Heathrow Airport will make an announcement about its plans to build a third runway “later this year”, its outgoing chief executive has said.
John Holland-Kaye, who will step down later this year, was asked about the airport’s £14bn plans for expansion at a recent Airport Operators Association conference.
According to The Times, he told the conference it is “critical we have an expanded Heathrow to connect all of the country”, adding: “It is so important we have a leading hub airport in the UK, which is why we need to get on and expand Heathrow.”
He argued that the importance of expansion “came to light over the pandemic. We’ve seen the importance of cargo and as the biggest port we kept the UK supplied with PPE during the pandemic.
“We really rely on more passenger planes to be able to do that. We saw just how much opportunity there was, not just for connecting to new markets like India, but also to UK regions which hadn’t been able to get [flights] into Heathrow because there wasn’t enough capacity.
“[The pandemic] really showed the opportunity connecting all of Britain to the growing markets of the world.”
According to Travel Weekly, Holland-Kaye added: “We have a big investment plan ahead of us… Longer term we will be looking at how to expand the airport and increase capacity. We’ll be announcing something on that in the next few months.”
While declining to give a timeframe for expansion, he commented: “We’ll have more to say on that later this year.”
Commenting on the issue, Alasdair Reisner, chief executive of the Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA) said his organisation had “long been in favour of expanding Heathrow as the best means of closing the UK’s aviation capacity gap”.
Despite the challenges of the COVID pandemic, he said that “aviation will still be central to the UK economy’s long-term needs as we recover from coronavirus and beyond”.
“We believe that the expansion of the UK’s main global aviation hub, undertaken in a manner that will enable the UK to meet our carbon commitments, must be a precursor to the UK’s long-term role after leaving the European Union,” added Reisner.
“The issue of airport expansion – which has been kicked into the long grass too often – must be tackled by the UK Government if we are to fulfil our potential as a global trading nation and a dynamic, successful economy in the 21st Century.”
In October, the then prime minister Liz Truss backed expansion, in contrast with her predecessor Boris Johnson, whose Uxbridge and South Ruislip constituency is close to the airport.
Current prime minister Rishi Sunak was among the majority of MPs who voted in favour of the Airports National Policy Statement in June 2018, which gives consent in principle for Heathrow’s expansion subject to certain conditions.
The Supreme Court lifted a ban on building a third runway at Heathrow in September 2020. The Court of Appeal had previously said the plan was unlawful because the UK’s carbon commitments outlined in the 2015 Paris Agreement had not been considered.
In Heathrow’s accounts for the year ending 31 December 2021, it said it would review its plans for expansion over the course of 2022. The next step would be to apply to the Planning Inspectorate for permission. If it goes ahead, the expansion will be privately funded.
The accounts stated: “While we have paused work to expand Heathrow during COVID-19, the crisis 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.”
A spokesperson for Heathrow Airport told Construction News that the review was ongoing and they could not give a specific timeframe for an announcement.