Heathrow denies shelving long-term third runway plan

Heathrow has declined to rule out a third runway despite a weekend newspaper report suggesting the plan had been scrapped.

The Sunday Times reported that new chief executive Thomas Woldbye had begun disbanding Heathrow’s third runway team in favour of exploring how to handle millions more passengers without expanding its footprint. 

It cited leaked details of the plans suggesting annual passenger numbers could hit 96 million by 2036, up from the record 80.9 million in pre-pandemic in 2019, if all of its initiatives can be realised. 

A “core” case was understood to forecast a rise to 86 million passengers.

Heathrow last week reported that passenger numbers recovered to 79.2 million in 2023 – the third highest in the airport’s history – and a target for a record 81.4 million had been set for 2024.

Suggested proposals to increase passenger numbers was said by the newspaper to include using more buses to transport passengers from terminals so that aircraft can be parked further afield. Other initiatives include more efficient use of the runway so that aircraft could take off and land closer together.

Increasing Heathrow’s annual flight cap from 480,000 to 505,000 was also said to be under consideration, but this would require government consent.

However, a Heathrow spokesperson said: “The speculation in today’s Sunday Times is wrong, and the plans and actions described are not reflective of our strategy for future growth. 

“Heathrow connects the whole of the UK to global growth, but we’re operating almost at capacity which limits the UK’s economic potential. 

“Of course we’re looking at how we can optimise the current airport to achieve short-term growth within our current infrastructure. 

“Longer term, we’re reviewing our plans to make sure the airport has the capacity to drive more global connectivity for the UK economy, while boosting the resilience of our operations for our customers, increasing competition for passengers and meeting our sustainability commitments.”

Meanwhile, responding to a report in the Sunday Telegraph of threatened strike action over cost-cutting plans to outsource security staff, the Heathrow spokesperson said: “We’re reorganising the way we work with third-party suppliers in a small part of our operation based on learnings from the pandemic and feedback from our customers. 

“Our customers expect us to consistently deliver excellent, reliable, and efficient service and this change will equip us to achieve this. 

“No jobs are at risk, and we have plans in place to keep the airport operating smoothly throughout this transition.” 

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