On the third runway

So yesterday Boris Johnson took a day trip to Afghanistan rather than vote against the third runway at Heathrow Airport. It seems a little extreme, to be honest, to travel halfway round the world to a country rebuilding itself from period of deep strife and horror. Or was that what he was thinking, on the way back? Was his plane delayed as it flew back to Heathrow?

He might have been in Nando’s, of course.

I’ve never understood how they will use the third runway. Heathrow already has two. One for landing, and one for taking off. What will the other one be for? And as soon as they build it, will the pressure begin for a fourth runway? This one, they will tell us, is for the planes taking off. We’ve got more planes landing now because of the third runway and we are running out of places to put them. It’s either that, or a multi storey aircraft park.

I must admit, I’ve always been a fan of civil aviation. I grew up near Heathrow airport and I used to go there when I was a kid and watch the planes taking off and landing. It’s powerful and it’s beautiful and there can be no more stirring sound than an Airbus A310 in reverse thrust. Whining it’s head off. Flaps up. Braking hard, then taxiing off the runway. Oh my. But even as an aircraft enthusiast, this has always had to mix in with my environmental beliefs. Aircraft are not good for the environment. They are high maintenance and they guzzle up a lot of fuel. A hell of a lot of fuel. And this gets pumped back into the atmosphere as carbon molecules. Oh, the guilt. How can something so beautiful be so very bad for you? Which is also what I think whenever I eat a hamburger.

Another part of me is always in awe of massive engineering projects. The logistics of building a third runway will be enormous. There will, of course, be a human side to it, too. Growing up near the airport, there are places I know that will, inevitably, be flattened by bulldozers to accommodate taxiways, aprons, terminal buildings, Starbucks. This sacred land where Dick Turpin terrorised stagecoaches, Herne the Hunter haunted monarchs, and Jeremy from Airport amused us all back in the glory days of reality tv, will be changed forever. Are we really so selfish as a generation?

The third runway is not the problem, it’s Heathrow and it’s infrastructure. In an age of mass communication and technology, we need less aircraft, not more. The more I think about it, the more I feel like hiding in Afghanistan to get away from it all. Which is also what I thought the last time I had to do some washing up.

Author: Robert Garnham

Performance and spoken word artist.

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