For starters, the idea has been knocking around since 1968. Plus, the project has had a recent update: the £20 million waste of public money otherwise known as the 2015 Airports Commission report, the one that got all the traffic forecasts wrong and ducked two key issues: noise and air quality. On top, there’s been the government consultation on the Airports National Policy Statement.

And now? Well, Wednesday next week is the deadline for submissions to the airport’s own consultation — the one all “about helping to shape our expansion plans at an early stage”. Yes, an early stage. Heathrow’s not kidding, either. Despite spending £30 million so far on planning, the main message from its 70-pager is how much is still up in the air — a point you hope MPs on the transport committee will raise in their report due by Friday.

Yet it’s on the basis of these sketchy plans that MPs will vote for or against the project. Rather fundamentally, Heathrow doesn’t even yet know precisely where the runway is going. As it notes, that still requires “further work” to determine its “exact” length, “end locations” and “how they sit in relation to the Colnbrook and Sipson communities”. Neither does it know precisely how it will cross that problem known as the M25.

And partly because of all this, it’s a long way from producing a third runway safety case — done in conjunction with the Civil Aviation Authority. Of course, there’s no suggestion Heathrow would build anything that wasn’t safe. It’s just that “there will be ramifications that come with the safety case that raise questions over how many planes it can handle safely and the respite it can give over noise”.

Or so says Jock Lowe, the former Concorde pilot behind the other Heathrow plan shortlisted by the Airports Commission: the £5 billion cheaper Heathrow Hub project based on extending an existing runway. Mr Lowe says that the airport’s northwest runway plan has “significant flaws”, not least because of safety constraints around the middle runway.

Planes will require extra space for taxiing on the ground or turning in the air. And that, he says, will have two key effects.

First, Heathrow will not be able to deliver the promised 740,000 air movements a year; in fact less than 700,000, so cutting the project’s economic benefits.

Second, due to the complexity of flight paths caused by planes turning, the approaches will be much noisier than billed for local residents.

One reason, maybe, for one glaring hole in the consultations: no news on flight paths. Indeed, Heathrow admits that it will not even be consulting on “flight path options” until “around 2021” — years after the MPs have voted.

True, it dismisses Mr Lowe’s analysis, noting that the commission found his project “less attractive” — even if the commission did get quite a lot wrong. And as Heathrow points out, should the MPs vote in favour, there will be planning inquiries, further consultations and possible judicial reviews before anything actually gets built.

Yet here are a few things that won’t be resolved before the MPs vote: the project’s cost, final design, safety case, road and rail links, noise and air quality. Or to put it another way, just about everything we need to know. After half a century in the planning, you’d think Heathrow could do better than that.




See earlier:

Alistair Osborne writing in the Times: “Heathrow on flight path to nowhere”

Commenting on the frankly ridiculous “consultation” put out by Heathrow, Alistair Osborne – writing in the Times – puts some of the criticisms beautifully. For example, he says: “After half a century on the job … Heathrow still doesn’t even know where to put its new runway. The best it can offer is three options, with “length varying from between 3,200 and 3,500 metres”. …Heathrow has “emerging proposals” but “In fact, so many crucial details are still up in the air that it’s hard to spot what the ten-week consultation is consulting on.” … “Apart from the multiple choice runway location, there are three possible sites for a new terminal, a smorgasbord of potential taxiways and some gobbledegook about “realigning” the M25. Having noticed that the “M25 is one of the busiest roads in the UK”, Heathrow says it “will ensure that our proposals do not result in disruption”.” …”Two other crucial issues — illegal air quality and noise — get no more than platitudes.” … “If it is not yet possible to map the detailed impact on local communities, what is the point of consulting right now?” As details of flight paths, noise and air pollution will only emerge AFTER MPs vote this summer on the NPS: “As consultation processes go, it’s all a bit of a sham.”