Should a Fifth Terminal be built at Heathrow Airport

Categories: Airport

Heathrow, built on London's Breen Belt, is the world's busiest international airport and Europe's second largest airport. Adding to the 3000 acres containing 4 terminals, 2 runways, roads and car parks, plans have arisen concerning a 5th terminal causing major public concern. This concern is that, along with all the good affects, there will be a lot of worrying affects that the local public have objected to.

My objective is to weigh up all these issues and come to a conclusion that will maybe look towards other alternatives.

In doing this I have to look at the externalities that Terminal 5 will create. Externalities are affects from an activity on a third party, a party other than the buyer or seller. In this case, the third party is the general public.

Existing Problems

Heathrow has been labelled as "the big polluter"1. This is because Heathrow contributes a large amount of the pollution in the air that we, the public, breathe in. This is due to a combination of smoke from flights and cars accessing the airport.

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The problem is so bad that tests in residential areas near the A4/M4 corridor have found air quality tests consistently below World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines.

Adding to this, Heathrow is also, inevitably, a noisy neighbour. Flights start landing at Heathrow as early as 4:00 in the morning 2. If this isn't bad enough, at peak times flights land or take off every 46 seconds and add up to over 1,000 flights a day. The result of this noise is the disturbance of half a million people in London.

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Negative Externalities

With the proposed installation of Terminal 5, it could mean that operations at Heathrow would double1 which emphasizes the size of Terminal 5 in comparison to the rest of Heathrow. In fact, Terminal 5 by itself will be the third largest airport in Europe after Frankfurt and the rest of Heathrow. With the extra operations it will bring more:

* Disturbance, not just through flights and traffic, but also through the 18 years that it will take to build, causing the local community to be shattered.

* Pollution due to 40% more flights and 30 million more passengers accessing the airport by car. The local water environment will also be polluted. It is said that 7 years of dust will be left by the construction of Terminal 5 3.

* Threat of Air traffic accidents as there are more flights.

* Loss of communication facilities during the construction phase.

* Property prices would fall, as the demand for a house in the area would decrease due to the above problems. This might affect London's reputation and bring tourism down. As a result the economy would suffer.

* Further Expansion? 13,000 extra parking spaces are required, more pressure for the M25 to be widened and talks for a third runway would resume. This means more money would have to be wasted due to the fifth terminal.

As well having affects in and around London, Heathrow could also damage other parts of Britain. These are macroeconomic affects. Terminal 5 will require 2.5 million tonnes of crushed rock, which will come from places like the Somerset Mendips and other attractive landscapes in our country. Quarrying will damage these landscapes beyond repair, which might be regretted if the fifth terminal doesn't live up to BAA's expectations.

Positive Externalities

The 5th terminal may have caused a public outcry, but the new plans will also benefit a lot of people. The BAA feel that Terminal 5 is an economic necessity, here's why:

* More jobs will be created by the extra terminal such as jobs in construction and jobs in the terminal as well as more pilots and flight assistants. This will bring the unemployment rate down and helping the economy grow. As well as this, more money will be being spent in the economy, meaning more demand. This is known as multiplier effects

* Without the terminal, Heathrow will lose business and stature to other European airports.

* A recession would be less likely due to the multiplier effect.

* Existing business will benefit, as more people will be attracted to the area, which would improve the local community spirit.

There are some benefits to the proposal of Terminal 5 but are out outweighed and outnumbered by the negative affects it will cause. This is because the negative externalities will affect far more people than the positive externalities will. For example, more people will be disturbed (every one in the flight path) than there are created jobs. If there were more jobs than disturbances, it still wouldn't compensate for the 18 years of disturbance that the local people will endure. However, my conclusion will look beyond these externalities and look more towards a middle path that could be taken.

Other Alternatives

There might not be a resolution in this matter so a compromise could be made. This could be a number of things as the industry (e.g. BAA) and the public want different things. BAA want to see the economy grow and the number of people using planes to increase, whereas the public just want to live in harmony with disturbances kept to a minimum. So, if the new terminal is installed as BAA wanted, night flights could be banned ensuring that the citizens of London get enough sleep. This compromise might not be met by either party as BAA want the increase in flights and the public would still have to deal with 18 years of construction work and couldn't be ensured that further expansion would not be a future issue.

The public might suggest that flight quality should be improved rather than flight quantity. This might appeal to the likes of BAA, as they can't be sure that the extra planes in the sky would be completely full and whether there is sufficient capacity at other major European airports to cope with the extra arrivals that Terminal 5 would bring. If they get the quality of flights right then they can look to increase the amount of flights. But how? They could expand another of London's airports like Gatwick, which only has 2 terminals. In fact, Gatwick is just outside London and extra flights and disturbances would not affect as many people. Manchester Airport is another option but some of Britain's smaller airports might be better still, like Sheffield where unemployment is around 7.4%(3% above the national average)1. The new jobs may be more needed in these locations and would improve the country as a whole.


Heathrow Terminal 5 was planned to be bigger than the whole of any other airport in Europe. So I think that it might be necessary that a new airport should be created instead of constant expansion on the same airport. One opinion is that the constant expansion of Europe's biggest airports is petty competition when the only losers will be the country's economy 2. This is because the only competition between airports is for people changing planes. The minority enter our country, only to pass through instantly doing nothing for our economy. A new airport would have the same affects; it would increase flights and maybe help the economy.

But more importantly it would keep the public happy with minor disturbances and jobs created to maintain the standard of living that they have become accustomed to. However, a new airport would still cause mass disturbance to wherever it is installed. But this cannot be prevented, so maybe it would be better to build it where the jobs will be even more welcomed and where the inevitable disturbances would affect less people than in and around the nations capital. The new airport might complicate flight timetables, and with the current number of delays, this would not be welcomed by travellers. There is no simple resolution to this matter, but as I have proved, Terminal 5 would put the public into a disruptive community in which the people effected will live.

Updated: Jun 05, 2020
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Should a Fifth Terminal be built at Heathrow Airport. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from

Should a Fifth Terminal be built at Heathrow Airport essay
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