‘To pilots it’s a no-brainer,’ said my husband to me God knows how many years ago , but this picture will give a clue as to how long. The kids are now in their twenties and the one posing precociously in the white frilly dress has been happily married for over a year. What Donald was referring to at the time was shifting Heathrow to the Thames Estuary lock stock and barrel.
Aircrew have never understood why London’s major aircraft hub was ever cited right bang in the middle of the city in the first place. It therefore seems incredible that the concept of actually extending this folly is still under consideration in 2016.
Originally used for flight testing in the 1920s, then by model aircraft clubs in the 1930s, ‘Heathrow’ as we know it now started out very small indeed. The site, once fertile farmland, was originally used as an airport by the RAF in the Second World War, but only for diversions. It was mostly for assembly and testing and also served as the perfect place to hide Hurricanes when there was the threat of an attack on them at nearby RAF Northolt by the Luftwaffe.
So right from the start, the construction of Heathrow as an international airport serving London was carried out giving false information to the public, with the project conveniently headed up by an MP for the faraway Isle of Thanet, Harold Balfour, who was also Under-Secretary of State for Air. It took a whole year before the real plans and decision were revealed in 1944, and only doubt that for the full London Airport to complete in 1946.
In his 1973 autobiography, Wings over Westminster, Lord Balfour gave his reasons. He admitted that he had always intended the site to be earmarked for civil aviation, but had used a wartime emergency requisition order to avoid a lengthy and costly public inquiry. So rather than a plot to be developed for long-haul passenger jets, Parliament was led to believe that the new construction would be used simply as a base for long-range transport aircraft in support of the war with Japan.
It was a poor site choice then, and is an even worse one today, seventy years on, as the numbers of travellers using it have risen sharply from a handful to 75 million .
The irony must be with the reason for the cover up because Japan then went on to make the smarter decision of the two when it came to designing runways. As Donald writes in his blog, ‘The Japanese built an island airport off Osaka more years ago than I care to remember and didn’t have any problems they couldn’t handle ‘.
Check out the blog Runaway Heathrow Runway to get the full story of the Heathrow expansion saga from an aviator’s prospective.