London Heathrow Airport

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For the formerly existing London village, see Heathrow, London
Heathrow Airport
London (Heathrow) Airport tower, seen from Terminal 1
Type of airport commercial
Run by BAA
Opened 1930s
Closest town London, England, United Kingdom
Distance from town 24 km (14 miles)
Coordinates Template:Coor dms
Direction Length Surface
(ft) (m)
09R/27L 12,801 3,902 Paved
09L/27R 12,001 3,658 Paved
05/23 7,732 2,357 Paved
Number of passengers 63,000,000
Number of takeoffs/Landings 458,500
Comments on this test infobox

London Heathrow Airport Template:Airport codes, often referred to simply as Heathrow, is the United Kingdom's busiest and best-connected airport.

Heathrow is the world's third-busiest airport by total passenger traffic, after Atlanta/Hartsfield and Chicago/O'Hare in the United States; however, due to the large number of foreign connecting flights, Heathrow actually has the world's highest number of international passenger movements. In 2003 Heathrow was the busiest airport in Europe in terms of total passenger traffic (31.5% more passengers than at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport or Frankfurt International Airport), but it was only second behind Charles de Gaulle Airport in terms of plane movements (10% fewer planes than at Charles de Gaulle Airport), and third in terms of cargo traffic (24.5% less cargo than at Charles de Gaulle Airport and 21% less than at Frankfurt International Airport).

Heathrow Airport is in Heathrow in the London Borough of Hillingdon, which is in the west of London.



Heathrow began its long life in the 1930s as the Great Western Aerodrome, privately owned by Fairey Aviation, primarily for testing, the land being acquired from the Vicar of Harmondsworth. The airport was named after the hamlet Heath Row, which was demolished to make way for the airport and was located approximately where Terminal 3 is sited now. [ It had no commercial traffic and Croydon Airport was then the main airport for London.

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, 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 control was transferred to the Ministry of Civil Aviation on 1 January 1946, the first civil flight that day being to Buenos Aires, via Lisbon for refuelling.

The airport opened fully for civilian use on 31 May, 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 in 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, the Europa Building (later renamed 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.

Missing image
View across Heathrow Airport. The Concorde is G-BOAB in open-air storage.

In 1977, the London Underground was extended to Heathrow, connecting the airport with Central London in just under an hour via the Piccadilly Line.

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 privatized British Airways. In 1987, the British Government privatized the British Airports Authority (now just "BAA plc"), which included of seven of Britain's airports, including Heathrow.

Air disasters with connections to Heathrow

On 8 April 1968, BOAC Boeing 707 G-ARWE, flying to Australia via Singapore, had an engine fire just after take-off. The engine fell from the wing into the nearby Queen Mother reservoir at Datchet, but the plane managed to perform an emergency landing with the wing on fire. The plane burnt out on the ground - five people, mostly staff, died, 117 survived.

On 18 June 1972, British European Airways Flight BE548, flying London Heathrow - Brussels, crashed some 2 1/2 minutes after take off into a field near Staines. All 109 passengers and nine crew on the Hawker-Siddeley Trident-1C were killed in the Staines air disaster.[1] (

On 23 June, 1985, Air India Flight 182, flying Montreal-London-Delhi-Mumbai, exploded in midair over the Atlantic Ocean west of the Republic of Ireland, killing all on board.

On 21 December 1988, Pan Am Flight 103, Frankfurt - London Heathrow - New York-Detroit, was destroyed in mid-air over Scotland by a bomb, killing all on board and several on the ground in the Lockerbie disaster.

Missing image
An unusual public road at London Heathrow Airport. A British Airways Boeing 777-200 is being towed across the road on its way to the maintenance hangars


The Brinks Mat robbery occurred on 26 November 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.

In March 2002, thieves stole $3 million (US) that had arrived on a South African Airways flight.

Scotland Yard's Flying Squad foiled an attempt by seven men to steal £40 million in gold bullion and a similar quantity of cash from the Swissport warehouse at Heathrow on 17 May 2004.

Heathrow today

Heathrow at present has four passenger terminals (numbered 1 to 4) and a cargo terminal. Permission for a fifth passenger terminal (Terminal 5) was granted in November 2001, and construction is now well underway.

As originally constructed, Heathrow had six runways, arranged in three pairs at different angles, with the passenger terminal in the centre. With growth in the required length for runways Heathrow presently has just two parallel runways running east-west and a third, seldom-used, crosswind landing runway, bearing 230°. 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 (terminals 1-3) and M25 motorway (terminals 4 and 5), 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 before its privatisation 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 1 April 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 IATA Worldwide Scheduling Guidelines. ACL is funded by ten British airlines, tourism operators and BAA, which 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. [2] (

There have been calls for the slot allocation process to be made a free market at Heathrow and elsewhere. (see e.g. Centre for Land Policy Studies [3] ( See also [4] ( 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. In 1991, PAA and TWA sold their rights to United Airlines and American Airlines respectively, and Virgin Atlantic Airways was added to the list of airlines allowed to operate on these routes. In 2002, American Airlines and British Airways announced plans to coordinate the scheduling of their trans-Atlantic routes but plans were dropped after the American Department of Transportation 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. [5] ( 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 passenger 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

  • The economic case for expansion
  • Developmental pressures/regional planning
  • Land use policy
  • Surface access
  • Noise
  • Air quality
  • Public safety
  • Construction

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 Workers' 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 airports 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 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. Both Heathrow Express and the Piccadilly Line of the London Underground will be extended and serve a new shared Heathrow Terminal 5 station.

Further expansion

The major airlines at Heathrow, in particular British Airways, have long advocated a third full-length runway at Heathrow in addition to terminal 5.

Those opposing Terminal 5 similarly oppose a third runway. On 14 December 2003 Transport Secretary Alistair Darling released a white paper (available from [6] ( on the future of aviation in the United Kingdom.

A key proposal of the paper was that a third runway would be built at Heathrow by 2020, provided that its owners meet targets on environmental issues such as aircraft noise, traffic congestion and pollution.

It will involve the loss of Sipson and much of Harmondsworth, including the church and Tithe Barn.

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.

When T5 is handed over to BAA in March 2008 over £4bn will have been spent and 20,000 people will have worked on the project in one way or another. Work will continue on the second of two satellite terminals or concourses, which will be linked to the main terminal by an underground tracked transit system (TTS).

In 2005, T5 is the largest construction project currently taking place in Europe - expenditure will peak in mid 2005 at £12m per week. None of the cost comes from the taxpayer.

As well as the terminal buildings there are other developments under construction as part of the T5 project, including a multi-storey carpark, a hotel, an energy centre, road tunnels, tunnelled extensions to the Piccadilly Line and Heathrow Express and a spur from the M4.

The terminal buildings have been designed by Richard Rogers Partnership and the lead project architects are Pascall + Watson, who specialise in airports and transport facilities.

The four storeys of the main terminal building (Concourse A) are covered by a single-span undulating steel frame roof, stretching 90 m from east to west. Departing passengers will enter Departures level (on the 3rd floor) after taking one of the lifts or escalators from the interchange plaza. Upon entering the Departures concourse, passengers will see views across the Heathrow area and be in a space that is unobstructed to the rising roof above.

After check-in and ticket presentation, the airside lounges will provide views across the tarmac and the runways beyond. There will be an abundance of retail outlets.

T5 will have dedicated aircraft stands for the new Airbus A380 in the first satellite terminal (Concourse B), which opens alongside the main terminal.

Heathrow's landing patterns

Main article: Bovingdon stack

Bovingdon stack is the holding area to the north-west of London where some inbound planes are held in a spiral pattern, generally between 4,000 and 13,000 feet. Other holds serving Heathrow are at Lambourne in Essex, Biggin Hill in Bromley and Ockham in Surrey. These lie respectively to the north-east, south-east and south-west of London's built-up area. While in such a holding pattern an airliner will typically range up to about six nautical miles (11 km) from the reference radio beacon, and will fly in a standardised published direction across that fixed beacon prior to commencing the next circuit at a flight level given by air traffic control.

Extreme skill is required to harmonise the aircraft departing from the four stacks in terms of speed, and to guide their pilots through concise radio commands, onto the glidepath to a single runway at suitable and safe intervals, typically no less than four nautical miles (7 km). The parallel runway is normally assigned to departing aircraft. To reduce noise nuisance to people beneath the glideslope or departure routes, the role of each runway is normally alternated at a set time each day when the wind is from the west. Conventionally at Heathrow this runway alternation time is 1500 local time.

See also Cranford protocol.

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 reunions 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. Heathrow is also the set of the BBC/Discovery Wings show Airport.

Terminal 1

  • Aer Lingus (Cork, Dublin, Shannon)
  • Air Seychelles (Seychelles)
  • British Midland (Aberdeen, Alicante, Amsterdam, Belfast City, Brussels, Dublin, Edinburgh, Geneva, Glasgow, Hanover, Inverness, Leeds/Bradford, Madrid, Manchester, Milan Linate, Naples, Nice, Palermo, Palma de Mallorca, Paris de Gaulle, Teesside, Tenerife, Venice)
  • British Airways (Aberdeen, Athens, Barcelona, Belgrade, Berlin, Bucharest, Budapest, Cologne/Bonn, Dusseldorf, Edinburgh, Frankfurt, Glasgow, Hamburg, Helsinki, Hong Kong, Istanbul, Johannesburg, Kiev, Larnaca, Lisbon, Los Angeles, Milan Linate, Milan Malpensa, Madrid, Manchester, Moscow Domododevo, Newcastle, Nice, Prague, Munich, Rome, St Petersburg, San Francisco, Sofia, Stockholm Arlanda, Stuttgart, Tripoli, Tokyo Narita, Warsaw)
  • British Airways (GB Airways) (Casablanca, Gibraltar, Malaga, Marrakech, Tangiers)
  • Cyprus Airways (Larnaca)
  • El Al (Ovda, Tel Aviv)
  • Finnair (Helsinki)
  • LOT Polish Airlines (Warsaw)
  • South African Airways (Cape Town, Johannesburg)
  • Sundor (Tel Aviv)

Terminal 2

Terminal 3

Terminal 4

  • Air Malta (Malta)
  • Asiana Airlines (Seoul Incheon)
  • British Airways (Abu Dhabi, Abuja, Accra, Amsterdam, Bahrain, Baltimore/Washington, Bangkok, Basle/Mulhouse, Beijing, Bogota, Boston, Brussels, Buenos Aires, Cairo, Cape Town, Caracas, Chennai, Chicago, Copenhagen, Dar es Salaam, Denver, Delhi, Detroit, Dhaka, Doha, Dubai, Entebbe, Geneva, Grand Cayman, Harare, Houston, Islamabad, Kolkata, Kuwait, Lagos, Lilongwe, Luanda, Lusaka, Lyon, Mauritius, Melbourne, Mexico City, Montreal, Mumbai, Muscat, Nairobi, Nassau, Newark, New York JFK, Oslo, Paris CDG, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Providenciales, Riga, Rio de Janeiro, Riyadh, Sao Paulo, Seattle, Seychelles, Singapore, Sydney, Tel Aviv, Toronto, Vancouver, Vienna, Washington Dulles, Zurich)
  • British Airways (BMED) (Addis Ababa, Aleppo, Alexandria, Almaty, Amman, Baku, Beirut, Bishkek, Damascus, Ekaterinburg, Khartoum, Tashkent, Tbilisi, Tehran, Yerevan)
  • Kenya Airways (Nairobi)
  • KLM (Amsterdam, Eindhoven, Rotterdam)
  • Qantas (Manchester, Perth, Sydney)
  • SN Brussels Airlines (Brussels)
  • SriLankan (Colombo)

External Links



de:Flughafen London-Heathrow es:Aeropuerto Heathrow de Londres


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