Heathrow or Gatwick? The war of words hots up

Heathrow Airport says it will reduce night flights and curb noise and pollution if it gets a third runway.

Heathrow and Gatwick Airports locked horns again this week following promises by Heathrow to reduce night flights and curb both noise and pollution if it is allowed to build a new, third runway.

Heathrow's latest pledges come ahead of a government decision expected this summer on whether to expand Heathrow or Gatwick. Heathrow said it will allow a longer quiet period overnight, with flights not allowed to land between 11pm and 5:30am, from their current 11.30pm finish and 4.30am start.

John Holland-Kaye, chief executive at Heathrow Airport Holdings, said they would bring in the new times in six and half years’ time if they were granted the right to expand. Last year, the Davies Commission recommended expanding Heathrow, but with strict environmental restrictions. The airport is promising to meet Davis’s calls for limits to overall noise and guarantees that local pollution would not get worse. 

Pro-Heathrow campaigners Let Britain Fly welcomed the measures announced by Heathrow. Gavin Hayes, director of Let Britain Fly, said: “The strong mitigation measures announced by Heathrow should be welcomed by all sides and could be a game-changer in the airport expansion debate, demonstrating that a new runway will not only deliver much-needed jobs and growth, but also ensure there is a new settlement for local communities that will make life better for people living near the airport. 

“After years of dithering the ball is now firmly in the Government’s court to get on and make a final decision on airport expansion as swiftly as possible – with this package of measures now on the table it’s decision time – there can be no more excuses for delay,” said Hayes.

Gatwick Airport hit back by claiming that “Heathrow cannot promise away the reality of its location” and restating that Gatwick remains the only expansion plan that can actually deliver for the UK.

Gatwick Airport CEO Stewart Wingate said: “This is a desperate last throw from a project that has repeatedly failed. Heathrow’s air quality plans, for example, fail the most basic credibility test. You can't promise no more cars with a third runway and at the same time to propose to expand the M25 and plan to spend millions on parking. 

“Heathrow has constantly failed the environmental tests and the public and politicians won't be fooled by yet more warm words which have been heard for decades. Rather than circling around a failed solution that will never happen, we should get on with something that can actually happen - only Gatwick can deliver for the UK. Heathrow can promise many things but they cannot wish away the reality of its location. An expanded Heathrow will newly impact hundreds of thousands of people currently not affected by aircraft noise - an expanded Gatwick would impact less than 3% of this number.”

Wingate said that Heathrow breaches air quality legal limits today and a third runway would only make matters worse and would consequently be unlawful. “Gatwick has established a track record of complying with all legal air quality limits and would continue to comply even with a second runway,” he said. 

 Heathrow’s latest promises were also criticised by Mary Creagh, chair of the Commons Environmental Audit Committee, who said that Heathrow had to go "much further, much faster" in tackling air pollution.

"Promises on future rail links and air pollution charges are seven to 10 years away. People living near the airport need action on air quality much sooner and one quick win would be slashing fares on the Heathrow Express to encourage more people to use it," Creagh said.

If you would like to contact Andy Walker about this, or any other story, please email