There are great airports in Europe, hubs that serve as both a welcoming gateway and a source of national pride, brightly lit, attractively laid out, spacious and linked to cities by a quick rail and highway connection.
And then there’s London Heathrow.
I have some adjectives in mind to describe the airport, but given how lambasted I was by a pack of angry Brits for daring to blaspheme the mighty pudding course, I’m just going to leave the snark, along with my expectations for beverages served at properly chilled temperatures, Stateside.
Anyway, now we can at least tick off the “brightly lit” box when discussing Heathrow.
The Financial Times reports that Heathrow is set to cut costs dramatically by replacing its lightbulbs airport-wide.
Of course, it’s really more than about lightbulbs. Though Heathrow hasn’t gotten the official go-ahead from the British government, it’s widely expected to “win” the rights to build a third runway northwest of the existing north runway, thereby expanding its capacity by a considerable amount. This is all much to the consternation of Gatwick Airport, which wants to do the expanding and become Britain’s primary airport.
In order to expand — which is a bit more complicated than it might seem, given that there’s little empty space around the airport — they’ll need to purchase and knock down existing buildings and tunnel existing highways around the site, all at a projected cost of up to £16 billion (which I’m pretty sure is $25 billion in U.S. Dollars, though the British “billion” can mean either the American “billion” or “trillion,” since they also call an American “billion” a “thousand million,” and… sigh, before I get accused of being ANTI-BRITISH here, can anyone over on that side of the pond step in and politely clarify?).
So in order to borrow £16 billion, Heathrow needs to ensure its creditworthiness by cutting costs elsewhere, to the tune of £600 million ($931 million), and the first place officials are looking are changing out the lightbulbs to replace the existing lighting (which might politely be described as “dreary as f@&!”) with energy-efficient LED bulbs.
Of course, energy efficiency is a worthy goal, and I applaud any effort to make Heathrow brighter, even if it’s just an unintended consequence of the LED bulb replacement. This speaks to a much more critical matter, which is the overall expansion of Heathrow. Heathrow’s already an airport with no centrality to it whatsoever — terminals are hardly connected to each other and are anything but cohesive.
Will building a new runway and terminal on the other side of the motorway make Heathrow more of a jumbled mess, or will increased capacity lead to less delays and a quicker experience on the ground? What do you think?