Six years of often acrimonious and always vigorous public debate, the UK government approved construction of a Â¡Ãª9 billion third runway and sixth terminal at London Heathrow. But the government also imposed stricter environmental targets and rejected the introduction of mixed-mode operations (landings and takeoffs on the same runway) on the existing runways as an interim measure to ease chronic congestion. “Heathrow is vital to our economy. But for too long it has operated at full capacity, losing ground to international hub airports in other countries and with relatively minor problems causing severe delays to passengers,” Secretary of State for Transport Geoff Hoon said. “People who live around the airport clearly value runway alternation and that is why I have rejected more intensive use of the existing runways through mixed mode,” he argued, noting he would “expect” airports operator BAA to bring forward a planning application for the third runway so that it could be built “as soon as possible” in the 2015-20 period. “This decision opens the door to Heathrow becoming a truly world class hub airport, and to the UK maintaining the direct connections to the rest of the world on which our prosperity depends,” BAA CEO Colin Matthews said. The government also gave its support for construction of a high-speed rail line between London and Scotland. British Airways CEO Willie Walsh called the approval “the right decision” but said the carrier was “disappointed at the rejection of mixed mode, which would have reduced Heathrow’s vulnerability to delays, but very much welcome the proposal of a high-speed rail hub at Heathrow.” Environmentalists and other opposed to the runway expansion vowed to continue their fight to stop its development.
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