Coffee House

Britain can’t wait until 2015 for airport expansion

6 September 2012

3:05 PM

6 September 2012

3:05 PM

The Government has announced that it will appoint a bureaucrat to spend three years writing a report on the desperate and urgent shortage of air transport capacity in the south east of England.

Meanwhile, Heathrow will continue to operate at over 98 per cent of capacity with no spare runways to pick up the slack when something goes wrong; Britain will continue to lack direct flights to countless Chinese metropolises; and the Chinese economy will continue to boom, swelling by an estimated 25 per cent by the time Howard Davies has finished pondering the issues in 2015.


We can’t wait that long and the solution is obvious. The immediate need for more capacity can only be met with a third runway at Heathrow. The Government should stop pussyfooting about and immediately introduce a Bill into Parliament providing for construction to start within months, bypassing the usual planning delays.

But Heathrow is poorly situated. An eventual replacement with space for four, six or even eight runways needs to be found with flight paths that don’t affect residential areas so that flights can be operated 24 hours a day without restriction. The obvious answer is a ‘Boris Airport’ in the Thames Estuary, but expanding Gatwick, Stanstead, Manston or finding a new site entirely could be a legitimate question for an official inquiry.

With the economy stuck in the doldrums and almost as many investors queuing up to build a third runway as there are planes circling endlessly over Heathrow waiting for a landing slot, the Government should be thoroughly ashamed of itself for kicking this pressing, vital issue into the long grass yet again.

Rory Meakin is a Research Associate at the TaxPayers’ Alliance.

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Show comments
  • Cedric557

    Whilst there would be jobs and tax revenue from a new or expanded hub airport – if passengers are not stopping (definition of a hub?) the main winners will be the airport and the airlines not UK business – no wonder the airlines/BAA etc are lobbying so hard for expansion

  • itdoesntaddup

    There’s plenty of spare capacity at Luton and Stansted. Passenger traffic and flight numbers are static in the light of APD. There’s no need for spare capacity unless we’re going to abandon APD.

  • William Blakes Ghost

    Manston? ROFLMAO. And the author thinks Heathrow is poorly situated…..

    Does anyone seriously (well except for that twerp Charlie Elphicke ~ or is that ‘El Thick’?) think that its sensible to build additional capacity, in an area with 1970’s style infrastructure, at the back end of nowhere, 70 miles South East of London and significantly further away from every other major conurbation in the UK (I know all about Manston, I’m a ‘Fanit’ boy).? In the locality Lydd would be better or further afield, if not Boris Island, even better still would be building a new airport in say Oxfordshire by the M40 perhaps? Far closer to the essential infrastructure and cities of this country Howeve,r no doubt that would upset all Dave’s constituents and such like.

  • Chiswickman

    It’s easy this one. If Heathrow has to be the national hub, then run it as one. There should be a compulsory purchase from Ferrovial (they need the money) and then aggressive management to optimise hub capacity. Any private pilot can currently buy one of these “scarce” take off and landing slots at Heathrow for £1k. So much for capacity constraints! In other words, run the airport in the interests of UK PLC not BA and BAA. On this basis, no third runway would be required. Simples really!

  • Daniel Maris

    We might take Mr Meakin a bit more seriously if he could at least get the spelling of Stansted right.

    If expansion of Stansted is – as he says – a legitimate response to the (alleged) need for additional airport capacity, then clearly the expansion could happen there just as well as at Heathrow.

    However, I remain highly sceptical about the whole argument about our economy “needing” these hub airports.

    As far as I can see these arguments are all of a piece with the arguments for boosting the financial sector and encouraging mass immigration. The hub airport won’t be about us selling in China, it will be about Chinese millionaires setting up in the UK as (largely) absentee owners of luxury flats in London. I very much doubt it will help Londoners. And given Mr Meakin is from the TPA, let’s be clear – a combination of the financial sector and mass immigration is driving up our taxes as we have to bail out banks and subsidise a huge numbers of immigrants subsisting in low pay jobs or on benefits. Meakins’ Menu means more madness of that type.

    I expect that a rational response would actually be to develop our regional airports – that actually will help the people of the UK and the local economies.

    • dalai guevara

      All correct, only that Stansted technically is a r e g i o n a l airport – what the Boris fraction really want is a hub competing with AMS and FRA.

      That an airport h u b encourages mass immigration is so farcical, it’s beyond belief. HKG/ INC/ MAD/ PEK are proof that this is nonsense. You really need to remove that chip on your shoulder trying to integrate ‘immigration’ into every single one of your posts, mate.

  • jazz6o6

    Mr Meakin

    You don’t know what you’re talking about. Compare the size of Heathrow (even with the 3rd runway ) with Schiphol and say CDG or Frankfurt and you will see that Heathrow is a fraction of the size that it needs to be. Easy to do using Google Maps !

    The game’s up we need a completely new Airport and since there is no hope of destroying square miles of countryside in the SE for the purpose the Boris Island idea is the best bet. We can’t dodge this challenge any longer in order to kow-tow to vested Heathrow interests.

    • James Randall

      Of course by the time you’ve built all the necessary road and rail infrastructure you’ll have probably destroyed even more of the SE that a new inland airport would

    • dalai guevara

      Visionary posturing – London has five airports, some not even close to full capacity and easily expandable. What you want is a hub to compete with Schiphol or Frankfurt. Why not say that?

      • jazz6o6

        Because I thought the point too obvious to labour.

        • dalai guevara

          So you think you are going to get there by being dishonest from the outset?

          • jazz6o6

            How do you make that out ?

            • dalai guevara

              Sorry, I have either misread or didn’t get what labour has got to do with this one.

              From Boris’s standpoint: I would make it quite clear to everyone, that it is the hub he wants (for competition with FRA & AMS), not because of capacity, as this is readily available across five London airports.

              • jazz6o6

                Labour as a transitive verb, but I expect that you knew that already.

                • dalai guevara

                  Oh yes – the opposite of lazy 😉

                • jazz6o6

                  No that would be ‘industrious’ or similar.

  • In2minds

    Not Manston, no, that’s needed for affordable homes in the SEast!

  • In2minds

    Not Manston, no, that’s needed for affordable homes in the SEast!

  • dalai guevara

    Britain cannot wait…

    that is precisely the message given by Fallon (source: Newsnight 4 Sept) and implied by Boris (source: interviews 4/5 Sept), that we are in danger of seeing procrastination that is.

    Boris Island is n o t the obvoius solution, as it is the last attempt of London centralists to one-sidedly favour a national connectivity issue that only benefits Londoners.

    Strengthen existing local transport infrastructure hubs, as it is based on a planning strategy favouring a well-connected ‘web’ diagram over a centralist ‘star’ diagram. Only a network of strong and equal sub-centres (still with a centre = web) will make us competitive with economies that have been run for decades following this principle.

  • Charlie the Chump

    Building 1 runway in the Thames estuary and 1 runway at Heathrow would take exactly the same time though more likely the 3-4 years Judy quotes than Rory’s over optimistic view.
    The Thames option can start at 1 runway and scale up to 5 or more over 10 years adjusting to world demand as we go.
    Chinese growth rates are debatable and Chinese statisitcs are even more fantastic than the ONS fairytales. Even so we need vision here not panic.

  • anonymous

    Umm. Is Rory still with the TPA cos the Commentator says ‘Rory Meakin was until recently a research associate for the TaxPayers’ Alliance. He is now a finance analyst’
    Just asking?

  • phead

    How about a new rule, anyone writing about capacity at Heathrow has to also post the % of capacity at Gatwick(75%) and Stanstead(50%) at the same time?

    If not then the post automatically get tagged with “BAA Fantasist”, seems fair to me.

    • Dimoto

      It’s a deal, as long as it’s tagged BAA/BA fantasist. The terrible (Spanish) twins of “UK aviation”.

  • Alexsandr

    We dont need more airport capacity. We have regional airports at Manchester, Birmingham, East midlands, Bristol with spare capacity. But we have this stupid hub concept so peope have to travel huge distances across britain to get their flights.

    And if we do need more flights from W london, why not develope existing northold as a satellite airfield? You could connect it with existing rail links to Heathrow via Greenford and Ealing.

    Anyway, this looks like a direct copy of Tim Yeo. What is Rorys reasoning?

    • James Randall

      The hub concept exists to make otherwise loss making routes profitable to fly. Without this there would not be the range of destinations offered from Heathrow (such as secondary cities in India, South America and the Far East)

      • Alexsandr

        so thats why 1 flight a day from brum to berlin then?

        • James Randall

          A lufthansa flight right? Presumably to connect to their hub

          • Alexsandr

            Lufthansa hub is Frankfurt….

  • Michel d’Anjou

    If we have a new Heathrow airport (for that is what it will need to be) then the vested interests will then set about ensuring a longer term solution is “kicked down the road”. This has been the technique before and will no doubt be the same again. BA/AA and Virgin/Delta, for example, have much to loose from an unconstrained modern solution.

  • Judy

    Building a third runway at Heathrow would take at the very least another 3-4 years from the point at which it was approved and through Parliament, so it doesn’t meet any immediate need.

    I also believe that the continuining and expanding major need is for a multi-runway world hub capacity project, so I do think that either Boris Island or the alternative Thames Estuary proposal is the real answer. It should be put on a wartime emergency project basis, and linked to programmes of training young people in our schools and the willing unemployed of our country so that we don’t have to import tens of thousands more workers from other countries to do the work. Look what a success the Olympics project made of training the young never-been-employed to contribute to a superbly run Olympics and Paralympics. Think of all the jobs we could be training people for where the work will be there when they qualify–and there is huge unemployment in the Thames Estuary areas compared with west London.

    For the intervening period then a range of improving capacity use at existing airports, which I believe offers scope, plus making temporary runway expansions to places like Southend and maybe some military/RAF airfields could enable us to deliver.

    Expanding Heathrow would be worse than the Poll Tax in terms of lost seats. It is really not worth doing at the price of putting Ed Miliband, Ed Balls with or without a coalition with Clegg Redux in charge of our country in 2015.

    Putting Howard Davies, the man who set up what Private Eye rightly renamed the Fundamentally Supine Authority followed by his presiding over the change of the London School of Economics to the Libyan School of Economics, in charge of the airport enquiry shows the most unbelievably poor judgement on the part of Cameron and those around him. Davies’ judgement is demonstrably not something anyone with any sense could rely on.

    • HooksLaw

      I agree. Heathrow is in the wrong place and ideally it should ultimately be closed. We do need airport capacity and it should be on some Boris island site with at least 6 runways.
      How you can admit as the writer does that we need 4 to 6 new runways and then propose to build just one at Heathrow beggars belief.

      The immediate emergency ‘capacity’solution is to build additional runways and links at Gatwick and Stansted. There needs to be a link between Gatwick and Heathrow and there should be expansion at somewhere like Northolt

      There is an argument for an extra runway ate Heathrow, not to increase capacity but to ease congestion, thus this has nothing to do with flying to china or for that matter making life more difficult for residents. But since heathrow is in the wrong place and will never have adequate capacity it would be ultimately ,pointless.

      • James Randall

        Agree, Heathrow IS in the wrong place but it’s what we’ve got for now so add an extra runway to ease problems and add some limited capacity whilst building a new hub airport (preferable not east of London, even further away from the majority of the population of the UK)

        • dalai guevara

          Absolutely – this estuary nonsense might tick the visionary boxes, but certainly sends the wrong message with regard to regional integration.

    • telemachus

      Building the runway might indeed take ten years. In the meantime moving to
      mixed use of the two existing runways – alternating takeoffs and
      landings on each throughout the day – could increase traffic by 15
      percent.Overnight use could take this to 40%
      Bingo- solution while the coalition argue while waiting for a decisive administration in 2015

  • pauldanon

    Sorry. We’re skint. Can’t afford any new infrastructure. Our work is cut out repaying our debts. We’d better work harder for less, using the massive network that we already have.

  • Leonard of Quirm

    Here we have a classic bit of kicking the can down the road (or into the long grass). Anything to avoid making a decision until after the next General Election. FFS why does it need that long to make a decision? A couple of months should be quite enough, then a week to write the report.

    • 2thrublue

      I agree with you but it is because it is a hot potato! And we do not have the money.
      What is more worrying is that Labour ignored our energy problems and we will see the lights go out! And that is a bit more immediate to all of us! Politicians, what do they really know?

    • Dimoto

      Labour and the LibDems have a lock on the third runway, in case you hadn’t noticed, (and the threat of it will be toxic for the Conservatives in the next election).
      Immediate expansion of Stanstead is eminently possible, whilst the new hub is planned. BA will hate that though, because they will lose control.

      • ButcombeMan

        Did not Labour approve the LHR third runway and Terminal 6 in 2009?

        Did not Cameron & Co cancel it in 2010?

        Cameron was a fool to make himself a hostage to the airport and sepecifically LHR, capacity issue.

        The third runway and terminal 6 should go ahead immediately.

        By sheer bad managment & bad politics Cameron has painted himself into a corner.

        Even if Boris island or something similar is or becomes, the long term (15 to 20 year plus at least) objective, it would never “work” as imagined by Boris unless LHR were ultimately to be closed. We are talking 30 years.

        LHR and supporting infrastructure probably employs directly or indirectly 250, 000 people. They cannot all move overnight to service Boris island, not until a lot of homes have been built. The freight function at LHR cannot suddenly be moved, the hotels cannot all be moved.

        Pay no attention to Boris, he is a bigger prat than Cameron

        I am the ultimate cynic. Who is buying up possible development land around Boris island?