Heathrow plans crash zone for runway three on M25 motorway

13.4.2008     (Times)

Plans for a third runway at Heathrow, the world’s busiest international airport,
flout safety guidelines by placing a proposed crash-landing zone on top of a motorway
junction (M25 / M4).

The mis-siting emerged in an investigation by The Sunday Times into the expansion
of Heathrow.

The investigation also revealed that figures for carbon emissions and the impact
on air quality have been downplayed.   The government is under pressure to rethink
the £12.7 billion project.

BAA, the airports operator, has decided that the risk of a plane crashing into
the six-lane motorway, which rises to 65ft (20 metres), does not merit relocating
the M25/M4 junction.

Opposition to the scheme is being led by Hillingdon council, the planning authority
for Heathrow.  It states that expansion should be "rejected outright on safety

The government is likely to be challenged in the courts if it approves plans
for the development this summer.   Its own guidelines state that the number of
people in "public safety zones" around airports should be kept to a minimum.  
They say: "The basic policy objective . . . is that there should be no increase
in the number of people living, working or congregating in public safety zones."  
This should apply because of the extra traffic generated by the enlarged airport.

The Department for Transport (DfT) has been advised to create ways of avoiding
traffic jams on the junction to reduce the risk of fatalities in a hypothetical
plane crash.  Most crashes occur during landing or take off.   In January, a British
Airways jet crashed after its engines failed during its descent to Heathrow.

The official submission by Hillingdon to the DfT says: "Government guidance states
that density of occupation of a six-lane motorway is similar to that of a housing
development . . . Such transport developments should not be permitted within public
safety zones."

Ruth Kelly, the transport secretary, was criticised this weekend for failing
to publish maps showing that the M25/M4 is within the safety zone, the area with
the highest crash risk.

Campaigners are now calling for an independent review.

Justine Greening, a Conservative frontbencher, said: "Yet again a key aspect
of expanding Heathrow that the public need to understand was left out from the
consultation document."

Documents released under the Freedom of Information Act show the Civil Aviation
Authority has raised concerns about the potential conflict with air traffic from
nearby RAF Northolt.

Another of the authority’s concerns was a proposal to reduce from 90 seconds
to 60 seconds the gap between planes taking off in the same direction from the
two existing runways.

Sunday Times

Heathrow plans crash zone on motorway


CAA’s concerns over Heathrow expansion

Hillingdon Council response to the government’s consultation document

Information from the DfT on airport Public Safety Zones  

DfT website on Public Safety Zones

See also

M25 in third runway’s ‘crash zone’

Sunday Times     13.4.2008

IN January, BA38 from Beijing limped into Heathrow, skimming over the airport
fence and crash-landing short of the runway. It was hailed as the "great escape"
for those on board, and the ramifications are still being felt in Whitehall today.

When the stricken flight passed over motorists on the southern perimeter road,
the jet was said to be so low "you could reach out of the window and touch it".

The drama, however, raised a worrying question for those championing airport
expansion: what if it had been trying to land on the proposed third runway?

Under the plans for Heathrow’s expansion, Ruth Kelly, the transport secretary,
intends to sandwich one of the busiest runways in the world between the elevated
M25/M4 junction to the west and the residential area of Harlington to the east.

It emerged last week that the motorway junction, 650 yards from the end of the
proposed runway, will be in the crash landing zone or "public safety zone" where
there is an accepted higher risk of an accident.

Kelly’s department failed to include maps showing this zone in the consultation
documents, which critics say would have caused uproar.

Department for Transport (DfT) officials have already been accused of fixing
the evidence in favour of a third runway.

"It’s ridiculous to put a runway so close to a major motorway junction and residential
areas," said Geraldine Nicholson, who lives adjacent to the junction and chairs
the No Third Runway Action Group.

"They are wanting to put this runway in one of the most built-up areas in Britain
and we’re being told they haven’t even yet carried out a detailed risk assessment.
It’s crazy."

When the government’s 2003 white paper backed the third runway, it envisaged
it would be 1.2 miles long. It has now been lengthened, partly to accommodate
a greater mix of aircraft, but also to allow flights to clear the considerable
obstacles at both ends safely.

The government’s consultation document states: "The position of the third runway
is governed by the need for aircraft to maintain a safe distance from the elevated
M4/M25 junction to the west and the Harlington church spire to the east."

To date, the row over Heathrow expansion has centred on the extra noise and pollution.
Flight BA38 has focused attention on the safety problems.

Tim Jurdon, manager of the aviation team at Hillingdon council, said: "The safety
zones are where it’s most likely there could be a crash. If it wasn’t at Heathrow,
we would argue there would be less risk."

Jurdon’s team have drawn up the "public safety zones" at both ends of the third
runway. He says the western zone crosses the M25/M4 junction. This was not disputed
last week by the DfT, which said safety would be considered by any future planning

The government’s policy on airport safety zones is detailed in a 2002 circular
and states that the number of people in the zones should be kept to a minimum.
It says: "The basic policy objective governing the restriction on development
near civil airports is that there should be no increase in the number of people
living, working or congregating in public safety zones and that, over time, the
number should be reduced as circumstances allow."

With a likely surge in traffic growth if Heathrow expansion is approved, the
government appears to breach its own guidelines by allowing a safety zone to cross
a motorway junction. They state that busy traffic routes should be considered
on a par with housing developments when assessing the impact of the zones.

Geoff Marks, an executive council member of the Aviation Environment Federation,
a nonprofit making organisation campaigning for sustainable aviation, said: "The
fact the maps of the public safety zones are not even in the consultation document
suggests the government hasn’t done its job properly."

Marks said the government should consider adding airport capacity in more open
areas, such as the Thames estuary, where there would be a significantly lower
risk of casualties in the event of a crash.

He said other large airports, such as Charles de Gaulle in Paris and Munich International
airport, were located away from big cities partly to reduce the risk of ground
casualties in the event of a crash.

A report commissioned by the DfT on airport public safety zones in the 1990s
said it was too costly to relocate transport routes that already fell within the

Safety objections will be aired in a planning inquiry if the government approves
the third runway this summer.

New documents released under the Freedom of Information Act also show the Civil
Aviation Authority raised a series of safety concerns during the consultation

CAA officials were understood to have been concerned about the extra air traffic
at Heathrow and the potential conflict with air traffic from nearby RAF Northolt,
which is regularly used by ministers. In one DfT meeting, officials were told
there was a "conflict of objectives" between expanding commercial activities at
Northolt and the proposed Heathrow expansion.

The CAA also raised concerns about proposals to have gaps of just 60 seconds
between planes taking off in the same direction from the two existing runways.
CAA officials were concerned the proposal might breach international safety standards.

The DfT last week said "the issue of the number of people affected by any new
public safety zone would need to be looked at as part of any future planning application".
It failed to respond to whether allowing the M25/M4 junction to be at the end
of a runway broke its own guidelines.

The department said the guidelines were publicly available and the question would
be a matter for any future inquiry. The statement said: "Safety is the government’s
top priority. The proposals and location for a third runway at Heathrow in the
consultation document have been developed with the CAA and safety considerations
were taken fully into account."

The DfT said the "airspace arrangements" for Heathrow expansion had been reviewed
by the CAA and approved for the consultation document. "The proposals are not
definitive and would need further detailed work."