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Court rules in favour of Heathrow, but economic, environmental and political obstacles to third runway remain

15th December, 2020

The Supreme Court today ruled in favour of Heathrow, overturning the judgment of the Court of Appeal that the plan for Heathrow expansion was unlawful for having failed to take account of the Paris Agreement on climate change. But this legal obstacle to the third runway (plans for which may yet be subject to further legal challenge from opponents), may prove insignificant compared with the political, economic and climate challenges ahead. 

The Covid crisis has caused demand to plummet, and it’s widely thought that passenger levels won’t recover for several years. Whether business travel – the main money-spinner for many of Heathrow’s airlines – will ever be the same is in fact doubtful now that working practices have shifted towards virtual meetings online. A recent US poll of the business travel sector predicted that up to 36% of business air passengers will be lost permanently. 

Heathrow chose to fight this court battle alone, the Government having shown no interest in reviving the third runway plans after they were judged to be unlawful by the Court of Appeal. In the meantime, the need for decision-makers to get a grip on aviation emissions has become crystal clear. Last week, the Government’s climate experts advised that there should be no increase in the UK’s total airport capacity if demand for flying is to be kept to a level that’s consistent with UK climate law.

Click here to read the judgment in full, and here to read the press statement.