Simon Calder, also known as The Man Who Pays His Way, has been writing about travel for The Independent since 1994. In his weekly opinion column, he explores a key travel issue – and what it means for you.
Eleven years after the government appointed the Davies Commission to examine airport expansion in South East England, and eight years after it recommended a third runway at Heathrow, the project is still in limbo.
The UK’s main aviation hub has regained its status as the busiest and best-connected airport in Europe.
The airport says the UK would benefit from expansion: “By expanding Heathrow, the UK’s only hub airport, we would be able to connect all of Britain to the growing markets of the world, levelling up all of the UK by helping to create hundreds of thousands of jobs in every nation and region of the country.”
Heathrow retains government backing for expansion, after a series of legal challenges on environmental grounds ended in December 2020 with the Supreme Court reinstating the Airport National Policy Statement (ANPS).
But in the month when a new chief executive, Thomas Woldbye, took over at Heathrow, The Independent has learned that no decision on the next move will be taken until 2024.
In his first statement, the new Heathrow CEO said: “I’m looking for how we can make Heathrow even better for our customers and the British economy. It’s humbling to have the opportunity to take on the challenge and I’m excited to get started.”
Speaking to The Independent, Javier Echave, chief financial officer at Heathrow, said: “We are still loss-making and that’s why we are very much focusing on getting Heathrow back to profits first.
“The opportunity of having Thomas, I think, is having a fresh perspective to really interact with the consumers, with the airlines, but also with the regulator in terms of when and how is the best time to really restart the expansion.
“So hopefully, I think in the New Year, we will give you a more detailed update in terms of when and how it will take place.”
In the meantime, Heathrow’s main UK rival, London Gatwick, is pressing ahead with plans to turn its standby runway into a permanent second runway – with the potential to have almost as many passengers as Heathrow.
Heathrow does not expect to recover fully to the record level in 2019 of 80.9 million passengers until 2024.