Airports Special (2)

Articles, LondonUnlockedEditorComment

The rumbling about London's aviation future continues.

An excellent article in the New York Times (a must-read) sums up the situation well:

"Conditions have grown particularly gusty lately as the government attempts to grapple with the airports question yet again amid ballooning budget deficits and an economy that has slid into a double-dip recession. The debate pits London’s business leaders, who argue that new runway capacity is vital for Britain’s global competitiveness, against environmentalists warning of the implications for the country’s carbon-emissions targets, and local residents who are already among the Europeans most affected by airport noise.

"It also appears to have thrown a wedge into the fragile governing coalition of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, who came to power in 2010 with a joint promise to reverse the course of the previous Labour government and block any expansion at London’s three-largest airports: Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted.

"Meanwhile, stark economic reality has begun to shake the support of the Conservative mayor of London, Boris Johnson — who is campaigning to be re-elected during a vote this week — for a bold, £50 billion, or $81 billion, project to replace Heathrow with a new airport hub. "

And, closer to home, the debate continues.

Sir Martin Sorrell has told the Government that delays in creating extra capacity is hurting the UK while a report commissioned by BAA has claimed that London stands to lose £100bn in the next 20 years if the Government choses not to act. BAA chief Colin Matthews has renewed his call for a third runway at Heathrow.

Some think that London needs to go even further though - Kwasi Kwateng, a Tory MP local to Heathrow, has also taken a look at London aviation in new report The Growth Factory :

"One possibility is the creation of an entirely new hub airport, perhaps located in the Thames Estuary as suggested by London Mayor Boris Johnson. Such an airport could be located where it has room to expand and add as many runways as needed. It wouldn’t require demolishing of historic churches or villages. It could operate twenty four hours a day, making the facility far more suitable for freight. By situating the airport away from significant populations, we can ensure that noise and air pollution are no longer a problem for the locals.

"The most important objection to the project is the time it would take to build. Current estimates it would take at least thirty years to build, while Britain will need new capacity long before 2040. Perhaps these estimates are overly pessimistic. In the 1990s Hong Kong moved its hub airport from Kai Tak to a reclaimed island in just eight years, under greater engineering challenges than would face a Thames airport. That project involved not just building the airport itself, new roads and high speed railways, but bridges able to withstand typhoons over two hundred miles per hour, and five miles of tunnels.

"However, it would certainly be simpler to expand the current London airports. A third runway at Heathrow could be in operation in as little as a decade after the decision was made to go ahead. The aviation industry has already offered to fund the £9 bn cost. The British Chamber of Commerce estimates that this runway only could produce £20 bn of wider economic benefits.

Creating new runways at Heathow, Gatwick and Stansted could meet probably meet aviation demand for the next few decades."

Mr Kwateng's section of the report can be found here.

The Government's forthcoming Aviation Strategy will only exercise the debate further. London has a capacity crisis and whether through a new hub, better management of existing resources, or expansion of current capacity, the Government must be bold and act fast.