Heathrow Airport Holdings, which operates London, UK’s busiest airport has announced radical new plans to increase its capacity. It has scraped previously mooted plans for a third runway, and instead will push ahead with the world’s first underground runways.

The scheme will see a series of underground portals dug on the airport’s existing site, which will be wide and high enough to allow planes to take off and land underground.

A spokesman for Heathrow said, “This solution means we can increase capacity without requiring more land. There will also be benefits in terms of the noise impact, which is a bone of contention with local residents.”

The technical design of the new runways will be handled by a start-up engineering consultancy called Airhead Engineers. Technical director David Airhead said, “In the age of modern autopilot systems it is perfectly feasibly for a large passenger jet to land with accuracy in a ground-level portal more or less the same size as its wingspan and height. Heathrow have asked us to make the portals around 81 m wide and 25 m high so they can accommodate an Airbus A380, which has an 80 m wingspan and is 24.1 m high.

He continued, “Beyond the portals, there will be a 4 km or so long tunnel for the acceleration of take-off and deceleration of landing. Planes will park at underground stands, so in addition to the runways there is a whole infrastructure of taxiways terminals and airside services to build.”

Asked whether the proposals for underground runways presented a safety risk, Mr Airhead said, “Landing at these will be a piece of cake compared to say the old Kai Tak airport in Hong Kong. Pilots need to get a grip and stop whining about it.”

A budget has not yet been set for the expansion programme, but Heathrow insisted it would have enormous benefits. “With two additional underground runways we will be able to handle up to 150 million passengers per year, as opposed to around 75 million at the moment,” said the Heathrow spokesman. “We should be able to expand without disrupting existing services, so we expect a doubling of our revenues once the scheme is complete.”

The expansion plans have been given a cautious welcome by local residents’ groups Ben Imby of pressure group Pardon? said, “Like anyone else who has moved to the vicinity of Heathrow Airport, which has been here since 1946, I have been staggered by the fact that planes make a noise when flying overhead, taking off or landing. While it is our policy to vigorously oppose any plans that would expand this economic hub which creates jobs and prosperity locally, we recognise that there are some environmental benefits to this proposal. We will have to look at it in detail before giving a shrill and small-minded quote to the Daily Mail.”

For more information on the scheme, click here.

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