A Communication Problem facing a Real Life Organization: The Extension of Heathrow Airport

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1. Appreciation of the Situation

1.1. Background Information of the Company and Industry:

The London Heathrow Airport is an airport located in the western suburbs of London in the United Kingdom. It is the fourth airport in the world according to the total number of passengers and the second according to the number of international passengers behind Dubai. This is also the first airport in Europe in terms of passengers. Moreover, the Heathrow Airport had been awarded the Best European Airport Large Capacity in the ninth edition of the ACI Europe Awards. http://www.heathrowairport.com/. It is one of the six international airports in London and is managed by the BAA Limited, which manages, in addition to Heathrow, six other UK airports (Gatwick, Stansted, Southampton, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Edinburgh).

Heathrow is built on a section of territory belonging to the green belt of London. This implantation airport west associated with an east-west runway means that aircraft must usually land after approach over the metropolitan area: some trajectories spend even above Buckingham Palace. It is a feature of this rather old airport, which does not exist in the international airports of other world where the airport location minimizes air pollution problems, most not pass directly above densely populated areas http://www.heathrowairport.com/ .

Issues of Importance to the Company and Environment:

The British capital has no fewer than five airports scale, but its current mail platform, Heathrow, suffers from competition from Paris airports – Charles de Gaulle, Frankfurt and Amsterdam for serving emerging markets of BRICS (Brazil , Russia, India, China and South Africa), a study of the British employers’ organization IPC (Gudmundsson et al: 2014).

Two of the three shortlisted projects revolve around Heathrow, already the world’s largest airport for international passenger traffic (67.3 million passengers in 2013). The first suggests lengthening one of two runways at the airport; the second proposes to build a third runway. The third plan is to commission a second track to Gatwick Airport. The final policy decision will not be taken before the next parliamentary term (2015-2020), for commissioning by 2030 (Hayden: 2014).

The expansion of the Heathrow airport had been cancelled many times. Municipal councils, residents and green groups opposed an expansion project that Gordon Brown said was necessary for economic reasons. The airport operator BAA wanted to work with the new government for strong trade relations. The decision to cancel the project came from an agreement of Conservative-Liberal Democrats. The government also said it would refuse any additional track to Gatwick and Stansteds. The BAA claims that Heathrow needed extra capacity and without that London and therefore, the United Kingdom, would lose against European cities competing as a place to visit or do business (Hayden: 2014).

Another issue facing the organization is ban on night flights. Night flights are often considered an essential part of the networks by airlines. Long-haul passengers wanting to arrive in Europe early in the day often pass overnight in a transfer airport like Heathrow in order to take another flight to their final destination. Yet the noise created by these night flights is detrimental to the quality of life of the population surrounding. It causes sleep disorders, increases the use of medications, stress like insomnia. Around Heathrow Airport, many people are victims of noise at night (O’Doherty: 2014). The British government is to rethink the limit of the number of authorized night flights at Heathrow. However, a ban on night flights can impose direct, indirect and external cost to the airline in monetary terms. According to a report the impact of a ban on night flights on society can vary from increased £ 860 million in a decrease of £ 35 million a period of ten years (2013-2023). The loss would occur if all the passengers in transit night at Heathrow stopped traveling after the ban on night flights in force. It is however highly unlikely http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/may/05/heathrow-and-gatwick-expansion-election-decision-transport-environment .

Definition of Problem Facing the Organization:

This track was envisaged in the White Paper 2003 Aviation government and the green light was given by the Secretary of Transportation Geoff Hoon in January 2009, despite the fact that the village of Sipson would actually disappear during the construction project. The Labor opposed the project, preferring to improve rail links to and from Heathrow including a direct link to the new London to Scotland by high-speed train (Osborne: 2013).

According to the opponents, with the decision the people in the flight path are happy and people who were on the verge of losing their homes are relieved. It’s also good for London it would have been bad for the environment and it was not essential to the well Economic -being of the city. I am absolutely delighted. However, the proponents of the expansion believe that that this decision decreases the attractiveness of London and the southeast region for investors, with potential consequences for the UK economy. Ben Stewart of Greenpeace believed the third runway at Heathrow as always a bizarre proposal that does not make sense for anyone who understood the impact aviation has on the climate http://www.uk-airport-news.info/heathrow-airport-news.htm.

The future third runway at Heathrow is unworthy for the opponents to the project, environmental defense associations, to the people of London and the region that supports the noise and nuisance of 477,000 flights per year. Because of its location near London and prevailing winds from the west, many areas of the capital are flown daily by hundreds of aircraft. It is for this reason that the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, like all conservatives, opposes the third runway and promises to oppose it any cost staying in the Parliament after winning the general election (Hayden: 2014). Moreover, the Mayor proposed to push the airport on the outskirts of the capital and replace thousands of homes. However, the project advocated long ago by him is considered unrealistic. According to him, this new mammoth project would not only alleviate congestion in other busy airports in London, but also reduce noise and air pollution caused by air traffic. With this location near the water, it is hoped by the proponents that the new airport hub of the Thames is an alternative to the construction of a third runway at Heathrow Airport (O’Doherty: 2014).

Even within the Labor government, some ministers, as Ed Miliband, in charge of the fight against global warming, have done everything to prevent the government from authorizing the construction of a new runway. The growth of air traffic at Heathrow is indeed contrary to Gordon Brown’s commitment to limit by any means the CO2 emissions in the country (Osborne: 2013).

Rationale for communication plan to address the Situation:

Although wealth creators for the host territories, airports are face growing opposition. With four terminals and 70 million passengers a year, the first European airport, Heathrow Airport, is saturated. The slightest disturbance can derail the machine. Despite a good level of equipment and services (restaurants, lounges, shops, and railway service), the platform suffers from congestion http://www.uk-airport-news.info/heathrow-airport-news.htm. With 471,341 flights last year, it flirts with its maximum permitted level of 480 000 on two tracks. A recurring debate is devoted to the construction of a third runway, which militate solution for its leaders and businesses in the capital, concerned about the loss of competitiveness compared to London hubs at Paris, Frankfurt and Amsterdam. Although residents and oppose policies and advocate for the creation of a new airport in the Thames estuary, the cancellation of the expansion will affect the economy of the nation drastically. The slightest disturbance, including weather, may cause cascading delays and cancellations, long waits at immigration and long queues for registration are common. Moreover, if nothing is done, the status of Heathrow as world class airport would be gradually eroded, with job losses in the key and criminalization of economy (O’Doherty: 2014). Taking into account the above, the organization needs to design an effective communication plan to address the situation to the local public and the government to accomplish the approval.

2. Goals and Objectives

2.1. Goals:

Communication is an essential aspect of the proper functioning of an organization. It offers various tools and techniques to manage it. In this regard public relations constitute one of its main tools because they start from a basic principle inherent to all human beings: communication (Hendrix et al: 2012).

Whether the public want it or not, all individuals, groups and companies communicate daily messages to different audiences. Public Relations make sure that these messages are appropriate, sent by the appropriate channels and understood in perspective (Dozier et al: 2013). Therefore, public relations are a valuable tool to establish better communication and integration among social groups. It undoubtedly respond to a major objective in its work and is addressed to get sympathy, understanding and solidarity of the public affected or affect the activity of an organization (Hendrix et al: 2012).

The goals of the communication plan should be

  • to present proposals that all go in the direction of the wish and will of the local community or the public
  • to persuade the public in favour of the expansion of the airport
  • to propose a strong message for the UK government that the expansion of the airport will not violate the environmental regulations
  • to prevent, reduce or offset Heathrow’s significant effects on the environment and local communities, and work with others to ensure that the airport plays its role in respecting environmental limits

The consent of the locals will be a great achievement in the implementation of the project.

2.2. Objectives

The objectives of the communication campaign should be to:

  • Propose an expansion plan that minimizes the impacts on environment
  • Understand the concerns and priorities of the communities affected by noise impacts by engaging with them
  • Assure that the plan for a third runway would significantly minimize noise pollution
  • Satisfy the local public as well as all other stakeholders and governmental bodies that the project is in full compliance with the sustainability standards.
  • Convey persuasive messages through the campaign highlighting the negative impacts if the project is stopped.

3.2. Key Messages of the Campaign:

Some of the key messages that should be conveyed through the Communication campaign are:

  • The expansion project is in compliance with the airport’s noise action plan in which the priorities are to reduce noise impacts wherever practicable through quietest practicable fleet and aircraft operations with minimized emissions of NO2 and CO2 and through effective noise mitigation schemes.
  • Their priority is to understand and value the concerns and priorities of the local communities and the inhabitants who are most likely to be affected by this project.
  • Their priority is to influence the planning policy in order to minimize the noise sensitive properties around the airport (Howarth & Griggs: 2013).
  • The expansion can not only increase the accommodation capacity of the airport, which has become over the years the airport as “stuffy” in Europe, but also significantly reduce the noise pollution.
  • Heathrow is full and its dependence on two tracks causes delays. The cost of congestion can be measured economically and environmentally.
  • If the expansion of Heathrow is not achieved, it threatens the economy and the consequences of weak growth or even no growth at all cannot be escaped.
  • The project plans to develop the infrastructure of the airport by increasing the current single track capacity to allow more take-offs and landings at peak times, but also to accommodate new generation aircraft, quieter and more efficient in terms of fuel consumption.
  • Social and economic benefits are expected, including the doubling of the economic impact of the airport or the creation of 500 jobs over 1,500 during construction (Nulman: 2015).

3. Target Publics

3.1. Organization’s Target Public:

At Heathrow, the new terminal 2 was opened after years of collaboration with STAR Alliance and other partners to redevelop and operate optimally. Based on the lessons learned during that strategic collaboration, they also launched their center airport operations combined: it is as well to achieve their operational integration strategy but also to plan future developments with key stakeholders at Heathrow. For them, these types of approaches, which go far beyond mere collaboration and go through a thorough integration create huge potential opportunities and help improve the mode of operation of the airport platform (Smith et al: 2013).

Stakeholders are not found only in the heart of the industry. The biggest challenge that Heathrow is now facing is: their two tracks are the most stressed in the world and they have reached their full capacity. They need to enlarge the airport. The conclusions of the business case concerning the United Kingdom and Heathrow are indisputable. However, they cannot act alone. They must appeal to companies in general, trade unions and the political community and seek their help (Howarth & Griggs: 2013). It is quite essential to involve the inhabitants of the cities nearby such as this has never been done before. It is thus to establish partnerships with municipalities and ensure that local communities are more involved in defining their goals and how to achieve them. So there is a clear trend of airports to determine their strategy through negotiation, cooperation and integration others.

Thus, the target publics of the communication campaign include the following:

  • The local residents or inhabitants of the territory where the airport is located, who are expected to be mostly affected by the expansion
  • The companies, trade unions and the political community of the region
  • The non-governmental organization, Greenpeace.

They need the collaboration, support and cooperation of these publics and organizations to achieve the implementation of the expansion plan.

3.2 Rationale:

The expansion project of the Heathrow Airport has been opposed by many governmental and non-governmental bodies and local residents. These bodies are responsible for the cancellation of the Heathrow expansion project such as the Greenpeace and the opponent local residents (Smith et al: 2013).

At a time when the fight against climate change is a priority, the proposed construction of a third airport runway appears to be irresponsible to a number of such local authorities, residents and environmental concerned organizations (Nulman: 2015). As mentioned above, the Heathrow realizes that their goal can only be achieved through collaboration, negotiation and support of the local authorities, residents, political community. The sole purpose of the Communication campaign is to convince, persuade and satisfy the target publics mentioned above to support the expansion project.

4. Proposed Strategy:

Public relations activities are to strengthen the image and generate a good will of an entity: organization, individual person or a product. At the same time it can directly or indirectly influence people regarding any entity.  The functions of PR remain the same, and there are certain aspects which remain valid but the arrival of the Internet has led to a new communication scenario in public relations characterized by open collaboration through new digital platforms to facilitate the exchange of knowledge; the roles of sender and receiver are continually exchanged. We are surrounded by too much information. An example: every minute uploaded to YouTube 72 hours of video. The hard part is not having a web presence, but to capture the attention of users.

Through their communication strategy the airport not only wants to promote their runway, but

  • also neutralise the prevailing default bias that they receive toward the expansion of their third runway
  • The overall strategy will aim to satisfy and convince the target public that fewer people would suffer aircraft noise if a 3rd runway is constructed and flights will be increased by some 50%.
  • The plan seeks to influence the Airports Commission, to submit its recommendations to government as to how the global airport hub status can be maintained if Heathrow is expanded.
  • The PR campaigns of large corporations do require a grand budget to communicate their key messages to the public in the best effective and influential way possible. The airport is spending a lot of money (the figure of approximately £10 million for the PR budget has been mentioned last year) on their lobbying to win over key hearts and minds to their third runway plan.
  • Heathrow already has existing relationships for public relations with Fishburn and London Communications Agency. The airport also needs to review its digital and consumer agencies. The best techniques to be used to conduct their communication plan are press releases/ conferences and feature articles to be published online and in newspapers.

5. Operational Plan and Execution:



Communication Channel

Time Period

Phase I

  • To make the target public aware of the benefits that the Heathrow would bring to the economy of the nation
  • To make people aware of the adverse effects the airport and the overall UK economy would be facing if the expansion is cancelled

News releases published in newspapers and online.

2 months June and July 2015

Phase II

  • To convince the target publics that the expansion project is in full compliance with the sustainability standards.
  • To convince the target public that expansion would reduce noise pollution and increase flights

Press Conferences and Video News Releases online; Online surveys and discussion forums to the priorities and concerns of the local residents.

1 month August 2015

Phase III

  • To highlight the negative impacts if the expansion is stopped
  • To focus on the key benefits that expansion

Video News Releases, Online surveys and discussion forums; online

3 months September to November 2015


Dozier, D. M., Grunig, L. A., & Grunig, J. E. (2013). Manager’s guide to excellence in public relations and communication management. Routledge.

Gudmundsson, S., Paleari, S., & Redondi, R. (2014). Spillover effects of the development constraints in London Heathrow Airport. Journal of Transport Geography35, 64-74.

Hayden, A. (2014). Stopping Heathrow Airport Expansion (For Now): Lessons from a Victory for the Politics of Sufficiency. Journal of Environmental Policy & Planning16(4), 539-558.

Hendrix, J., Hayes, D., & Kumar, P. (2012). Public relations cases. Cengage Learning.

Howarth, D., & Griggs, S. (2013). The politics of airport expansion in the United Kingdom: hegemony, policy and the rhetoric of’sustainable aviation’. Manchester University Press.

Nulman, E. (2015). Dynamic interactions in contentious episodes: social movements, industry, and political parties in the contention over Heathrow’s third runway. Environmental Politics, (ahead-of-print), 1-20.

O’Doherty, D. (2014). Missing Connexions: The politics of airport expansion in the United Kingdom. Organization, 1350508414549759.

Osborne, T. (2013). Expanding horizons: Heathrow’owners believe expansion, not new-build airport, will solve capacity issues. Aviation Week & Space Technology175(23).

Smith, M., Whitelegg, J., & Williams, N. J. (2013). Greening the built environment. Routledge.





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