Heathrow on hold as Court of Appeal blocks third runway ruling – London and England set to slip behind European peers for connectivity

28 February, 2020

London’s Heathrow Airport is one of the biggest most recognised hub facilities across the globe. But having already lost its title as the world’s largest international airport and soon expected to also slip behind Paris Charles De Gaulle as Europe’s largest airport, its influence is now potentially going to slip still further.

It may have taken years, some would say even decades, but the debate over much-needed new runway capacity for London and the South East of England is now seemingly back to square one. A major milestone judgement from the UK's Court of Appeal this week has found the Government's Airports National Policy Statement (regarding the third runway at Heathrow) was unlawful because it failed to take into account commitment’s to the provisions of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

READ MORE… You can see the full 83-page judgement ruling here: Official Court of Appeal Heathrow Airport ruling

But this ruling will call into question aviation expansion beyond London, but at other airports across the UK, Europe and even across the globe. More and more politicians are pledging to make their economies climate neutral, but this ruling highlights what exactly such a decision means for future development. It means that with immediate effect any infrastructure project in the UK could face legal challenge if it doesn't comply with the Climate Change Act, which mandates virtually zero emissions by 2050. That could also be replicated across the world to individual countries’ own sustainability pledges.

What does this mean for Heathrow? The ruling supporting the legal action from the group of councils in London affected by the expansion, environmental charities including Greenpeace, Friends Of The Earth and Plan B, and Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, over the Government's approval of the plans is significant, but not necessarily terminal for the project.

The judges have not completely ruled out the construction of a third runway at Heathrow in the future, as long as it fits with the UK's climate policy. With seemingly such strong opposition to air travel from environmental forces, this may be tough to achieve. Heathrow Airport officials have confirmed they will challenge the decision, but the government has said it would not appeal. Transport Secretary Grant Schapps tweeted that the new government’s manifesto “makes clear any Heathrow expansion will be industry led”.

This lack of government support could represent the final nail in the coffin for the long-running saga. We have questioned previously if Heathrow would get its third runway? Those chances are now seemingly even less likely.

The Blue Swan Daily reported earlier this month that London Heathrow will be overtaken as Europe’s largest hub airport by its Paris Charles De Gaulle rival. While, this may not occur in 2020 it will certainly happen over the next couple of years.

Our analysis of OAG schedule data highlights that if you take an average departure capacity growth rate of the past decade at each of Europe’s major airports and spread this across the next decade, Heathrow would slip down from being Europe’s largest to fifth largest airport in less than ten years.

Here’s some industry reaction to the Court of Appeals decision:

Heathrow Airport
“The Court of Appeal dismissed all appeals against the government - including on “noise” and “air quality” - apart from one which is eminently fixable. We will appeal to the Supreme Court on this one issue and are confident that we will be successful. In the meantime, we are ready to work with the Government to fix the issue that the court has raised. Heathrow has taken a lead in getting the UK aviation sector to commit to a plan to get to Net Zero emissions by 2050, in line with the Paris Accord. Expanding Heathrow, Britain’s biggest port and only hub, is essential to achieving the Prime Minister’s vision of Global Britain. We will get it done the right way, without jeopardising the planet’s future. Let’s get Heathrow done.”

British Chamber of Commerce
“Business communities across the UK will be bitterly disappointed that plans for a world-leading hub airport are now at risk. Without expansion, firms risk losing crucial regional connectivity and access to key markets across the world. The benefits of a third runway would extend far beyond south-east England. Hundreds of UK companies are already invested in the supply chain for expansion, and tens of thousands of additional jobs will be created if the project goes ahead. Heathrow and the wider aviation sector have set ambitious emissions targets, and like every industry, must continue to become greener. Britain's future depends on investment in a modern, integrated, low-carbon transport infrastructure that keeps trade flowing while minimising environmental impacts. There has never been a more important time to demonstrate that Britain is open for business. The government must back Heathrow expansion unequivocally and take all necessary steps to finally move the project forward.”
Dr Adam Marshall, Director General

Airlines UK
“Today’s decision is extremely disappointing. The Sir Howard Davies Airports Commission spent several years looking at airport capacity in the South East and was clear Heathrow is the only game in town, with other schemes being considered and ultimately rejected. The economic prize is enormous if expansion is done right, with airlines ready to respond to the unlocking of new capacity by creating new routes and helping to connect the UK to new markets and destinations, and Heathrow to regions across the country. UK aviation has committed to net zero carbon by 2050 and this factors in the emissions created by Heathrow expansion. It is not a question of being pro-aviation or pro-environment. Of course, the advantages of an extra runway won’t be realised if landing charges are ramped up and airlines can’t afford to operate at the airport – and our support for expansion will remain conditional upon Heathrow delivering on their commitment to keep charges at current levels. But we are clear that as a country we cannot keep fudging this issue if we are to maintain our credibility internationally, and we urge Ministers to appeal the decision, back expansion publicly, and ensure it delivers for the whole country.”
Tim Alderslade, Chief Executive

Board of Aircraft Representatives in the UK
“BAR UK will urge the Government to get Heathrow expansion back on track following the Court of Appeal ruling that the ANPS did not take due consideration of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. Airlines have rallied around the Government’s net-zero target and with the right commitment and effort sustainable aviation growth can be delivered.”
Dale Keller, Chief Executive Officer