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London/Heathrow Third Runway Approved, Protests Abound

We’ve heard the beginning of this story a million times. Airport wants to expand, people protest, and the process gets bogged down for years and years. On the surface, that’s what has happened with Heathrow’s bid to build a third runway to alleviate congestion and to grow, but underneath, it’s a different kind of situation. And that’s why the recent approval to build the third runway has been met with wide-ranging protests.

Usually, the only people protesting airport expansion are those who live around the airport. They don’t like the noise and the traffic, even though the airport in most cases was there long before they arrived. And while we have seen that with Heathrow, the bigger protest has actually centered around the environmental impact on a broad scale.

It makes absolute sense to add a third runway at Heathrow. The airport is bursting at the seams, and there really aren’t any better options for more capacity, despite London Mayor Boris Johnson’s ill-fated support for a (zany) brand new airport in the middle of the Thames estuary. But many people in the UK are now saying that there shouldn’t be expansion because airplanes pollute too much. They don’t want more plane flights in London at all, despite the benefits that are brought to the population.

Look at some of these headlines . . . “Concrete and calamity at Heathrow” or “Third Heathrow Runway a Massive Step Backwards.” But it gets even crazier than that. “MP suspended from Commons after picking up mace in Heathrow protest” shows how people are really losing their minds over this. Many are saying that the government has let them down in the fight against climate change. I just have to shake my head.

People act like there are no efforts in the world of aviation to reduce emissions. That’s absurd. Engine manufacturers are jumping over each other to reduce emissions and increase fuel efficiency as we speak. And as those emissions come down, there’s no reason that we should restrict further air travel growth because of the tremendous economic benefits it provides.

It’s not like the government is completely ignoring climate change here. With the new runway, they have committed to building an intermodal hub for high speed train travel at the airport, something that may very well kill many short haul flights and encourage people to travel greener. The government will also restrict use of the new Heathrow slots that the new runway will open only to the greenest aircraft flying. On top of that, the government only approved half the new number of flights that were originally proposed.

The new runway won’t be built until 2015 at the earliest, and that means there’s plenty of time for people to predict gloom and doom. Some think the requirements to use only the greenest aircraft will fall under pressure, but I would be surprised. This is the right thing to do, without question, but if anything it will put even more pressure on Heathrow to focus on green initiatives.

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