Outrage as third Heathrow runway approved

Damage: At least 25% of an aeroplane’s carbon emissions are produced during take-off and landing.

Should Heathrow Airport get a third runway? Last night, after years of delays and squabbling, parliament approved a £14 billion expansion plan. But many are still against the idea.

It will cost £14 billion to build and will expose more than two million people to extra noise. Hundreds of houses will be knocked down. But after nine years of wrangling, plans to build a third runway at London’s Heathrow Airport have been approved by Westminster.

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling hailed it as a “historic moment”. He believes it could be built by 2026.

Although more people fly in and out of London than any other city in the world — 171 million in 2017 — the new runway has long been controversial. Local MPs were aghast — Boris Johnson once said he would “lie down in front of bulldozers” to prevent it. (Although he did not vote last night because he was out of the country.)

Others believed the money would be better spent expanding a regional airport, thereby redressing the imbalance between London and the rest of the country.

But the most powerful calls against the new runway came from environmentalists.

Journalist George Monbiot has described the decision was “collective madness”, while Green Party MP Caroline Lucas argues that the plans are incompatible with the government’s “commitment to limit air passenger growth to 60% by 2050”.

Around 70% of flights from the UK are taken by just 15% of the population.

Air travel has skyrocketed since the turn of the millennium as global wealth increases. In 2017 there were 4.1 billion passengers on commercial airlines, up from two billion in 2004.

And it is terrible for the environment. The aviation industry uses five million barrels of oil every day, the burning of which contributes around 2.5% to total carbon emissions.

Furthermore, unlike other sectors where there might be a greener alternative, there is currently no way to fly millions of people around the world without burning lots of fuel. This means that this proportion could rise to 22% by 2050 as other sectors become more efficient.

Did parliament make the right call?

Flight from responsibility

Expanding Heathrow will be a huge boost to British industry, argue business leaders. It will encourage investment in the UK and open new trade routes to the growing markets in countries like China and Brazil. This is a simple question of supply and demand: more people travel than ever before therefore more runways are needed.

But environmentalists are firm: this is a terrible idea. Hundreds of people will lose their homes, and green fields will disappear. Heathrow will become the largest centre for CO2 emissions in the UK. Aviation is one of the worst contributors to climate change; we should be cutting our number of flights, not increasing them.

You Decide

  1. Is expanding Heathrow Airport a good idea?
  2. Is it wrong to travel by aeroplane?


  1. Design a new airport for the 21st century. Does it have any special features? How does it address environmental concerns?
  2. Produce a timeline showing the key moments in the history of aviation and the impact they had on the rest of the world.

Some People Say...

“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.”

St Augustine

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Parliament backed the construction of a third runway at Heathrow Airport last night, with 415 votes to 119. It was recommended by the government’s economic sub-committee (chaired by Prime Minister Theresa May) earlier this month. The cost of £14 billion will be met by private companies, not taxpayers or government funds.
What do we not know?
Whether, in the coming decades, technology will make flying environmentally friendly. Electric planes remain a long way off. The main problem is that the batteries that would be used cannot deliver nearly as much power per kilo as jet fuel. We also do not know whether there will be another event — a financial crisis for example — that will cut demand for air travel.

Word Watch

£14 billion to build
Grayling also announced £2.6 billion in compensation for residents who would be affected by the extra noise of a third runway.
More people fly in and out of London
Following London in the top 10 are New York, Tokyo, Shanghai, Los Angeles, Paris, Atlanta, Chicago, Beijing and Dubai.
Boris Johnson
While he was mayor of London, Johnson planned to build a new airport on an artificial island in the estuary of the River Thames. Johnson is MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip in West London, a constituency that borders Heathrow.
15% of the population
Many of the most common destinations for this 15% are tax havens.
Global wealth increases
Virtually every airline and airport saw a drop in numbers in 2008 as a result of the global financial crisis, but in most cases the blip only lasted a year and the numbers continued rising at a similar rate to the years leading up to 2008.
Five million barrels of oil
Enough to fill 318 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.