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London Heathrow Airport

London Heathrow Airport (IATA airport code: LHR and often simply Heathrow) is Britain's busiest and best-connected airport. As of 2003, it also handles more international passenger traffic than any other airport in the world (see also: world's busiest airport). Heathrow Airport is in Heathrow in the London Borough of Hillingdon in the west of London, United Kingdom.

The control tower at London (Heathrow) Airport, seen from Terminal 1

Table of contents
1 History
2 Heathrow today
3 Construction of Terminal Five
4 Further expansion
5 Terminal 1
6 Terminal 2
7 Terminal 3
8 Terminal 4
9 Heathrow in culture
10 External Links


Heathrow began its life in the 1930s as the Great Western Aerodrome. The airport was named after either Judge John Heath or the hamlet Heath Row, which was destroyed as a result of the airport being built. [1]

Until the outbreak of World War Two, little of London's commercial traffic was handled by Heathrow. In 1944 Heathrow came under control of the Ministry of Air. Harold Balfour (then Under-Secretary of State for Air 1938-1944 and later Lord Balfour) wrote, in his 1973 autobiography Wings over Westminster, that he deliberately deceived the government committee that a requisition was necessary in order that Heathrow could be used as a bomber base. In fact, Balfour wrote, that he always intended the site to be used for civil aviation and used a wartime emergency requisition order to avoid a lengthy and costly public inquiry. Certainly the Royal Air Force never made use of the airport and its control was transferred to the Ministry of Civil Aviation on January 1 1946.

The airport opened fully for civilian use on May 31, 1946. By 1947 Heathrow had three runways with three more under construction. These older runways, built for piston-engined planes, were short and criss-crossed to allow flights for all wind conditions. The first concrete slab of the first modern runway was ceremonially placed by Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. She also opened the first terminal building (now the site of Terminal 2) in 1955. Shortly afterwards the Oceanic Terminal (later renamed Terminal 3) became operational. Terminal 1 was opened to the public in 1968, completing the cluster of buildings at the centre of the Heathrow site.

The Brinks Mat robbery occurred on November 26, 1983 when 6,800 gold bars worth nearly UK£26 million were taken from the Brinks Mat vault at Heathrow. Only a fraction of the gold was ever recovered and only two men were convicted of the crime.

On June 23, 1985, Air India Flight 182, which was flying on a Toronto-Montreal-London-Delhi-Mumbai route, exploded in midair, killing all of the passengers aboard.

Terminal 4 was built away from the three older terminals, to the south of the southern runway. The terminal opened in 1986 and became the home for then newly privatised British Airways. In 1987, the British Government privatized the British Airports Authority (now just "BAA"), and gave it ownership of seven of Britain's airports including Heathrow.

On December 21, 1988, Pan Am Flight 103, which was on a Frankfurt International Airport, Frankfurt - London Heathrow - John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York route exploded, killing all on board and several on the ground in Lockerbie, Scotland.

Heathrow today

Heathrow at present has four terminals, and permission for the construction of a fifth was conditionally granted in November 2001.

Presently Heathrow has two parallel runways, running east-west. There is also a seldom-used crosswind landing runway, bearing 230 degrees. The Department for Transport has issued a 'consultation document' in which one option is the construction of a third parallel east-west runway for frequent use, involving the demolition of local residential areas.

Overnight flights into Heathrow are currently restricted by government order, with preference for quieter airliners, but could be eliminated entirely if the government loses its appeal against a recent judgement by the European Court of Human Rights.

Heathrow is accessible via the nearby M4 motorway, from three stations on the London Underground Piccadilly Line, and two on the Heathrow Express line (which is considerably quicker and considerably more expensive; as of February 2003 trains leave every 15 minutes for a 15 minute journey costing £13-£15) directly to London's Paddington station.

The airport has been owned and operated by BAA since its privatization in 1987. In order to prevent monopoly profits, the amount BAA is allowed to charge airlines to land aeroplanes at Heathrow is heavily regulated by the Civil Aviation Authority. Until April 1, 2003, the annual increase of the cost of landing per passenger was capped at inflation minus 3%. This has meant that landing charges have been falling in absolute terms. The average landing cost per passenger was, at April 2003, £6.13, similar to landing charges at Gatwick and Stansted. In order to reflect the fact that Heathrow, as an international hub, is more popular with passengers and airlines, the CAA agreed that BAA will be allowed to increase landing charges at Heathrow by inflation plus 6.5% per year for the next five years. When Terminal 5 opens in 2008, landing charges are expected to be £8.23 per passenger. Landing fee restrictions at Gatwick and Stansted will remain tighter.

Whilst the cost of a landing slot is determined by the CAA and BAA, the allocation of landing slots at Heathrow to airlines is carried out by Airport Co-ordination Limited (ACL). ACL is an independent non-profit organisation whose slot allocation programme is governed by UK government and EU commission directives and the IATA Worldwide Scheduling Guidelines. The ACL is funded by ten British airlines, tourism operators as well as BAA who pay the ACL a fee for providing scheduling information. The apparent conflict between the need to provide an independent slot allocation service and serving the interests of the funding airlines is waved away by ACL, who state that

No member airline receives direct benefit, in terms of preferential treatment in slot allocation decisions made by ACL. All airlines are treated the same, in accordance with UK and European Slot Regulations which ensure that decisions made by ACL are made in a 'neutral, transparent and non-discriminatory' way. Members believe that it is reasonable for them to contribute to the cost of slot allocation in the UK, since the cost of the coordination task in other countries is borne by their Governments or national carriers. Contributing to the cost of ACL avoids the need for Government intervention of control of slot allocation and ensures that all the airlines receive a high quality coordination service. Any airline may apply to join ACL, and the Company is pro-active in seeking to expand its membership base. [1]

There have been calls from for the slot allocation process to be made a free market at Heathrow and elsewhere. (see e.g. Centre for Land Policy Studies [1]). See also [1] for an account of the economics of the European Airline market.

In addition, air traffic between Heathrow and the United States is strictly governed by the countries' bilateral Bermuda II treaty. The treaty originally allowed only British Airways, Pan Am, and TWA to fly from Heathrow to the US. With the demise of Pan Am in 1991, the treaty was amended to add American Airlines, United Airlines, and Virgin Atlantic Airways to the list of airlines allowed to operate on these routes. In 2002, American Airlines and British Airways announced plans to co-ordinate the scheduling of their trans-Atlantic routes but plans were dropped after the American Department of Transportion made approval conditional on the granting of further access slots to Heathrow to other US airlines. AA and BA considered the slots too valuable and dropped the plans. [1] The Bermuda bilateral agreement conflicts with the Right of Establishment of the United Kingdom in terms of its membership in the EU, and as a consequence the UK was ordered to drop the agreement by about 2004.

Construction of Terminal Five

On 20 November 2001 transport minister Stephen Byers announced the British Government's decision to grant planning permission for the building of a fifth terminal at Heathrow. The new terminal is being constructed within the current boundary of the airport, on its western side. It is due to open in 2008 and is expected to be fully-operational by 2015. When it is completed Heathrow will be able to handle up to 90 million passengers a year, up from its current limit of 65 million.

The granting of planning permission followed the longest public inquiry in British history, lasting nearly four years. BAA had made an initial application in 1993. The key factors considered by the inquiry panel were

BAA's application was vociferously supported by airlines flying out of Heathrow, in particular British Airways and British Midland. Wider interest business groups and trade unions supporting the proposal included the British Chamber of Commerce, the London Tourist Board, the Confederation of British Industry and the Transport and General Worker's Union. Supporters claim that further expansion of the airport is necessary to maintain Heathrow's current position as the pre-eminent hub in European aviation, ahead of other large aiports such as Schiphol, Charles de Gaulle, and Frankfurt.

Those opposing the plan, cite environmental problems such as increased traffic congestion, air pollution and noise. They included the Friends of the Earth and 11 London borough councils, including the London Borough of Hillingdon in which Heathrow is situated.

The transport network around Heathrow will be extended to cope with increased number of passengers. A spur motorway will run from the M25 between junctions 14 and 15 to the new terminal. The Heathrow Express will be extended and have a station at Terminal 5. The Piccadilly Line on the London Underground will be similarly extended.

Further expansion

The major airlines at Heathrow, in particular British Airways, have long advocated the idea of a third full length runway at Heathrow in addition to terminal 5 - citing similar reasons. Those opposing Terminal 5 similarly oppose a third runway. On December 14 2003 Transport SecretaryAlistair Darling released a white paper (available from [1]) on the future of aviation in the United Kingdom. A key proposal of the paper was that a third runway will indeed be built at Heathrow by 2020, provided that its owners meet targets on environmental issues such as aircraft noise, traffic congestion and pollution. A sixth terminal is likely to accompany the new runway. The total capacity would be increased to 115 million passengers per year. At this stage firm locations and timetables have not been determined.

Terminal 1

Terminal 2

Terminal 3

Terminal 4

Heathrow in culture

The airport is a regular backdrop for movies. In 2003 it was particularly visible in the
Richard Curtis romantic comedy Love Actually. A secret camera installed at the arrivals hall at Terminal 4 captured the re-unions between people coming off planes and those meeting them. Snippets of some of the more expressive greetings were played at the beginning and end of the movie.

External Links