the UK economy, but also on those who live in the immediate vicinity to the airport. The pros and cons of a third runway have been hotly debated – these are some of the key points to note.

The pros of a third runway at Heathrow

Airport capacity

The UK is currently struggling with airport capacity, something that many advocates highlight could have an economic impact in the near future. From being unable to meet demands for flights, to making Heathrow less competitive than other hub airports, such as Amsterdam and Paris, a lack of capacity will have a negative effect. A third runway at Heathrow is the fastest way to improve capacity and will almost double what Heathrow can currently do.

A cost effective solution

Heathrow is already part of a sound transport infrastructure and adding a third runway is the most cost effective way to improve capacity, as well as being the fastest. An extension of the High Speed II rail line could mean a direct link between Heathrow and Birmingham, spreading the benefits of the increased capacity further afield.

Heathrow is a major hub for UK transport

The Department for Transport forecast that air passenger numbers will increase to 400 million per annum by 2020 and 40% of the UK’s visitors from overseas are arriving into Heathrow.

A lack of capacity restricts UK businesses

For example Richard Branson of Virgin Atlantic said the airline has not been able to put on new routes for years.

The expansion will preserve and create jobs

Heathrow already supports 250,000 jobs in the area and the expansion promises to create tens of thousands more.

The cons of a third runway at Heathrow

Local interests

725,000 people already live under Heathrow’s flight path and this number will be expanded by the additional traffic resulting from the new runway. The noise and disruption suffered by local people is already a cause for complaint for many.


West London air pollution levels are already high – illegal in places – and the new runway will only add to this. According to John Stewart, of the Airport Watch campaign, with its new third runway, Heathrow will become the biggest emitter of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the country.

Social responsibility

Given the environmental impact of flying, many believe that it should not be made cheaper and more available but that the cost of flying should be high to reflect the associated social cost.

Other alternatives

Heathrow was not the only option to deliver the economic and capacity benefits of a new airport hub – for example, Boris Johnson MP supported a scheme in the Thames Estuary.

The business case

Many believe the business case for Heathrow is greatly exaggerated. There is an argument that in the near future, due to social responsibility, cost effectiveness or environmental concerns, business budgets for travel may be cut and more reliance placed on technology and teleconferencing, which means less flight capacity would be required.

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