Designs unveiled for proposed new London airport on artificial island


November 14, 2013

Artist's concept of the London Britannia Airport

Artist's concept of the London Britannia Airport

Image Gallery (10 images)

Sometimes, success brings its own problems. London’s airports may have managed to grab a considerable chunk of the passenger air market, but the result has been congestion over the south of England and a desperate clamor for new runways. This week, the Thames Estuary Research and Development Company (Testrad) consortium unveiled details of a scheme designed to take the pressure off. Its London Britannia Airport proposal involves building an artificial island in the Thames Estuary near the Isle of Sheppey to provide the capital with a larger airport, which would replace Heathrow.

Problems of building and expanding Heathrow have been around since it was expanded from a small airfield into an RAF base in 1944 and then into the main London air terminal in later decades.

As Heathrow grew into one of the busiest airports in the world, the need for expansion and renovation became paramount, but its location in the heavily built up region west of London made each proposal a hard fought contest against environmentalists, local residents, the National Trust, and even the major political parties. However, the continuing increase in air passenger travel raised the question of expanding London’s air capacity or seeing business going to French, Dutch and German competitor airports.

In 2010, Mayor of London Boris Johnson said: “As the world economy changes and global power shifts to the east, the constrictions of London’s hub airport are becoming ever more apparent and ever more damaging ... to do nothing would lead to economic stagnation … it is vital that a location for extra runway capacity is found for London to remain one of the leading world cities.”

According to the BBC, Johnson, is so outspoken an advocate in favor of an Estuary airport as opposed to expanding Heathrow that the proposed artificial island was dubbed “Boris Island.” It’s a name that has been reinforced by his founding of Testrad to prepare a feasibility of such an airport in the Thames Estuary.

Testrad funds research into the advantages and trade offs of such an airport and was established by Doug Oakervee, former chairman of Crossrail Ltd and Bridget Rosewell, former Chief Economic Adviser to the GLA at the Mayor’s behest. This week’s proposal was based in part on the Government’s 1968 - 1970 Roskill Commission findings into the possibilities of establishing airports in the Estuary area.

It’s part of an overall strategy to develop the Estuary and move the economic center of London eastward, which would include improvements in flood defense, the application of wind and tidal power, the development of more extensive crossings of the Estuary by road and rail, and the improvement of shipping and airport facilities.

Built behind a belt of polders to control against flooding, the London Britannia Airport would consist of six runways spreading out from an island of reclaimed land in the shallows of the Estuary. According to Testrad, it would cost £47 billion to build at £7.83 billion per runway, as opposed to £14 to 18 billion to build another runway at Heathrow, and would take seven years to construct.

Once in operation, the airport would provide 24-hour service to 172 million passengers per year, who would go through a check-in in central London before their 30-minute journey to the airport via high-speed rail lines. There would also be rail connections to Gatwick, Stansted, and Heathrow, as well as docking facilities for international and domestic ferry lines.

Inside the airport would be a multi-use terminal with conference facilities, museum outposts, sleeping pods and shopping. In addition, there would be lounges on all passenger tiers, and views of the Thames Estuary for a “resonant and memorable interior terminal environment.”

The proposal lays out the advantages of the airport as providing better connections to Europe, British regional cities, and London itself. In addition to shifting the economic center of the metropolis to the less developed east, Testrad says that it would create 200,000 new jobs through direct and indirect new employment, and service and engineering industry spin-offs.

As to the the airport itself, Testrad claims that the Estuary location would have low environmental impact as a “blue-greenfield site” that would require no land assembly, would not be subject to planning delays, would have minimal impact on birds, and wouldn't need industries or homes to move. In addition, the shift in air traffic would mean no more noisy flyovers of London or the Southeast.

As to Heathrow, Testrad sees the cost of building a whole new airport as offset by closing Heathrow and redeveloping the area, with new houses for 300,000 people, new parklands, £45 billion in added land value from development, and long term growth by changing the area into a “technopolis” with high-tech industry based around the old BOAC-era maintenance hangars.

However, the proposal is not without opposition. The heads of both Heathrow and Gatwick have voiced reservations in the British press, the RSPB has raised concerns about the impact on wildlife in the Estuary, and the group Stop Estuary Airport is, no surprise, flat-out opposed to the project.

“The new London Britannia Airport concept plan gives London the airport it will need to support it’s world city status into the 21st century," says Rosewell. “It also provides a solution to the challenge of incorporating London’s expected growth in population of 2 million and a facility which can be linked to the whole of the UK while both the east and west of London will each benefit from regeneration.”

Source: Testrad, BBC

About the Author
David Szondy David Szondy is a freelance writer based in Monroe, Washington. An award-winning playwright, he has contributed to Charged and iQ magazine and is the author of the website Tales of Future Past. All articles by David Szondy

By the time the trees reach the maturity pictured, our civilization will be ruined by its own profligacy. The irony is bittersweet.


I hope the designers made sure that they have room for several more runways to be built alongside the first 6.


This is a fantastic idea. Would be better if access could be made via train from the North end though. Keeping it well out of the way ensures a lot of homes and businesses will not be affected by building work, noise etc.


Expensive....but hey...China did it sort of with their new airport, the island concept, not the same as this, but they created an artificial island for their new airport.

Rusty Harris

Cool design. I'm assuming that the wind never blows hard from the north or south? Or does the island weathervane? Now that would be really cool! And only an extra $200B! Heathrow is a nightmare, and is only going to get worse. Unless someone can find a better solution, this may be the best one. whatever the budget and timeline is, plan on double.........

Joe Goebel

Sure hope they make those polders high enough, so when the ice caps melt it is not underwater.


Always thought it ridiculous for airliners to haul tons of landing gear with associated mechanisms to 30.000' where they are of no use whatsoever.Why not bring back the concept of landing on water instead?

Build an air harbor instead with modern floating airliners. Imagine the reduced construction costs for air harbors and planes. The airlines would love the freed up tonnage where they could cram in even more passengers. Could work even at land locked locations with 3-4 feet deep channels instead of expensive concrete runways.

stan lind

The concept and placement is good but I have a couple of comments. a) The runways look very short! b) The polders don't look very high. This airport will need to be able to cope with some very big storms.

Anyway, it'll be interesting if this comes to fruition.


@ stan lind The reinforced bottom of a flying boat probably weighs as much as the landing gear, and the fuel cost of pushing through the water to take off burns more fuel that carrying the landing gear around.

@ mooseman

The runways look to be about 2 miles long. for a cool near sea level airport those are long runways.


The idea seems good. Though this give many job opportunities and the infrastructural and economical development to the East of London. What about the wind speeds ,the climate, any tidal waves and will there be a effect because of the increase of water level in the oceans due to increasing global warming.

Chandrakumar Chanjief

I love the idea, a little worried about the rising water levels. but I have no doubt that that has taken into account. It would also add to the tide control for London, all round a good and practical idea, I would like to see the idea adapted.


Wish they would do something like this to replace the aging airports in the NYC area. JFK, LaGuardia and Newark are all outdated, don't have room to expand and get bad reviews from travelers. One airport to replace them all would be great, with no duplication of terminals. Unlike landlocked London, NYC is right next to the Atlantic, so there's plenty of room to build, if not in open ocean, then at least in Lower New York Bay. The land beneath each current airport is worth far more to developers than Heathrow. Although it would be a shame to demolish the distinctive Saarinen building at JFK.


I am less concerned about seas rising than of land sinking. I sure hope the lessons from Kansai have been learned, and that they do some significant geotech work so that the extra weight of the runways/terminals can be supported properly.

Bruce H. Anderson

I am surprised that the article mentions that it will not disturb birds. I have read that one of the main objections is that this island would be on major bird migration routes. Better include a few lifeboat stations ready to recue Airbus 380's worth of passengers when they ditch in the estuary.

In isolation, it looks fine, but start considering climate change and the extra carbon that an increase in air travel would bring and it begins to look not so good (re for a rational appraisal of the science). Add in sea-level rise, which is currently running at the very top of predictions and it is difficult to include the word 'good' in any appraisal. Move on to consider the absolute mess the world economy is in and any justification based on increased trade becomes impossible, we are too short of everything it seems, even water. Then consider the upcoming financial collapse (QE just cannot go on forever) and this is a non-starter, as too is any increase in Heathrow runway numbers. We will be lucky to retain a functioning society when it all goes pear-shaped. And even if we are lucky, it looks as though there just is not going to be the oil to fuel the aircraft with. (See Our Finite World blog for detailed analysis.)

Mel Tisdale

This proposal ticks all the boxes and more and will form the infrastructure to support:- a. A new Thames Barrier b. A power station to accommodate Wave and Tidal Power generation to meet the needs of the airport. c. With direct HS1 rail links to London, Paris and Europe and Stansted Air Port to cover all possible scenarios. d. It could also be expanded to accommodate future demands including the needs of supersonic aircraft of the future.

In addition it would also form the foundation for a possible terminal for large ocean cruisers for visitors who prefer a more leisurely way to visit London, a reservoir carved out of the sea as well as a sewage treatment plant. Bob Stather

Bob Stather

Traveling to central London before taking a train to the airport sounds like a significant increase in travel time for anyone living outside the Thames estuary or London. Sounds more like an idea to please the voters of London than a workable idea.

Martin Stevenson
Post a Comment

Login with your Gizmag account:

Related Articles
Looking for something? Search our articles