The Analysis of the Environmental Impacts of the Proposed Third Runway at London Heathrow Airport and Why It Will Make Aviation Management Easier

Subject: Branding
Pages: 39
Words: 10130
Reading time:
41 min
Study level: PhD



The proposed expansion of Heathrow Airport through constructing a third runway has been faced with significant challenges over the years. Environmentalists, among other opponents, believe that the project is not environmentally friendly. Arguably, Greenhouse gas emissions (GHE) would increase if the project were to be implemented. On the other hand, the government supported the project claiming that it would lead to economic and social benefits to the locals. Therefore, this study seeks to understand the conflict of interest associated with the proposed third runway at Heathrow Airport.


The research applies the qualitative method in meeting the set aims and objectives. The data collected is qualitative and is obtained from peer-reviewed articles, reputable news sites, and government websites. Such research method is adopted because it is easy to conduct and is time-efficient.

Results and Discussion

The research identified several economic benefits that are associated with the expansion project. The benefits are highlighted and discussed to give a clear picture of how the project may aid the people socially and economically. Similarly, the environmental costs that would have to be paid upon the completion of the project were also analyzed. The discussion revolved around the benefits and environmental costs, although the sustainability efforts the managers could adopt are also considered in the research. The discussion creates a vivid understanding of the results obtained and offers a better insight into the addressed research questions.

Conclusion and Recommendation

The research answers the study’s aim and objectives by building on the results and appropriately discussing them. The aim of the research is met, and all four questions are specifically answered. Recommendations regarding further research are made based on the limitations that are encountered. The recommendations also include some of the potential ways of improving the understanding of the topic based on different approaches.


There has been much debate on the proposed construction of the third runway at London Heathrow Airport. In November 2007, the British government started an extensive consultation and research process, asking for the public’s opinion on constructing a third runway at the Heathrow Airport in London. London’s Heathrow Airport is among the biggest and busiest airports in the United Kingdom. For instance, in the year 2015, the airport served up to 75 million passengers and handled approximately 470,000 flights (Martin, 2016). The proposed third runway was to be constructed for economic reasons, such as increasing business performance in the region (Griggs and Howarth, 2016). Therefore, the plan was to expand the Heathrow Airport by building a shorter runway of 6,569 ft or 2,000 meters long together with a proposed passenger terminal and mega car park for an estimated number of 50,000 cars (Cairns, 2016). The proposed runway is expected to boost the economy by £61 billion and provide employment opportunities to more than 70,000 people by 2030 (Smith, 2017). The economic benefits expected from the project are lucrative and have prompted the proponents to argue for its implementation strongly.

However, critics argue that the construction process will have adverse environmental impacts (Hughes-Gerber, 2021). Moreover, the project will divert rivers and reroute current roads (Sandberg et al., 2020). Additionally, the expansion process will change the structural makeup of the horizontal plane under the flight path in the urban area and displace up to 700,000 people living in the anticipated flight path from their homes (McDonough, 2017). Also, the construction process will probably increase air pollution and adversely affect climate change (Griggs and Howarth, 2016). Therefore, the environmental concerns are significant and must be addressed before the project implementation.

Arguably, despite the potential negative impacts of the project, the expansion process will have significant social benefits for the locals and open up the United Kingdom to the rest of the world to a greater extent (Liebe,Preisendörfer and Enzler, 2020). The United Kingdom, like most of the developed countries around the world, is determined to achieve net-zero greenhouse emissions by 2050 (Pye et al., 2017). Additionally, with the increase in ‘green technology,’ it is possible to conduct operations that are conducive for the environment. As a result, the proponents believe that the project can be implemented while observing the environmental factors to maximize its potential social and economic benefits (Chao, Lirn and Lin, 2017). Additionally, the project will potentially increase the ease of management of the Heathrow Airport, London, as the expansion will raise the devolution of the management of the Airport (Avanzi and Zerjav, 2020). Thus, it is necessary to research the different sides of the debate to understand the topic better.

The Aim

To examine the potential environmental impact of the third runway at London Heathrow airport and its possible impact on aviation management.


  1. To explore the economic and social benefits of the potential expansion of London Heathrow airport (arguments of proponents);
  2. To understand the impact of the expansion of London Heathrow airport on air pollution.
  3. To critically compare the benefits of the project to its expected environmental costs.
  4. To assess the potential sustainability efforts that could be adopted by London Heathrow airport towards the expansion project.

The Rationale

Despite the debates on the topic, there is an important research gap as to whether the new runway can operate sustainably. Therefore, the study is necessary because it investigates the sustainability of the proposed new third runway at Heathrow Airport. The reduction of Airport Carbon and Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHG) can be used as a primary basis for ensuring sustainability (Carlucci, Cirà and Coccorese, 2018). Additionally, the construction process of the new runway and terminals can be developed by using sustainable materials, which will reduce its environmental impact. Ascertaining the speculations is important, therefore, there is a need to conduct the study.

Literature Review


The chapter delves into the scholarly contribution of various authors to the topic, aims, and objectives of the study. The information obtained is presented under different subheadings to bring a coherent understanding of various areas of interest. The findings of different authors are effectively sought out through the chapter to bring an in-depth understanding of various aspects relating to the proposed expansion project.

The Need for Expansion of Airports

In a fast-globalizing world, air transport is an important instrument in enabling economic, social, and cultural growth and development. Air travel facilitates long- and short-distance travels to urban and rural areas globally (Solvoll and Hanssen, 2018). Currently, there is an increase in air traffic and a projected exponential increase in the future. Therefore, there is a need to raise the number of airports and expand existing ones to address the growing demand (Cordeil, Dwyer and Hurter, 2016). The UK is among the many countries that have proposed an expansion project to their airports while encouraging digitalization of the construction industry (Biancardo et al., 2020). For instance, Heathrow Airport’s expansion project involves the construction of a new third runway, terminal, and car park. The project is estimated to bring about an economic increase of £61 billion while offering employment opportunities to hundreds of thousands of locals (Cairns, 2016). However, despite the economic benefits of the expansion, Heathrow Airport, London has received many backlashes for its proposed construction of a third runway.


Airport congestion is a significant challenge affecting many airports across the globe. The problem can be attributed to the fact that many airports have experienced a considerable growth in aviation traffic (Bongo and Ocampo, 2018; Liu et al., 2019; Oliveira, Lohmann and Costa, 2016; Yang et al., 2016). Therefore, airport facilities are stretched as many planes and passengers are forced to use the insufficient resources available (Shone, Glazebrook and Zografos, 2020). The increase in the number of flights and airplanes in a particular airport makes the existing resources, such as runways and terminals, insufficient to handle the high demand. As a result, major airports globally are forced to undertake expansions to meet the demand. However, despite many countries considering the expansion of their runways, the process is not feasible for all airports. Therefore, the management of airports is significantly affected as the airports over-exploit their current resources, which leads to their rapid depreciation and reduced customer satisfaction.

Airport traffic delays have been recorded to cause significant losses globally. For instance, between 2005 and 2016, Europe witnessed 40% delays in arrival flights (Wang and Wang, 2019). Moreover, Wang and Wang (2019) argue that the daily delays were approximately 29 minutes. The delays are responsible for some of the losses that airports have been making over the years.

There are many approaches that can be used to solve the problem of airport congestions. For instance, the use of multi-criteria decision-making (MCDM) models can help reduce airport congestion (Bongo and Ocampo, 2017). Moreover, the expansion of current airports can offer a solution to the challenge of airport congestion. Expansion projects can involve the addition of extra runways to reduce flight delays. As a result, airport management and passenger satisfaction can improve drastically as more flights will be able to use the airport while passengers’ waiting time will be reduced. Therefore, since airports play a significant role in ensuring that countries operate optimally due to the increase of international trade and globalization, it is important to consider such a solution-based approach to the problem of airport congestion.

Similarly, airline networks have a significant impact on airport congestion. The network structure of airports determines the frequency of delays in airports (Fageda and Flores-Fillol, 2016). Therefore, by increasing airport network efficiency, airport management can be improved significantly. The expansion process of Heathrow Airport can lead to an enhanced network efficiency since the airport infrastructure will be upgraded. Proper coordination of the three runways at Heathrow will ensure that the airport saves on its cost by exploiting economies of scale due to the increase in airport traffic as a result of expansion (Fageda and Flores-Fillol, 2016). Moreover, the competitiveness of Heathrow Airport will boost if the construction of a third runway is undertaken. The improvement will be attributed to the increase in the number of flight destinations and the number of connecting flights through the airport.

Major Challenges for the Heathrow Airport Expansion Project

The construction of the third runway at Heathrow Airport faces significant challenges. One of the major challenges is the backlash over the project’s environmental impact. Bell and Fisher (2020) argue that large-scale projects have varied benefits and impacts. Similarly, the authors claim that large-scale projects require a polycentric approach to decision making. As a result, Bell and Fisher (2020) hypothesize that the development of the projects will lead to controversies due to the uncertainties they hold about the future. Hence, when thinking about large-scale projects, it is important to conduct extensive research and consultation and ensure that most facets of the project are adequately regulated and monitored. The use of legal means is one of the most effective methods of undertaking mega projects.

For over a decade, the Heathrow third runway project has been faced with court drama and upheavals. Ghaleigh (2021) confirms that the proposed expansion of Heathrow Airport by way of a third runway has experienced a lengthy legal controversy. Moreover, the author claims that the acquisition of the land where the airport is located was performed through a litigation process. Previously, the location of Heathrow Airport was an orchard obtained through emergency wartime in 1946 (Ghaleigh, 2021). The court cases have taken a significant amount of time since the proposal of the expansion dates back to the 1960s when the suggestion for its site was first made by Harold Wilson (Timeline of Heathrow’s third runway – the longest take-off in history, 2021). The court cases and appeals have significantly delayed the implementation of the expansion proposal for decades.

Environmental Threats from Aviation Industry

There is an increase in the development and growth of the aviation industry. According to aviation projections, the trend is set to grow in the future (Boonekamp, Zuidberg and Burghouwt, 2018). Road transport is the leading energy consumer with 358.6 Mtoe, while the aviation sector follows with 47.7 Mtoe for international aviation and 5.54 Mtoe for domestic aviation (Prussi and Lonza, 2018). Mtoe is an acronym that represents mega or million tonnes of oil equivalent. As a unit, Mtoe is used to express the quantity of energy that is produced when a single mega tonne of crude oil is burnt. Moreover, there has been an increase in the recorded number of passengers using aviation travel. For instance, in the year 2016, there was an estimated 973 million passengers in the aviation industry, which is a 5.9% increase compared to 2015 (Prussi and Lonza, 2018). As a result, aviation, contrary to rail and inland waterways, has recorded an increase in energy consumption up to 2.0 Mtoe between 1990 and 2015 (Prussi and Lonza, 2018). Therefore, the data shows that there is a need for strategies to be employed in the aviation sector to reduce energy consumption, which has consequent negative environmental impacts.

There are many industries that significantly influence climate change. For instance, the upward trajectory growth of the aviation industry due to high demand and popularization has led to the subsequent impact on climate change (Jones, Hine and Marks, 2017). Ryley, Baumeister, and Coulter (2020) highlight that the aviation industry has been referenced as a contributor to climate change through the emission of greenhouse gases. However, the authors emphasize the fact that there has been limited research on the efforts for the industry to accommodate to the challenges of climate change (Ryley, Baumeister and Coulter, 2020). Therefore, with the increase in the number of planes and aviation greenhouse gas emissions, there is a need to monitor the industry. The heavy use of energy needed by airports makes it difficult to maintain a low level of greenhouse gas emissions.

The Need to Address Global Climate Change

International pressure to adopt the environmentally friendly approach for companies has led to the growth in demand for an immediate course of action. Banister (2019) claims that climate change has become a vital topic as the imperative to take urgent action increases. Additionally, the rise in greenhouse gas emissions has led to the escalation in the attention given to the topic of climate change and environmental impacts (Simpson et al., 2021). Banister (2019) reports that there has been an increase in the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from 354.4 parts per million volume (ppmv) to 408.5 ppmv between 1990 and 2018 (Banister, 2019). The upsurge is linked to the heavy dependence on fossil fuels over the mentioned period. Banister (2019) further argues that under the Climate Change Act adopted in 2008, the UK is committed to achieving a zero-net greenhouse emission by 2050 (Banister, 2019). The decision was reached due to the increase in demand to save the planet for future generations. Banister’s (2019) research shows that the goals of reducing the depletion of the ozone layer and climate change can be achieved by making changes in the transport sector. Optimal changes in the transport sector, especially the aviation sector, will provide opportunities to solve the problem of greenhouse emissions.

There has been a significant campaign for airport expansion projects to adapt to climate change. Burbidge (2018) argues that the momentum for the global aviation industry to increase resilience and adapt to climate change is consistently improving. Additionally, the author claims that there should be plans to adapt the aviation industry to continuous climate change. Further, Burbidge (2018) suggests that the first step in adapting the aviation industry to climate change is to determine the main priorities of the sector and finding the measures to improve climate change resilience. Burbidge (2018) argues that the need for climate change resilience is gaining increased traction as the public’s awareness is rising as a result of campaigns from activists and non-governmental institutions. As a result, more and more people become interested in saving the environment. Consequently, there is a surge in demand for better methods and techniques to provide solutions to the problem of climate change as the aviation industry strives to mitigate the potential environmental concerns (Baumeister, 2020). Baumeister (2020) further claims that it is important for organizations to conduct risk assessments of the potential threat of climate change. The measurements will provide a wide knowledge base and help in finding gaps that can be exploited to reduce the environmental impacts of the aviation sector.

Green House Gas Emissions

The aviation sector is experiencing an increase in demand for safety not only for flight passengers and employees but also for nature and climate change. Kılıç, Uyar and Karaman (2019) argue that corporate social responsibility (CSR) has taken center stage in the aviation industry due to the increase in environmental awareness by the public. The public is cornered with the amount of greenhouse gas emissions (GHGEs), depletion of natural resources, and climate change as a result of various economic activities such as aviation. Additionally, Kılıç, Uyar and Karaman (2019) claim that the heavy use of fossil fuels as energy sources in airports jeopardizes airport sustainability. The boost in the demand for air transport has led to a subsequent rise in the use of fossil fuel to transport the continuously growing number of passengers. As a result, there has been an increase in greenhouse gas emissions, which have a significant impact on the environment. The aviation industry has recorded an increment of a 6% bump in the use of energy in the last decade (Kılıç, Uyar and Karaman, 2019). The increase in energy use is directly proportional the increase in greenhouse gas emissions.

Compared to other transport sectors, the aviation industry is the only sector that has not witnessed a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions over the decade. Andrés and Padilla (2018) argue that EU-28 has gained a reduction of GHGEs by 22.4% in most sectors, with the exception of the transport sector, between 1990 and 2014. On the contrary, the transport sector depicted an opposite result as the greenhouse gas emissions increased by 13.3% over the same period. The escalation of carbon dioxide emissions can be compared to an increase of 104,558.5 thousand tons of carbon dioxide over the same period (Andrés and Padilla, 2018). Similarly, the expansion in greenhouse gas emissions coincides with a 24.2% increase in the use of energy over the same period, which is an equivalent of 352,936.3 thousand tons of fossil oil (Andrés and Padilla, 2018). The data indicates that there is a need to adopt urgent changes in the transport industry, especially the aviation sector, to reduce its environmental impacts.

Interestingly, similarly to the entire transport sector, which has fallen short of the greenhouse gas emission expectations, the aviation industry has been affected by this problem. Other industries have strived to reduce emission of gases such as CO2 as a way of addressing the problem of climate change. The production of CO2 from energy-related sources reduced between 2019 and 2020 because of COVID-19. Surprisingly, even with the reduction, the aviation sector was still responsible for 2% of the CO2 produced through human induction (Hasan et al., 2021). Therefore, as the entire transport industry strives to address the issue of greenhouse gas emissions, it is important for the aviation departments as well to formulate strategies of mitigating more emissions.

Noise Pollution

Noise pollution has a significant impact on human health and well-being. Collins, Nadybal, and Grineski (2020) argue that noise from transport modes can lead to hearing challenges and increase health risk factors to the affected individuals. For example, high levels of noise pollution can cause respiratory, cardiovascular, and high hypertension affiliated diseases and ailments (Collins, Nadybal and Grineski, 2020). Furthermore, noise pollution can cause sleep interference, especially for people living near airports, which can lead to changes in sleep patterns (Basner et al., 2017). Airport noise has been linked to poor academic performance of students living near the airports (Basner et al., 2017). Also, depression and anxiety have been attributed to the increase of airport activity for the individuals who are within the vicinity of the airport (Baudin et al., 2018). In addition, Collins, Nadybal and Grineski (2020) claim that in extreme cases, noise pollution from airports leads to a growth in premature mortality rates. The scholars also argue that noise pollution can bring about interference in the communal life of the people living near airports and busy road transport avenues. Therefore, the quality of life is affected due to noise pollution caused by the increase in the number of fights operating daily in a given airport.

Research shows that noise pollution affects various members of society differently. Casey et al. (2017) claim that noise pollution impacts each demographic in a unique manner. Therefore, the effects of noise pollution on individuals may vary from one group to another. For instance, among the elderly, hearing loss can be experienced as the outcome of airport noise pollution (Casey et al., 2017). Noise above 30 decibels can have severe interruptive impacts on people near an airport. Moreover, Casey et al. (2017) argue that noise pollution affects the body’s nervous system even when an individual is asleep. Therefore, the dangers of noise pollution in the transport and aviation industry is not insignificant as it can cause numerous health problems.

At the same time, scholars note that the aviation industry is controversial for noise pollution. Homola et al. (2019) argue that it is possible to reduce aviation noise pollution through the standard instrument departure (SID) routes optimization. The strategy will require that the aviation industry employ routes according to area navigation (RNAV) to minimize the noise pollution to the people living near the airport (Homola et al., 2019). Therefore, the solution to noise pollution requires smart approaches around the airport. For instance, the use of Boeing 787 airplanes, which are built to reduce noise pollution through advanced technology, can be significant in providing smart solutions to air pollution around the airport (Petrescu et al., 2017). Moreover, the assimilation of effectively calculated flight departure and navigation systems will help increase the efficiency of airport operations by reducing the time it takes planes to land or take off (Homola et al., 2019). Understanding the possible impact of noise pollution is important because it is one of the environmental concerns associated with the expansion of the airport. Research shows that the expansion of Heathrow Airport will expose more than one million of people to almost constant noise (Weston, 2021). Therefore, concerns regarding noise pollution must be analyzed and addressed as the expansion project is adopted.

Sustainability in the Aviation Industry

According to Kumar, Aswin, and Gupta (2020), airport sustainability can be defined as effective management that provides economic, operational, and natural resource integrity. Moreover, airport sustainability can be further viewed as the social responsibility of the airport in ensuring that the future of the airport is not jeopardized (Chang and Yeh, 2016). Therefore, through the use of airport sustainability methods and techniques, an airport can be considered viable or not viable for the long term (Dhakal et al., 2020). As a result, due to the high emission of anthropogenic gases, airports are among the most appropriate sectors for adopting green technologies in order to reduce their environmental impact.

One of the methods of decreasing airports’ environmental impact is through the use of so-called ‘green technologies.’ According to Baek, Kim and Chang (2016), airport sustainability can be achieved with the implementation of hybrid energy sources for electricity. The hybrid electricity sources will majorly come from the use of renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar energy (Kim, 2020). Scholars argue that airports are the most appropriate target facilities for the project of hybrid energy use because they require much energy to maintain and operate a large number of planes. Similarly, airports are the target for the alternative energy sources because they process a wide variety of activities.

Outcomes of the Literature Review

The literature review is highly instrumental because it gives a scholarly insight into the research topic. For instance, by providing scholarly thoughts on the need for expansion, the literature review justifies the debate on the project’s expansion. Similarly, the environmental threats discussed aid in showing that the argument in consideration is two-sided. Generally, the section is important because it shows that various scholars have explored different aspects of the topic.


In conclusion, the coherent and well-organized literature research above aids in enhancing a deeper understanding of the study’s research question and main concepts. The information obtained makes it possible to continue with more focused research to answer the research questions accurately and meet the set aims and objectives. Therefore, it is important to move to the research methodology section to discuss the research methods that will help in coming up with the expected findings.


Research Design

The study adopts a qualitative approach as it strives to meet the aims and objectives of the research. The application of qualitative research in this case was important in determining the best tools for collecting the intended data and analyzing it. Additionally, the nature of the research and the expected results make a qualitative research design highly relevant for the study.

Data Collection

To facilitate the success of the study, data was collected from online academic journals, reliable news articles, and governmental databases. Moreover, the findings gathered were qualitative because they did not take any numerical form. The research used peer-reviewed journal articles because they are more valid and credible sources of academic research compared to non-academic sources. Reliable news articles and government databases were also considered in obtaining the intended findings because they are been known to deliver information that is relevant and trustworthy.

Sampling Criteria

A random sampling selection method was used to collect the data from peer-reviewed articles that were based on the themes of airport expansion, climate change, greenhouse gas emission, airport delays, and airport management. These themes were considered because the research question revolved around them, and they were also helpful in collecting findings that would adequately aid in meeting the objectives and aims of the research. The research explored numerous research articles published between 2010 and 2021.

Data Analysis

The research adopts the use of qualitative secondary analysis as it is a preferred way of analyzing the data that it collects from the chosen sources. Qualitative secondary analysis is the application of qualitative data collected by other researchers for the purpose of answering other different research questions. The data analysis criterion is the most applicable and appropriate in this study because the data collected relies on secondary sources. Additionally, it enables the research to effectively meet all the objectives and provide succinct findings that can be used to make appropriate decisions and recommendations regarding the expansion of the airport.

Strengths of the Study Design

One of the strengths of the research design is the fact that it is time-efficient and easy to conduct. Since the research depends on secondary sources, there will be no need for analytical processes (Taylor et al., 2018). The analysis of the research took a relatively short time due to the approach that was chosen. Additionally, the research was simple because the sources used were readily available in various online databases, including Science Direct, Google Scholar, and EBSCOhost.

It is also important to note that the research was not costly because the materials utilized to obtain the data were free. The use of secondary research findings to conduct studies is generally a cheaper alternative because most of the sources are freely available to the public domain (Sherif, 2018). The cost-effectiveness of the research was an advantage because many other researches require significant funding to completely undertake them (Bree and Gallagher, 2016; Van Damme et al., 2017). It is important to note that the process of analyzing the collected data requires expertise, which is sometimes outsourced and adds to the financial burden of the research (Bree and Gallagher, 2016). Meanwhile, the current study reduces the cost of the research because it does not outsource any specific expertise in completing the study.

Additionally, the other advantage of this research is increased credibility. Secondary research provides a wider perspective and validity for a study because researchers are going through many articles and journals on the subject matter (Schenk, 2016). Therefore, through the use of current evidence-based, empirical, and data-driven research findings, the arguments made in the secondary research are more credible and trustworthy as long as the selected articles are relevant to the subject matter (Johnston, 2017). For instance, when undertaking research on Heathrow Airport, finding more than one article supporting the same result gives the argument more credibility. The probability of bias in the secondary research is minimized or avoided as the study provides accurate findings and results. Thus, this study is relatively accurate and free from potential bias.

Weaknesses of the Study Design

Despite the fact that the chosen study design has made the research a success, there are some challenges it has faced. Opponents of this design believe that the use of secondary research methods has some limitations. For instance, it was necessary to ensure the validity and credibility of the sources utilized, which was time-consuming (Lenger, 2019). The scrutiny on the secondary sources utilized in the research increased the time of the research, although not by any significant length. The second challenge that the research encountered was the difficulty in identifying the correct sources with the themes of interest (Weil, 2017). However, despite these few weaknesses, the research was accurately conducted and successfully completed.



The chapter briefly highlights some of the important results obtained after the secondary analysis of sources obtained. The results are in line with the research question, and they aim to provide information that aids in achieving the overall purpose of the study. Starting with the economic benefits and potential environmental costs, the section strives to succinctly answer the research question. It also gives clear points regarding some of the potential ways in which the airport can effectively address the challenges linked to the expansion project. Therefore, the section strives to present the results obtained from the sources that were analyzed.

Economic Benefits

The government, through the ministry of transport, argued that the proposed third runway would increase the economy up to £61 billion over a period of 60 years (Department for Transport, 2021). Moreover, the project was expected to generate job opportunities for the locals through the construction and operation phases of the airport expansion project. The government planned that more than 77,000 jobs would be created for the locals before 2030 (Department for Transport, 2021). Employment is a key factor that almost all governments in the world are keen to create for their people. Therefore, the promise of employment opportunities is a strong point of argument that the proponents of the project have clung on over the years.

Additionally, the airport would help the government to achieve the goal of providing apprenticeship opportunities to 10,000 individuals by 2030. This would also reduce the rate of unemployment in the region and improve its economy. The expansion is also expected to reduce the price of tickets for various flights (Özsoy and Örkcü, 2021). The reduction of prices is eminent because of the potential increase in the number of flights. The expansion of the airport means that the airport will have a better capacity to offer more services to the customers. This implies that the supply will match the demand for aviation services in the market, and this will definitely result in reduced prices. Lowered prices will have a significant economic impact since they will decrease the costs of various activities.

As a result of additional infrastructure, Heathrow would experience the increased airport management and operational efficiency. The airport would reduce the passengers’ waiting time and delays at the airport should the project be implemented (Francis, Humphreys and Ison, 2017). The number of airplane routes would be escalated due to the expansion process (Francis, Humphreys and Ison, 2017). Therefore, the expansion is appropriately targeted to achieve future growth as the demand is projected to increase in the future.

Further research identified that airport delays cause significant losses and interference in major airports (Wang and Wang, 2019). Therefore, there is a need for airports to increase the number of flights and enhance flight networks (Wang and Wang, 2019). Additionally, research by Bendinelli, Bettini, and Oliveira (2016) reveals that airport management would improve due to reduced airport delays and congestion. Mohri et al. (2018) suggests the use of hub-and-spoke model as a potential solution to the problem of delays upon the construction of the third runway. However, the study also discovered that airport expansion improves the hub-and-spoke model as it provides more capacity for the airplanes to conduct more flights, which enhances flight networks (Wu, Zhang and Wei, 2018). The benefits are instrumental in making arguments regarding the adoption and implementation of the project.

Environmental Costs of the Expansion Project

Climate Change

The study revealed that climate change is the major reason against the construction of a third runway at Heathrow Airport. Arguments concerning climate change were paramount in the legal battle between the campaigners who were against the expansion project and the government through its transport ministry (Josimović, Krunić and Nenković-Riznić, 2016). In February 2020, the court of appeal was faced with challenges as it pronounced that the construction of a third runway at Heathrow Airport was illegal since it did not follow the set climate commitments (Heyvaert, 2020). Moreover, the research found that the aviation sector, contrary to other transport sectors, such as road and rail transport, experienced an increase of 13.3% in greenhouse gas emissions between 1990 and 2014 (Singh, Sharma and Srivastava, 2018). The increase is significant because it raises crucial environmental concerns especially with respect to climate change.

Pollution through Greenhouse Gas Emissions

The research showed that greenhouse gas emissions were the center of attention for the fight against Heathrow Airport expansion by way of a third runway. Increased public awareness of the effects of anthropogenic carbon dioxide in the atmosphere led the anti-Heathrow campaigners to go to court to stop the project from commencing (Carrington, 2021). The legal battles based on air pollution have delayed the implementation of the project.

Noise Pollution

Research reveals that the completion of the third runway may result in nearly 47 flights flying in and out of London every hour. According to the study by Weston (2021), this could expose almost 1.6 million people to an almost constant noise. Further research showed that aircraft noise in the UK already poses health problems to the people living in the country. For instance, the noise from aircraft has been attributed to the deteriorating cardiovascular health of the individuals exposed to it (Basner et al., 2017). Studies by the World Health Organization established that noise exposure was a significant cause of sleep disturbance among the people living in the UK (Basner et al., 2017). Sleep disturbance is a problem because it affects the well-being of the people.

Additionally, studies showed that continuous noise exposure might affect people’spsychological health (Basner et al., 2017). However, research suggests that the impact of the aircraft noise on psychological health is not as consistent or strong as the other influencing factors. Studies done to assess the effects of aircraft noise on children show no effect on their cortisol levels or psychological health. However, aircraft noise is a potential threat to children with depression as it raises their cortisol levels (Basner et al., 2017). Therefore, noise pollution from the aircrafts results in health problems that cannot be ignored.

Potential Ways of Addressing the Environmental Concerns to Support the Project

Internal Waste Recycling

The expansion of the airport will increase the amount of solid and liquid wastes disposed from the airport. The waste would be produced from different sections of the airport including, but not limited to, airport offices, hotels, and cargo and passengers waiting bays (Sebastian and Louis, 2021). Managing the liquid and solid wastes is an important consideration that the company’s management should plan for adequately. The research discovered that the best approach for airport waste management would be recycling, the process of which would necessitate the airport to adopt reusable and recyclable materials in its service industries (Onyelowe et al., 2019). The research identified a sustainable waste management approach to be a system that is equipped with 3Rs: reuse, recycle and reduce. The use of the 3R method was found to be effective in airports that aim to achieve sustainable development goals (Zamroni et al., 2020). Moreover, the research discovered that, contrary to landfills, the 3R method was more effective as there are wastes such as plastics that are non-biodegradable (van Heek, Arning and Ziefle, 2017). Thus, recycling is a sure way of managing the organization’s waste.

Green Technologies

The research identified green technology as a solution to airport expansion. Due to the challenges associated with the expansion process, the adoption and implementation of eco-friendly technologies would help reduce the airport’s environmental and climate change impact (Ferrulli, 2016). Research identified the use of renewable energy and natural energy as the best methods of reducing the airport’s carbon footprint (Barrett et al., 2016). The utilization of these approaches can help in addressing the problem of air pollution.

ICAO Sustainability Plan

According to the International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) annual report of 2016, airports can significantly reduce the emission of greenhouse gases by adopting sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs). Since their first adoption in 2008, many airports have considered and embraced their use, hence ensuring joining hands towards environmental sustainability (ICAO, 2016). The efforts of embracing the adoption of SAFs in Europe are steered by the European Commission, which set a target of 3% to 4% penetration into the European Union by the year 2020 and a further increase up to 40% by 2050 (ICAO, 2016). ICAO also suggests the adoption of the e-fan project, which is a significant milestone aiming to aid in the decarbonization process (ICAO, 2016). Combining these factors can help London Heathrow Airport to address most of the environmental concerns related to the third runway project.


Benefits of the Project

The research established that there are many advantages linked to London Heathrow Airport expansion. One of the benefits of the airport’s expansion through a third runway would be an increased economic benefit. Part of the economic benefit of the project will be the creation of employment opportunities, which will consequently address the problem of unemployment. The government, through the ministry of transport, argues that by building the third runway, the country will experience numerous economic and social advantages. The economic benefits would be in the form of raised employment opportunities, as the project would create more than 200,000 local jobs (Singh, Sharma and Srivastava, 2018). Similarly, the project would open up the country to emerging markets, such as Asia and Arabian countries, since the runway would increase Heathrow Airport’s capacity.

Due to the improvement of the facilities, there would be an increase in the number of flights through the airport, enhancing the ease of flying in and out. Hence, the airport would allow for more destinations, enabling the UK to be connected to the fast-growing emerging markets (Özsoy and Örkcü, 2021). Moreover, the project would make it easier for the UK to conduct business with other countries globally as the proposed third runway is to be constructed specifically to cater to business flights. Additionally, the number of freight flights would be escalated through the new runway, making it efficient for locals to access cargo within short time periods.

The expansion of the airport will undoubtedly ease the management of the airport by reducing the delays through the creation of more room for operation. Upon the implementation of the proposal, the airport’s management will switch to the hub-and-spoke model, which will significantly improve the management activities for Heathrow’s airport managers (Seabra et al., 2020). Through the switching abilities of flights at the airport, passengers and cargo are efficiently managed. As a result, the convenience of travelers and airport management will be enhanced significantly.

Moreover, the research reveals that the expansion of Heathrow Airport would lead to a significant increase in airport capacity. Consequently, more passengers will be able to use the facilities, which will lead to a higher profitability. Additionally, due to the expansion process, the projected airport growth would improve. There has been an upward trend in the demand for aviation, and the trend is forecasted to increase in the future (Bongo and Ocampo, 2018; Liu et al., 2019; Oliveira, Lohmann and Costa, 2020; Yang et al., 2016). Therefore, the expansion will be instrumental in meeting the high demand in aviation projected in the future.

The study identified that the expansion project of Heathrow Airport would make airport management easier. Due to the increase in airport capacity, the flow and network of the airport would be improved significantly. Therefore, the boost in delegation abilities of the airport, such as making the new runway to serve business purposes, would strengthen the airport’s efficiency and operations. As a consequence, the airport would operate optimally, making its management easier.

Potential Environmental Costs of the Project and Ways of Addressing Them

Climate Change

It is vivid that climate change is a pertinent issue when it comes to the environmental perspective of London Heathrow Airport expansion project. In a more recent legal battle, the court of appeal ruled against the proposal on grounds of climate change. However, the contested ruling was overruled by the Supreme Court in December 2020, when the government appealed the decision of the court of appeal (Hughes-Gerber, 2021). As a result, the government was allowed to commence the project of constructing the third runway at Heathrow Airport. Despite the Supreme Court’s decision, the issue of climate change is a considerable concern as various organizations and the government are joining hands in contemporary times to reduce activities resulting in climate change.

The challenge of climate change is mainly aggravated by the fact that the construction of the third runway would significantly increase emissions into the air. The greenhouse gases have been known to be a threat to the climate because they deplete the ozone layer and allow the ultraviolet (UV) rays to penetrate the Earth’s atmosphere. The depletion of the ozone layer results in global warming because the UV radiation, which has bounced off the surface of the Earth, is absorbed and retained by the pollutants in the air, such as carbon dioxide (Shahzad, 2015). Therefore, any activity that increases the amount of emissions into the atmosphere is a threat to climate change.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

The completion of the project is expected to increase the amount of greenhouse gases emitted into the environment. The rise in demand for aviation coupled with the expansion will result in remarkable activities in the airport, which will in turn lead to an increased emission of greenhouse gases. This is a major concern that the opponents of the proposal have mentioned frequently in the debates against the implementation of the project. In the contemporary world, greenhouse gas emission is a serious concern since it is associated with the depletion of the ozone layer (Solomon, Alcamo and Ravishankara, 2020). Therefore, the anxiety of the project’s opponents regarding greenhouse gas emissions is valid.

Allegedly, the expansion of the airport will bring about an increase in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. The emission of CO2 will be registered because of the escalated fossil fuel use by the growing number of airplanes in the airport upon the completion of the project. The current technological state of the airport does not allow substituting fossil fuel used in the airplanes. The increase in greenhouse gas emissions coincides with the growth in energy demand and use. Increased energy demand will most probably result in greenhouse gas emissions if advanced technological considerations are not regarded. The issue of potentially increased greenhouse gas emissions is a solid point for the anti-campaigners of the project who have continuously opposed it.

Noise Pollution

As evidenced in the result, noise pollution is an important environmental concern that has to be addressed in connection to the expansion of the airport. The connection between noise and health is significant and becomes relevant to address when looking at the environmental impacts of the airport. Community annoyance due to noise pollution is a public concern similar to the health-related issues (Basner et al., 2017). Despite the numerous economic benefits of the project, it would be futile to advocate for the expansion project if it has more detrimental health on the people. Therefore, the question of noise pollution has to be raised and answered for the success of the project to be gained.

However, the civil aviation authorities have continuously encouraged the adoption of better standards and requirements for aircraft in an attempt to address the problem of noise pollution. The aviation authorities have set noise airworthiness standards that act as measures for controlling noise pollution. For instance, the European Union sets the noise worthiness standards to 10 decibels (dB) for commercial planes in an endeavor to ensure that the expectations of noise management are achieved (Lin, 2013). The UK has airworthiness directions geared towards setting the correct standards for commercial operations in the air. The company can address the challenge of noise pollution that is expected to increase after the project’s implementation by observing the set directives and formulating other standards of its own.

Waste Management

The study found that the increase of wastes was another environmental impact of the proposed construction of Heathrow Airport’s third runway. For London Heathrow Airport to be functional upon the completion of the third runway, there is a need for it to reduce the volume of waste to make the management easier and more efficient (Cristea and Naudet, 2019). Therefore, the management of the airport should consider formulating strategies and policies that efficiently minimize wastes and take care of those disposed. Any consideration of the management to utilize landfills for wastes would lead to an escalation of environmental impacts.

The problem of increased waste production has been used by opponents of the project in pushing the law suites aiming to stop the expansion. Despite the fact that the government has appealed for the implementation of the project up to the Supreme Court and succeeded in winning, it still has the obligation of addressing the problem (Hughes-Gerber, 2021). Considering recycling of the waste through the advanced technologies as suggested in the results is a critical step towards addressing the problem. The management of the airport can implement International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) strategies to increase fuel efficiency.

ICAO has five major strategic objectives that summarize the work that the organization undertakes. The five objectives include safety, economic development of air transport, air navigation capacity and efficiency, security and facilitation, and environmental protection (ICAO, 2021). ICAO has developed various strategies of achieving these objectives over the past years. The strategies developed by ICAO are well-researched and formulated to aid in achieving the objectives. Therefore, adopting the ICAO strategies can be effective in gaining the success of recycling the wastes effectively as a way of protecting the environment. Recycling is an important part of waste management that has to be efficiently considered if the management of the airport aims at ensuring a sustainable business environment.

Green Technology

Green technology is surely a solution that will impact all the environmental issues associated with the project. The world has witnessed a considerable advancement in science and technology over the past few years. With these developments, the need for environmental protection has been growing. Reducing emissions, saving energy, and addressing the challenge of climate change have prompted the idea of green technologies. In simple terms, green technologies refer to the application of science and technology to minimize adverse environmental impacts from human activities to the natural environment. In the past years, green research has targeted varied areas, including hydrology, agriculture, atmospheric science, and energy (Lin, 2013). The aviation industry is part of the manufacturing industry and a significant consumer of energy and natural resources. Therefore, efforts towards embracing green technologies have a high impact on air transportation.

The use of renewable energy as a source of power for the airport’s third runway is undoubtedly a consideration that will eradicate most complaints from opponents of the project. Examples of renewable energy sources include the use of solar and wind energy sources, among many others (Moutinho and Robaina, 2016). Furthermore, the use of energy-efficient materials, such as photovoltaic panels, at the airport would reduce the airport’s dependence on traditional sources of fuel (Sreenath et al., 2020). Additionally, it is believed that the use of the 3R method would lead to the achievement of the ‘green economy’ and the zero net greenhouse emission set for 2050. The 3R method, which entails the concepts of reducing, reusing, and recycling, is a sequence coined to aid in the management of waste. The key priority of the concept is to reduce the production of waste followed by reusing resources. Lastly, the concept advocates for giving waste materials a second chance before they are completely disposed. By embracing the concept, the management of London Heathrow Airport will stand a chance of effectively managing the solid and liquid wastes produced within the airport after the expansion.

Sustainable Energy

The fight towards environmental sustainability has been greatly championed by ICAO. The organization strives to come up with strategies that can be used to address all the possible environmental concerns revolving around the aviation industry. The management of London Heathrow Airport can consider the ICAO suggestions, such as adopting the use of SAFs in the third runway, to address the concerns of pollution. The proposal of using SAFs by ICAO is a strategy geared towards reducing the emissions from the aviation industry.

SAF is a biofuel used to help in powering aircrafts. The SAFs have similar properties as the other jet fuels and, therefore, do not compromise the performance of the airplanes. However, they have a lower carbon footprint compared to the former fuels (ICAO, 2021). SAFs, which are continuously gaining popularity in the aviation industry, are produced from renewable waste resources and biomass. Based on the technologies and feedstock used for the production, SAFs have the ability to drastically reduce the lifecycles of greenhouse gas emissions. According to the United States Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, some of the new SAF pathways have recorded an impressive negative GHG footprint. Most of the SAFs have limited aromatic components that enable their combustion to be cleaner in the engines (ICAO, 2021). Therefore, the use of SAFs implies that the aircrafts produce limited harmful gases around the airports when landing and taking off.

The use of SAFs has other advantages beyond environmental conservation and preservation. For instance, the adoption of SAFs can provide more economic opportunities for the farmers since their production depend on growing and sourcing of biomass crops (ICAO, 2021). Therefore, if the management of the airport fully embraces the use of SAFs, it may have a great impact for both the environment and economy. It is important to realize that the use of SAFs is not an entirely new idea for London Heathrow Airport. Although at a low quantity, the airport has been supporting the use of SAFs. Recently, the CEO of Heathrow Airport, Holland-Kaye, has urged the United Kingdom government to facilitate and encourage a wide-scale production of SAF since they believe it generates 70% less carbon compared to the traditional fossil fuel (Heathrow Airport urges UK government to promote SAF production, 2021). From the results, it is vivid that the negative effects that the project poses to the environment is significant although it is also clear that there are plans that can be used to mitigate the environmental threats.

The research plays an instrumental role in outlining the benefits of the expansion project for the third runway. By illuminating the benefits, it becomes clear why proponents of the project have supported its implementation over the years. Additionally, by articulating the environmental drawbacks, it becomes vivid why the opponents have complained about the project and why so many court cases have been raised over the years. The decision on which side to lean on is a difficult one as both the environmental concerns and the benefits bear significant points. However, they create a need for a balance, which may lead to a win-win situation. Therefore, the possible strategies that can be utilized in addressing the potential environmental concerns are important in bridging the gap between the advantages and potential threats. They also play an instrumental role in justifying the fact that the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the completion of the project.


The study aimed at evaluating the environmental impact of the proposed expansion of Heathrow airport by way of adding a third runway. Based on the qualitative research, it can be concluded that the proposed expansion project on Heathrow airport will lead to economic and social benefits to the UK government and citizens. There are numerous economic benefits that the people of London and the United Kingdom as a whole will enjoy upon the implementation of the project. The consideration of these economic benefits is important because they directly impact the decision and opinions regarding the implementation of the project.

At the same time, the research revealed that the project poses some detrimental environmental concerns. Among these concerns are air pollution, noise pollution, and climate change. The environmental concerns are serious because they will affect millions of people living in the region. Noise pollution, for instance, is likely to result in health conditions that may not only affect the people but also add pressure to the healthcare system of the country in the near future. The UK has been working to ensure that various companies maintain a low carbon footprint. However, with the expansion project, the objective may be compromised as the carbon footprint of the airport will probably rise. The environmental concerns form strong arguments for the opponents of the project who have been confronting the implementation through the justice system for many years.

However, despite the numerous environmental threats associated with the expansion of London Heathrow airport, there are strategies that can be adopted to reduce the negative effects. The results show that the project is viable and beneficial if the Airport undertakes important sustainability strategies. The possible efforts towards sustainability include adopting proper waste management strategies, embracing green technologies, and following the ICAO sustainability plans among other strategies.

Consequently, by factoring in both the benefits and the environmental costs of the project, the public is able to critically understand what is at stake with respect to the project’s implementation. The controversy of the change’s introduction based on economic benefits and environmental costs is effectively answered. Both sides have been well explored and discussed within the research. The discussion about the costs and benefits in this study is fundamental because it gives the justification for the court decisions made in the past, as well as the arguments that different factions have had over the implementation of the project.

Interestingly, the findings go an extra mile to pinpoint some of the countermeasures that the airport management can adopt to reduce the impact of the environmental costs while enjoying the benefits associated with the project. These points are important because the decisions regarding the implementation have already been made by the Supreme Court. Therefore, since the detrimental environmental impacts have already been outlined, the research shows how they can be addressed to create a general understanding that favours the economic benefits.

Additionally, by effectively answering the four objectives, the aim of the research is achieved since environmental aspects are illuminated similarly to management practices that could be applied. The environmental issues with the third runway are a real concern to the management of the airport. Therefore, the suggestions towards environmental sustainability give a vivid direction that they are most likely to consider after the completion of the project. The main debate in the London Heathrow expansion project is based on the antagonism between the social and economic benefits and the environmental costs. The research clearly shows both sides of the argument and reflects on the management’s role towards the possible decisions that can be made in addressing the conflict of interest to ensure sustainability.


The use of the qualitative method to answer the research question was effective in conducting the research as it provided a larger perspective of the research problem. However, after undertaking the research, the question of how realistic the airports can create and implement ‘green economies’ through a sustainable approach arose, prompting more research to be undertaken. There is a need to focus on research that can aid in pinpointing the regulations that are in place to monitor and evaluate the management of the airport with regard to environmental costs. Despite there being ways in which the management can address some of the pertinent environmental concerns, there is no assurance that the management will strictly adopt these strategies.

Furthermore, the research should be able to focus and statistically predict the environmental concerns in the future despite the relief that sustainable strategies could counter them. Therefore, there is a need to conduct quantitative studies on the topic and use current environmental data such as the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere in predictive models. By using predictive models, such as the regression model, it is possible to determine the actual environmental impact that may be witnessed in the future. The forecast into the future may give a better view of whether the mentioned sustainability strategies may be enough to control the environmental concerns associated with the project.

Predictive models are an important consideration for future research because they play the instrumental role of turning data into future insight. Despite the fact that there are problems associated with the expansion project, they remain as speculations because they have not yet been witnessed. Therefore, by utilizing the predictive models, it is possible to have a narrower and more accurate forecast that may be highly significant in the development of countermeasures to the anticipated problems. Through the forecast, it is also possible to make a better decision on different ways in which the project is implemented.

Additionally, the environmental costs addressed are of great magnitude, especially when perceived in relation to the potential impact on human health. Thus, it is recommended that more research be conducted in this area to identify some of the sustainability efforts that the airport should adopt which are not covered in the research. The use of the qualitative approach in the research has been important in answering the research question and enhancing an insight regarding the research topic. However, in future studies, it may be useful to consider quantitative study designs that utilize primary data to generate more diverse answers to the research question. The change in design is important because some of the information captured from the secondary sources is not highly reliable despite the fact that it is obtained from acceptable sources, such as news companies.

It is necessary to consider alternative approaches to the research in the future. For instance, a quantitative approach may be used if different forms of data can be obtained. While adopting quantitative approaches in future research to enhance the understanding of the topic, there is a need to embrace the use of software in data analysis. There was no analytic software utilized in the study to help with the analysis. Since the data is qualitative in nature, some qualitative analytical software tools could have been considered during the data analysis process. When using the quantitative approach in the future, it may be relevant to consider adopting statistical software such as Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS) and R-program among others to aid in data analysis. The software is necessary because it greatly enhances the accuracy of the results if properly used. It also helps in presenting the results in various forms, hence improving the quality of the research based on the presentation of findings.

Lastly, it is important to conduct case studies of other airports that have had similar expansion programs. Such case studies are likely to illuminate the potential impact of the project and create a better understanding of the possible outcomes that may be realized in the future. By using case studies in future research, it is possible to gain a better understanding of the topic and reduce the possibility of bias in the research. Again, through the use of case studies, it is possible to strengthen the existing knowledge and also make a comparison regarding certain ideas. Since environmental issues are a major concern for the project, the case study can illuminate the possibility of the problems being addressed through various strategies. For instance, when considering the use of green technologies in addressing the potential environmental challenges, it may be possible to draw insights from similar projects that adopted the same strategies in the past.

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