Coffee House

Spectator debate: No ifs. No buts. Heathrow must have a third run way

8 November 2012

7:53 PM

8 November 2012

7:53 PM

David Cameron knows that a third runway at Heathrow would be one of the most controversial and significant outcomes of his premiership, which is why he has kicked the decision into the long grass with the Davies Review. Thanks to ever spiralling passenger numbers and the bulging state of our existing airports, both London and the South East desperately need a plan to provide more air capacity. We’ve examined the numerous options on Coffee House but most immediate solution — to expand Heathrow — continues to find itself at top of the pile.

The Spectator has therefore decided to instigate the debate the government continues to avoid: is expanding Heathrow the answer? I’m delighted to announce that Graham Brady, the influential chair of the 1922 committee, will be speaking for the motion while Daniel Moylan, Boris Johnson’s right hand man on aviation, will be battling against. We’ve got more political and industry heavyweights in the pipeline and with Andrew Neil chairing, it promises to be an informative and action-packed evening.

The debate will kick off at 7.15pm at the IET on Savoy Place in London on Monday 26th November. Although we will be posting the audio online, what better to way to get involved than to come along and join in one of the most crucial debates for the future of our land? Tickets are beginning to sell fast, so book your place here.

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Show comments
  • SD67

    There is plenty of spare capacity at Heathrow- it’s buried in BA’s landing rights. Ba fly half empty aircraft out of Heathrow in order to preserve exclusive use of these valuable assets that they’ve never paid for. Around 60% of Heathrow traffic is non hub traffic. Go on Expedia – you can fly from Heathrow to some pretty trivial destinations that could be just as easily served by stanstead. Meanwhile air Mexico can’t get in, because BA has the rights stitched up.

    Bear in mind that BA don’t actually own these “rights” – in the event of bankruptcy they would revert to the government, which is why willie Walsh didn’t restructure the company via administration .

    Theres a very simple answer- landing rights should be auctioned on limited term leases, just like mobile phone spectrum, rail franchises or rights to the seabed. That would have the side benefit of incentivising the relocation of low margin services to gatwick. The proceeds should be used to finance the long term replacement of heathrow by a world class 5 runway, 24/7 airport in the estuary. I dont buy the “wrong side of London” argument – so is Schipol, which is becoming our hub by default.

  • SD67

    There is plenty of spare capacity at Heathrow- it’s buried in BA’s landing rights. Ba fly half empty aircraft out of Heathrow in order to preserve exclusive use of these valuable assets that they’ve never paid for. Around 60% of Heathrow traffic is non hub traffic. Go on Expedia – you can fly from Heathrow to some pretty trivial destinations that could be just as easily served by stanstead. Meanwhile air Mexico can’t get in, because BA has the rights stitched up.

    Bear in mind that BA don’t actually own these “rights” – in the event of bankruptcy they would revert to the government, which is why willie Walsh didn’t restructure the company via administration .

    Theres a very simple answer- landing rights should be auctioned on limited term leases, just like mobile phone spectrum, rail franchises or rights to the seabed. That would have the side benefit of incentivising the relocation of low margin services to gatwick. The proceeds should be used to finance the long term replacement of heathrow by a world class 5 runway, 24/7 airport in the estuary. I dont buy the “wrong side of London” argument – so is Schipol, which is becoming our hub by default.

    • http://twitter.com/BerkshireJames James Randall

      Where do you get the idea BA fly half empty aircraft into/out of Heathrow?

      What are the “trivial destinations” you refer to?

      • Sd70

        Because I’ve travelled on many of these half empty flights. A week ago I was on a commuter flight into Heathrow from that well known global destination, Glasgow, with about a dozen other passengers. The plane circled for about an hour waiting to land. Ive also flown out of heathrow to cork and gibraltar. Meanwhile we don’t have direct flights to key cities in emerging markets.

        BA’s average load factor out of Heathrow is around 70%, vs industry average of 85% and Ryanair 99%. The info is publicly available. An average of 70-75% when flights are full in peak times means some flights must be half empty.
        Increasing the load factor to 85 would represent a 20% increase in passenger throughput, immediately, without spending a penny of taxpayers money.

        The use it or lose it policy results in uneconomic flight decisions, to preserve ba’s control of the landing right asset and lock out competitors. It’s the aviation equivalent of BTs former monopoly of the copper line network.

        • http://twitter.com/BerkshireJames James Randall

          Surprising that a Glasgow to Heathrow flight was so empty given that over the last 18 months the load factors have generally gone up into the 80% to 90% range on average. I’m intrigued by the Ryanair 99% statistic that you bring up as their reported load factors tend to be around 90% (or lower).

          Of course some flights will have fewer passengers on than others to the same destination either because of the day of the week or the time of the day (as the aircraft needs to get back to its base).

          Obviously airlines operate flights to destinations where they make money providing they have the aircraft to operate those flights. I would fully expect that more flights to emerging markets will start to appear at Heathrow as airlines adjust their fleets to allow those to take place, likely meaning that some other cities will find their service reduced (or withdrawn).

          Slots are a thorny area, for understandable reasons. The potential issue with leasing these out would be the difficulty that airlines would find business planning difficult, especially given the asset heavy nature of the business.

  • The Shambolic Skeptic

    Re below: Guys…. growth doesn’t mean more people (houses, schools, roads, etc), growth means more wealth, a higher level of productivity, more GDP per capita, higher wages and savings.

    It is possible with the right regulation, trade, tax, transport and education policies.

    The UK today is per person only 75% as productive as America. This is the heart of our problem.

  • joolsaitch

    We already have a workable and relatively inexpensive solution available.
    (1) Use the runway at Northolt (5 miles to the north) as Heathrow’s 3rd, short-haul runway. Its almost the same length as the proposed new one, its roughly parallel to Heathrow’s two long-haul runways, its already built, already operational and well served by roads and a railway.
    (2) Build a new short-haul terminal at Northolt.
    (3) Tunnel a link from Northolt to the Piccadilly Line at Heathrow.
    (4) Move all cargo operations out of Heathrow and relocate to Lyneham, Manston and/or Birmingham.
    This will free up a great many arrival and departure slots thus easing the load on Heathrow’s two existing long runways.
    Yes, it will be a satellite airport but then the proposal to build on the other side of the Bath Road would have created a satellite airport anyway. How could you move aircraft, fuel, crews, passengers and baggage from the central Heathrow terminals across runway 09L/27R and then through the hotels and other buildings lining the busy Bath Road?
    This is a solution that will not cause immense misery and disruption to countless thousands who will have their homes, livelihoods and businesses bulldozed if plans for a 3rd (and for sure a 4th later) runway were allowed to go ahead.
    Perhaps the debate organisers could include my comments in the agenda?

    • http://twitter.com/BerkshireJames James Randall

      Yes, the runway at Northolt is a suitable length, however to be used extensively in conjunction with the existing Heathrow runways it would have to be realigned to run west to east. Also, the runway at Northolt is probably even more surrounded to housing than those at Heathrow who undoubtedly would be significantly against the increase in flights that would occur.

      Also, moving all the short haul traffic to Northolt would create the same operating difficulties as trying to combine Heathrow and Gatwick, namely that you would actually make it more difficult to connect to other flights. This could actually reduce Heathrow’s effectiveness as a hub airport.

      As for moving cargo operations, almost all cargo at Heathrow is carried on passenger flights. There are very, very, very few dedicated freighter services at Heathrow. Due to premium airlines attach to slots at Heathrow they do not want to operate dedicated freighter services.

      It is correct to say that a 3rd runway at Heathrow would involve the creation of an additional terminal. However this would be fully connected to the rest of the airport with taxiways running across the Bath Road, realigning the M4 spur and providing track transit systems to move passengers connecting from other flights, all within an expanded airport footprint.

      • joolsaitch

        So, in addition to the two villages and everything around them that must be razed on the other side of the Bath Road, you plan to demolish the hotels, shopping centres, office blocks etc that line the Bath Road to make way for at least one (if not two) taxiways. Then you will have to deal with Heathrow Ground who must then disrupt the (already) tight scheduling of arrivals and departures on runway 09L/27R to allow aircraft movements across the runway to get from the main airport to the satellite. ATC is going to love that!
        And what about the Bath Road itself. Will you install traffic lights? With the regular traffic flows along that road in both directions, that will cause the local traffic police a major headache with traffic backed up every time an aircraft has to cross the road.
        This ill advised idea has all the hallmarks of another Great British Cockup.

        • http://twitter.com/BerkshireJames James Randall

          You wouldn’t need to demolish everything along the Bath Road, just that which falls within the area required to cater for an expanded businesses. There was no expectation for regular runway crossings to be required as the new runway and satellite terminal are to be for shorthaul flights only, which should be able to be wholly operated from this site.

          As for the Bath Road itself, obviously you would put it in a tunnel under the taxiways.

          • joolsaitch

            So, by your own admission, with “no expectation for regular runway crossings” the proposed extension WILL be a satellite. Tunnels under taxiways? Another satellite airport when there is one already available only a couple of miles further away? Are you a taxpayer?

            Your arguments are spurious. B37X and A32X aircraft are a great deal quieter than their big brothers and can fly steeper approaches just like those using London City. So there will be an increase in aircraft movements that might inconvenience a few hundred Northolt locals. Somebody has to suffer and it’s best that the least number suffer. It will be infinitely better than throwing thousands out of their homes and businesses and scattering them across the country into places they don’t want to be.

            As for having to re-align the runway at Northolt – rubbish. Modern aircraft do not have to arrive and depart slavishly following runway centrelines even when operating under full IMC.

            • http://twitter.com/BerkshireJames James Randall

              The reasoning for expanding Heathrow rather than trying to link up 2 separate airports is to allow transfers to take place with the minimum of difficulty. With a third runway and additional terminal these transfers will be able to take place within the airport boundary, with passengers remaining airside for the entire process. This prevents non UK passengers to transfer between flights at Heathrow without having to physically enter the UK, and means that no passengers have to collect their luggage and check in again.

              Due to the distances involved it is inconceivable that the transfer process between Heathrow and Northolt would be allowed to take place in the same way.

              On runway realignment at Northolt, this is nothing to do with centrelines. Currently its runway is aligned 07/25 meaning that flight paths do cross those at Heathrow. This is not a problem at present due to the relatively few flights that operate from Northolt.

              • joolsaitch

                I have often ranted against those who “naysay” but never offer an alternative.
                I’ve been pretty vocal about the 3rd runway plans for Heathrow so I played Devils Advocate to see what the “Sipson Option” really would look like.
                I was quite surprised.
                The village of 700 houses would go – buried under the terminal, the aircraft stands and the car parking. 1800-2000 residents would find themselves being forcibly relocated. But, provided the 4th runway is never built, the communities of Harmondsworth and Harlington could be saved. Their lives would be forever blighted by noise from all sides and therein will lie the seeds of future complaint and discontent but – there you go.
                I have done an overlay of the area from Google Earth. It’s dated June 2010 but I don’t suppose too much has changed.

                There is one place where a taxiway could be built without destroying buildings on either side of the Bath Road. The Bath Road would have to go under the taxiway at that point but the two big buildings adjacent would still have vehicle access.
                The M4 Spur would have to go under the new runway.
                The middle part of the M4 spur could be re-routed around the car park.
                It could work apart from:
                (1) having aircraft crossing (the re-numbered) 09C/27C to get onto the new taxiway and as I said before, Heathrow ATC are going to love that.
                (2) the danger of an aircraft in trouble coming down somewhere in East London will be increased by 50%.
                (3) the good people of Sipson Village are being well and truly shat upon in the name of “progress”.
                Personally I would advocate a return to sea travel. I fly because, in my line of work, I have to. But I used to sail on big white passenger ships and I know just what we have all lost with our obsession with time.

  • Debbie

    Getting to Heathrow for people from outside of London is a nightmare. No the only long term solution is the Boris Johnson model, as usual he makes perfect sense.

    • http://twitter.com/BerkshireJames James Randall

      If getting to Heathrow is so difficult how will building an airport the other side of London make things any better?

  • http://twitter.com/PhilKean1 @PhilKean1

    .
    And this is the really annoying thing about a 3rd runway

    Speaking as a former engineer, and after studying the situation, for relatively little cost, I believe it would easily be possible to build a “short take off and landing” (for small jets and turboprops) runway at the Southern Perimeter Road end of the LHR footprint.

    It would mean that the fuel storage tanks and logistics warehousing would have to be relocated, and some minor (diversionary / underground) works to the Southern Perimeter road.

    At worst, it would need the compulsory purchase of a very small number of homes around the Bedfont road.

    If this was done, I guess it could give at least 20% extra capacity to the 2 main runways.
    .

  • dalai guevara

    In project planning, the winning organisational hierarchy over a centralist ‘star’ diagram is the ‘web’ diagram. Every single time.

  • http://twitter.com/BerkshireJames James Randall

    A third runway? Maybe, but that will fill very quickly and then there will be calls for a fourth.

    Linking all of London’s airports? Costly and likely to discourage travellers.

    “Boris Island”? The wrong side of London.

    A new airport north west of London? Put it somewhere on the route of HS2 and it might work.

  • Daniel Maris

    1. The proposition that airport expansion is an alloyed benefit to the economy has to be examined closely. I dispute that the proposition has been proven to date. For one thing airport expansion seems to facilitate mass immigration and also encourages the creation of jobs that are filled mostly by immigrants. I very much doubt it benefits existing UK citizens.

    2. At a cost of say £20billion for airport expansion, we might build a channel road bridge which would probably create many more jobs and aid our industries.

    3. Even if it is shown that airport expansion does benefit the economy, there are many valid issues to be addressed as to where the expansion should take place. I think that there are strong arguments for regional airport expansion (mostly for holiday traffic) which would free up Heathrow as a hub airport. Also there are strong arguments for creating a new London airport in the Thames estuary.

    4. The most efficient route for the Tories to lose the next general election is to fail to oppose the third runway. Coupled with the failure to stop the HS2 will immediately lose ten seats I would estimate.

    • Daniel Maris

      Unalloyed of course.

    • 3rd Runway

      But we, and the Tories, need the growth, particularly private sector infrastructure investment. Without growth, the chances of a Tory majority are slim, particularly when the alternative is a publicly funded rival hub, unleashing a crisis of capital switching from west of London to east.

      • perdix

        Even if a decision was made tomorrow for a third runway at Heathrow it’s impact on growth would be minimal before the next election.

  • Baron

    If we are to have another landing place it should be somewhere up north from London, the south-east coupled with a fast rail link to the capital, otherwise the country might as well split, most probably will break up, given the inability of those in charge to control immigration, and the habit of immigrants to settle down south.

  • Daveyyy12

    Nope.. All the jobs we create seem to go to people from overseas. Exactly what is all this growth for.

    About time we started creating less jobs and growing less, even shrinking.

    • 2trueblue

      Consolidation is never a bad thing, so agree with you.

      • HooksLaw

        Assuming no growth (indeed contraction) then just how much of your real income are you prepared to give up, because thats what it means.

        This post seem to be developing absurd economic theories as well as absurd racial ones.

        • 2trueblue

          Condsidering that we had massive growth and great economic forecasts prior to the crash, very few saw it coming I think the great model did not work. Our IFA said things were great, against his advice we put everything in cash and the rest is history. It depends on what your growth is built.
          China is the one to watch, how secure is her growth? I do not claim to know the answers but know that they mostly got it wrong. You can not just spend your way out of debt. You can postpone it, but at a price.

        • Daveyyy12

          All those years under Labour, all those years of growth and job creation yet youth unemployment rose. Of course during that period we saw a lot of immigration and a lot of those immigrants took these jobs, As for racist, go and check out the second, third, even fourth generation young immigrants. Levels of unemployment with these groups has gone through the roof. You seem to think having millions of young people of all races and ethnic groups fighting for jobs at Starbucks is a good idea. Of course the left and celebrity media types will play the race card so they can look cool and trendy.

          As for giving up income, why? Because you want the entire UK population to compete for jobs with the entire population of the planet. Your solution is that the government keeps growing and creating jobs. This will mean more schools, doctors, hospitals, roads, houses and on and on.

          The more we create the more that will come which will mean us to grow more jobs. Failure to create more jobs will of course lead to serious problems in our society. Of course the left and celebrity media types will play the race card so that they can look cool.

          Strange economic theory? What is strange about making those here take any available job? What is wrong with closing your borders so that employers are forced to give OUR young, (Black, Asian, White), a chance. To give OUR young, (Black, Asian, White), a start on the ladder?

          Racial? Of course it is, everything we do is racist. Just like all the blacks and Latino’s who voted for Obama because he is black or because he promised to help there ethnic group. I guess your the type that looks the other way when you see ethnic minorities being racist. That of course makes you?

          Fed up tarmacking this country.

  • Wilhelm

    ” No ifs, no buts.”

    Well, thats us told.

  • HooksLaw

    By all means give Heathrow a third runway, so long as capacity is not increased. Just use the runway to make sure capacity is utilized over the long term and assist in overcoming any delays.

    But Heathrow is in the wrong place for a major 4, 5 or 6 runway major modern hub airport that can expand into the future.

    There is no one all embracing single magic bullet solution to London’s, the nation’s, airport problem.
    Heathrow Gatwick and Northolt – all linked – need to be developed. If Northolt majored on freight and charters then perhaps the existing Heathrow freight infrastructure could be still viable.

    Stansted expanded. Ditto Luton both with improved links and a major hub constructed in the Thames.

    Ultimately the runways at Heathrow could be retained but the whole site used for say just freight and a massive aerospace science business park built.

    • http://twitter.com/BerkshireJames James Randall

      The linking of the airports is an interesting, but flawed approach to solving the problem due to the fact that the links will all have to be “landside” necessitating all passengers to enter the UK, collect baggage and re-check in at another airport.

      A solution, well unfortunately that’s either a bigger Heathrow or a new airport.

      • exile on euro street

        JR – Why is it not possible to incorporate “airside” platforms at each end connected by a non-stop link train service?

        • http://twitter.com/BerkshireJames James Randall

          Because you’d have to maintain the integrity of the train for it’s entire journey. This would be difficult if you had a line running from Heathrow to Gatwick (or even Northolt)

          • exile on euro street

            It might require a little ingenuity but it’s hardly a deal breaker.

            • http://twitter.com/BerkshireJames James Randall

              I think the DfT and Home Office might disagree

  • Sulis

    Lucky the debate’s not being held in Barnes, Isleworth, or many other boroughs in West London, as they’d have to stop every couple of minutes to let another plane roar overhead. I went to a christening in Barnes where the vicar had to do just that – makes Kurt Vonnegut’s “Harrison Bergeron” look like reportage…

    • Swiss Bob

      Used to live in Barnes, I could see five at a time lined up over the city on their approach, 5:00am to 11:00pm. Noisy as hell.

      No doubt Mr Payne lives somewhere like Islington during the week and somewhere in the country at the weekend.

  • Frank Sutton

    “No ifs. No buts.”… funny way to start a debate.

    • HooksLaw

      Well said.

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