Challenge Circles




The Airports Challenge is part a series of real case studies at the London School of Economics where leaders open their greatest challenges to circles of problem solvers outside their organisation.

This challenge is based on in depth interviews with Phil Graham, who was CEO of the Airports Commission from 2012 to 2015. Phil is is seeking your views on where London should expand its airports capacity. The aim of the challenge is to introduce you to the design of major infrastructure assessments and the role of politics in meddling with assessment analytics.

There are three steps to this challenge: First an online platform giving you all the details and key data behind Phil Graham's work at the Airports Commission. You can access the full platform by registering and clicking the button above. Secondly, you will be invited to join your challenge peers in an online meeting to discuss the data and the challenge in greater detail. Finally, you will be invited to a challenge workshop where you will be able to relay your advice to Phil Graham himself.


The Airports Challenge is open to participants of the Executive Masters in Cities at the London School of Economics. To access the full challenge, please register using the invitation code sent to you.


You will be invited to a web meeting where we will introduce you to the other challenge takers. This will be an opportunity for you to ask any questions on the challenge and review the data that is available to you.


The culmination of the challenge is a workshop where you will be able to give your advice to Phil Graham himself.



Phil Graham was working in the private office of the Secretary of State for Transport, when the last major review on airport capacity in the South East of England was launched. The review recommended that a second runway be built in Stansted and a third in Heathrow. That was in 2003. Over a decade has passed and London remains with exactly the same number of runways since City Airport was opened in 1987. In the autumn of 2012, just after London’s Summer Olympics, Phil Graham got a call from Patrick McLoughlin, the Secretary of State for Transport. Phil Graham was no stranger to politically sensitive large infrastructure projects having just led a two year long review and case for building HS2, a new high speed rail connection between London and Northern England. Being asked to head a study on one of the most controversial projects in British infrastructure history was therefore a natural next step. Phil would act as chief executive of the Airports Commission, which would advise central Government on the necessity to expand airport capacity in the South East of England and if so, where? The commission was chaired by Howard Davies who was supported by four commissioners, Sir John Armitt, Professor Ricky Burdett, Vivienne Cox, and Professor Dame Julia King. It was Phil Graham’s responsibility to design the review process and provide critical evidence to the Commission. With this evidence, the Commissioners would shortlist a number of options that would see increased runway capacity in London.

It’s now December 2013 and with just one week to go before the interim report is published, Phil Graham is asked by the Secretary of State for Transport to review the four options that the Commission wants to put forward to the next stage. The options include, two proposals each with a new runway for Heathrow, one proposal with a new runway for Gatwick and a final proposal, pending further evidence, with a completely new airport in the Thames Estuary promoted by the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson. Your task is to review the evidence and suggest on what grounds certain options should be shortlisted and others dismissed. Does Phil Graham hold the necessary evidence and stakeholder acceptance to put the Commission’s four options forward and face the scrutiny of stakeholders and the media on December 17th?

Start the Challenge
Register to access the full challenge