By Geoff Percival and Christopher Jasper
London’s Heathrow Airport has put forward proposals for a sloping runway and said the landing strip could be shortened as it seeks to cut £2.5bn (€2.8bn) from the cost of expansion plans.
Europe’s busiest hub has also proposed the phased opening of new terminals and a number of alternative road links as part of a 10-week consultation aimed at reducing the expense of the £16bn project to a level where it could be funded without a significant hike in user charges.
The issue may well put Dublin Airport’s €320m plan for a second main runway back into the spotlight.
Minor construction began on that project towards the end of 2016, with the result of the tender for the main package of works due to be announced later this year before the planned completion of the project in 2020.
Ryanair has previously said that Dublin could set a good example to London’s three main airports — Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted — which are all considering extra runway capacity by showing how to quickly build a low-cost runway that benefits the national economy.
Yesterday, it reiterated its opposition to the €320m costs of the new Dublin runway, saying again it should only be built at a cost of up to €240m.
“Ryanair supports a low-cost second runway at Dublin Airport, but given it will be built on a greenfield site, it should be delivered at the original cost of €240m.
“The DAA’s proposed costs have already jumped 33% to €320m even before it went out to tender,” the airline said.
However, it suggested Heathrow isn’t a fair comparison.
“The costs at Heathrow bear no relationship to a second runway in Dublin. Manchester, for example, built its second runway for £172m just over 10 years ago, so the €240m originally proposed by the DAA is reasonable, while €320m is not,” Ryanair said.
However, the costs related to Dublin have already been welcomed by the Government.
Speaking to the Irish Examiner earlier this month Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe called the €320m price tag for the new parallel runway at Dublin “value for money”, despite concerns from Ryanair and the Department of Transport.
“I am satisfied that the proposed second runway is value for money and that the infrastructure meets the needs we have now,” the minister said.
Mr Donohoe went on to warn that major infrastructural projects funded by the Government over the coming years are likely to cost more on the back of further economic growth.
In Heathrow’s case, building the third runway on a slope would allow it to span London’s M25 orbital motorway with the minimum of extensive tunneling work.
The airport also put forward suggestions for guiding principles on noise, pollution and frequencies that would apply when new airspace rules are developed for the enlarged airport.
Heathrow’s expansion, backed by the British government in 2016, has yet to gain the approval of British Airways, its biggest carrier, which says the cost is too high and has called for a shorter, cheaper runway — something the consultation will consider.
With a national policy statement on the new strip facing a parliamentary vote in the first half of this year, the airport also wants to win over residents and legislators who have argued that growth should be focused elsewhere, away from urban populations.
Among the measures Heathrow has put forward for consideration include sloping the new runway to a height of five metres so that the M25 motorway can by spanned by lowering the motorway by only seven meters, reducing tunneling costs.
The road would be moved 150m west so that construction can be completed without impacting existing traffic flows.
Runways at major airports including Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson, the world’s busiest, and Paris Charles de Gaulle already cross freeways.
Three alternative plans for the new Heathrow runway’s length, two measuring between 3.2km (and favoured by British Airways) and one 3.5km, are as originally envisaged.
The shorter strips would be unable to handle the largest aircraft and taxiing times would be longer.
Also proposed are new terminal buildings located east of the current site next to Terminal 2, in the far west next to BA’s Terminal 5, and in a satellite complex next to the new runway.
The facilities would be constructed and opened on a staged basis to spread the cost and better match capacity to demand. Options for changes to local road layouts, including two M25 junctions, as well as diverting five rivers and streams are also on the table.
Heathrow’s growth plan would increase its so-called terminal capacity from the current 85.5m people a year to 130m over the 10 years from 2025.
The hub is already operating almost at the limits of its two existing runways and managed to squeeze in 2.3m more passengers last year only because airlines deployed bigger planes and boosted occupancy levels.
BAR UK, which represents British and foreign airlines, said carriers and passengers, want a “more affordable Heathrow, not just a bigger one,” and that it will consult further with the airport on cost and risk reductions.
Additional reporting Bloomberg