Aviation Policy Document Fails To Mention Heathrow Expansion

Campaigners believe this signals shift in government policy

Heathrow says it plans to resume work on expansion
Heathrow says it plans to resume work on expansion. Picture: DfT

Groups campaigning against the expansion of Heathrow Airport are claiming that the publication of a new aviation strategy document by the government is indicating a shift in policy.

Flightpath to the Future, a 73-page document on the future of aviation in the UK that was launched at Heathrow this week, makes no direct reference to expansion at Heathrow or the Airports National Policy Statement – the legislation which acted as the enabler for expansion at Heathrow including the Third Runway.

Opponents of expansion believe that the government’s new 10-point approach for the future of UK aviation does not include increasing the size of the west London airport.

Instead, the document states that the government will “support growth in airport capacity where it is justified, ensuring that capacity is used in a way that is delivered for the UK”.

In 2018, the Airports National Policy Statement which advocated expansion was voted on in Parliament, which had a three-line whip by the Conservative Party.

Campaigners say this strategy may be a subtle acknowledgement from government at the scale of the challenges Heathrow faces, including its heavy debt burden and reduced revenue and an effort to refocus their attention on delivering any growth in the regions.

Paul McGuinness, Chair of the No 3rd Runway Coalition, said, “It is notable that Heathrow expansion fails to get a mention. Moreover, the document's thrust suggests that the need is fast approaching for a joined-up, national aviation strategy to preclude regional airports from being overlooked”.

Heathrow says that The Airports National Policy Statement (which grants framework planning permission for Heathrow expansion) remains Government policy and the new document specifically endorsed ‘justified’ expansion of airports. The company has paused work to expand Heathrow during the pandemic but believes that the end of lockdown has shown the pent-up demand from airlines to fly from Heathrow, as well as how critical Heathrow is for the UK’s trade routes and the risk to the economy of Britain relying on EU hubs which can close borders overnight. Heathrow says it plans to restart work on expansion later this year.

A Heathrow spokesperson said, “It is vital for the country that we rebuild the UK’s aviation sector on a sustainable trajectory, with continued investment in passenger safety and experience. We therefore welcome the Government’s long awaited ten-point plan. The necessary changes that will decarbonise and futureproof the benefits of flying can only be achieved when we all work together. We look forward to this opportunity through the new Aviation Council. Flightpath to the Future is the first step - now we need Government to bring pace to the policies that will allow the sector to fulfil the ambitions they are setting out today. Failure to do this, will only see this plan grounded.”

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May 27, 2022