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‘Significant Flaws’ Cited in London Heathrow’s Planned Third Runway

Aircraft line up and wait for takeoff at Heathrow Airport in London (Photo: AirlineGeeks | James Dinsdale)

An independent safety review into London-Heathrow’s North-West Runway (NWR) scheme has raised a number of concerns about the proposal. The report, commissioned by Heathrow Hub and compiled by Ebeni U.K., an aviation and engineering safety consultant, was published on Monday.

In a press-release, Heathrow Hub stated that they commissioned the review “in order to make up for the failure of either Heathrow Airport Ltd, the Airports Commission or the Department of Transport to conduct a safety review.”

The report highlights a number of issues relating to “safety, capacity, operating efficiency, impact on residents living under the new approach and departure routes and the environment.” Heathrow Hub supports the extension of the airport’s northern runway as opposed to the construction of a brand new one.

A conundrum that has been debated for many years, the question of how to expand one of the world’s busiest and most iconic airports is seemingly no nearer to a conclusion, despite repeated warnings that London’s airports are fast reaching full capacity.

The NWR scheme proposes a third runway to the north-west of the site, parallel to the existing northern runway, and is currently the favored option. In October, U.K. Minister for Transport Chris Grayling stated that “the north-west runway scheme at Heathrow is the one which delivers the greatest benefits soonest.”

In today’s report, however, the following key issues were identified:

  • Heathrow will not be able to safely deliver the 740,000 air traffic movements (ATMs) per year claimed by Heathrow Airport Ltd, the airport’s current operator
  • The middle runway will only be able to operate at 2/3 of the capacity of the other two runways due to safety constraints, resulting in less than 700,000 total movements
  • The third runway will bring significantly more noise than Heathrow Hub’s proposed alternative
  • The NWR will expand overflights across London to a significantly higher number of people, at least 60,000 in West London alone. It will also reduce currently available noise abatement procedures
  • The NWR proposal adds significant operational costs to operators, as a result of aircraft having much longer taxiing distances as well as less efficient approach and departure routes

Director of Heathrow Hub and former Concorde pilot, Captain Jock Lowe, stated that “the Ebeni review highlights the flaws in the NWR scheme that makes it impossible for it to deliver on its capacity, noise and respite targets.”

“Failing to ensure a proper safety review has been conducted is, I am afraid, a massive omission by Heathrow Airport and the Department for Transport. The sooner the Government realizes it has made a significant mistake in recommending Heathrow Airport’s expensive, complex scheme the better,“ said Lowe.

Lowe described his preference of extending the northern runway as “a superior scheme” which will “deliver the increased capacity required in a cheaper, quicker and simpler way.”

The report will now be submitted to the Department for Transport and the Commons Transport Select Committee, both of which are examining the expansion of Heathrow, for review and analysis. Until that is complete, Heathrow’s future hangs in the balance.

Andy Nelson


  • Andy Nelson

    Andy flew regularly from a young age on family holidays, but his interest in aviation really began when he saw Concorde flying over his grandparents' house on final approach. A Power Engineer by profession, his hobbies include writing, playing guitar, and taking a beating at squash.

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