London’s Heathrow: Expanding Lawyer Fees

London’s Heathrow: Expanding Lawyer Fees

The expansion of Heathrow Airport in London has been topic of heated debate since 1968.  (See our previous post on this topic by clicking: here).  In fact, in 2010, the British government declared that it was categorically opposed to both the ideas of runway expansion and mixed-mode operation.  And Theresa May herself once “put out leaflets to her constituents declaring her opposition.”  However, pressure from lobbying groups did not let up.  Heathrow Airport itself, it is reported, spent £30 million on the effort.  The money and effort paid off.  In September 2012, an Airport Commission was set up to assess the feasibility of the proposed expansion and provide an appraisal as to how the UK can “maintain its status as an international hub for aviation and immediate actions to improve the use of existing runway capacity in the next 5 years”. The Airport Commission’s final report was published in 2015.  It found that a third runway had to be built at Heathrow, in order for the airport to remain globally competitive.   But it still took more than a year for the British government to embrace its findings.

Why the hullabaloo? 

Clearly, expanding the airport will promote economic progress and growth in the region, and the UK in general.

First of all, as the Airport Commission determined, a third runway is necessary to maintain Heathrow’s status as a competitive air transport hub.  Runway congestion, has made it difficult for Heathrow to accommodate new routes.  Consequently, the price for airport slots at Heathrow are so high as to be significant barriers to entry – it’s just too expensive for some airlines to fly there. Increasing the number of available slots at the airport, by creating a third runway, would enable more airlines, including low-cost carriers, to operate from this major European hub as well as enhance competition, airport capacity, connectivity.  Above all else, it would drive down ticket fares.

Moreover, the expansion would create new jobs for the community and increase support to domestic feeder airports.  An expanded Heathrow will be able to provide for more passengers and air freight and reinforce its hub status in providing direct flights at high frequencies.  Air freight, for instance, is significant to the UK’s economy in that it brings about trade with countries outside of the European Union (EU). This is particularly significant now given the imminence of Brexit. Operating at full capacity increases delays and disrupts flights.  Since demand for travel is set to increase over the years, Heathrow must be able to compete now and in the future. Compared to other British airports in the vicinity of London,  Heathrow is the most well-connected in terms of terrestrial transport modalities.  It is easily accessible by the UK’s main motorways and is well served by an underground train system colloquially called “the tube” which enables passengers to travel to and from the Airport in less than half an hour. There are also coach buses and taxis available which complements a wholesome national transport system.

So what’s the problem?

The main disadvantage of a third runway is the noise and air pollution that will be brought about by more planes taking off and landing at Heathrow.  However with quieter and greener aircrafts with less carbon emissions, these concerns can be dampened. Indeed, the UK Government needs to take care not to infringe its own laws set out in the Climate Change Act 2008 where it states that “it is the duty of the Secretary of State to ensure that the net UK carbon account for the year 2050 is at least 80% lower than the 1990 baseline.” This resolution seems difficult to reconcile with the goals of increasing air traffic close to an already densely-populated city such as London.

Additionally, there is the problem of community destruction. A number of old buildings which are part of the UK’s heritage will have to be sacrificed in the name of progress. Residents of nearby villages will have to be moved and compensated.  This, coupled with the fact that there is a viable alternative in the form of expanding another nearby Airport (Gatwick), has led to persistent public backlash.  Boris Johnson has predicted that the proposal to build a third runway will be “snarled up” in court battles for many years to come.   And since Parliament will not be voting on the measure until next fall, we can only imagine the lobbying and jostling occurring behind the scenes right now as economic progress battles community values.


éClat Law is pleased to feature this second blog from guest blogger Vani Munisami.  Vani did her Bachelor of Laws at King’s College London and completed her Masters in International Law and Commercial Law at University College London. Admitted to the Bar of England and Wales, she has dabbled in various fields including Corporate, Employment and Arbitration. Her profound passion for Aviation and Space took her to McGill University where she is currently an LLM Candidate at the University’s Institute of Air and Space Law.   Click here for more from Vani.