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London’s Heathrow Airport Looks to Add 25,000 Flights a Year on Existing Runways

Aerial view west of Heathrow AirportAerial view west of Heathrow Airport
The debate over whether to expand Heathrow Airport in London has raged for 20 years, but the airport just announced it might be able to add 25,000 flights a year without a controversial third runway.Andrew Holt—Getty Images/VisitBritain RM

The debate over whether to expand Heathrow Airport in London has raged for 20 years, but the airport just announced it might be able to add 25,000 flights a year without a controversial third runway.

The proposal came in a new consultation launched by the airport as it specifies its ideas for expansion. The plan is to adopt “independent parallel approaches” or IPAs which would introduce new arrival routes for certain flights. That would bring Heathrow’s annual flight cap to over 500,000, up from 480,000. The government has approved plans to add a third runway at Heathrow, but the expansion faces legal challenges from rival airports, local communities, and environmental groups.

Heathrow’s IPA scheme may prove just as controversial as an additional runway, however. The new approaches would bring air traffic over communities that are currently unaffected by the airport’s flight paths and wouldn’t address the environmental concerns associated with expanding the airport’s capacity.

The plan would also entail allowing two planes to land simultaneously on the two existing runways — something that’s never been tried at a commercial U.K. airport.

The new consultation will run through early March 2019. The British courts are also set to hear the cases against the third runway in March.