London’s overstretched main airport will finally get a new runway. Maybe. In a decade.

And some people will definitely not be happy.
And some people will definitely not be happy.
Image: Reuters/Toby Melville
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British prime minister Theresa May has a grand plan to ease the strain on London’s main airport, Heathrow: to hold a long consultation, then maybe make a decision to maybe build a new runway that will be ready by 2025 at the earliest.

Expansion plans for Europe’s busiest airport have been constantly bogged down by strict planning regulations, and by opposition from environmentalists and prominent London members of parliament whose constituents don’t want to be under flight paths. Although the government’s announcement that it is backing a new runway met much fanfare, members of parliament won’t actually vote on the consultation until the winter of 2017-18.

Image for article titled London’s overstretched main airport will finally get a new runway. Maybe. In a decade.

Plans for a third runway at Heathrow have been mooted intermittently at least since 1990, and there’s also been a healthy campaign to instead build a second runway at Gatwick, London’s second airport. Delayed runway decisions have become such a fixture of British political life that Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport has taken to sending Heathrow a cake every time the government stalls action on a new runway. There’s a touch of glee to the sweet treats, though—the Dutch airport has gained a lot of business by taking Heathrow’s excess traffic.

May is in a particular quagmire over the expansion. The prime minister herself spent years calling on previous Labour government to nix plans for a new runway in blog posts now deleted from her website. Senior members of her cabinet will also be an obstacle; maverick foreign secretary Boris Johnson is expected to lead the opposition to the runway, having once promised to lie in front of the bulldozers should construction ever begin. And one Conservative MP, Zac Goldsmith, is resigning from his seat in protest, weakening May’s already slim 12-seat majority in parliament.

If the current plans do go ahead, construction is unlikely to begin before 2020 or 2021, according to the Airports Commission.