CHAMPAGNE corks must have been popping yesterday at London Heathrow, Europe’s busiest airport, as the British government finally gave it the green light to build a third runway. The decision has been a long time coming. The airport, has been operating at 99% of its capacity for a decade.

No new full-scale runways have been built in south-east England since the second world war because of government dithering. More than a dozen commissions, policy documents and white papers investigating how to expand capacity around the capital have come and gone since the first proposal to build a third runway at Heathrow in 1946. Those plans were defeated by NIMBYs, tight budgets and legal challenges. But just like the thick fog that enveloped Heathrow this morning, the path to expansion is still murky.

The first obstacle is political. Although members of the British government’s aviation sub-committee were unanimous in their support for expansion at Heathrow rather than Gatwick, its arch competitor to the south of London, not everyone in the cabinet is convinced. Many west London MPs vociferously oppose expansion, including Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, who once…Continue reading