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Heathrow expansion grounded indefinitely?

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Tom Edwards Tom Edwards | 12:05 UK time, Tuesday, 22 March 2011

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Here's a piece I've done on the Labour Party reconsidering its support for a third runway at Heathrow.

While Labour say they are merely reassessing their policies, campaigners believe they are paving the way to drop support for expansion at Heathrow completely.

The phrase I heard a lot yesterday was "long grass".

Many people think aviation expansion is no longer a political priority. This really frustrates businesses, unions and the aviation industry and they think all the major political parties are putting their heads in the sand on this one.

The Mayor of London Boris Johnson has tried to stimulate a debate about more runways in the South East.

"Boris Island" - the idea of runways in the Thames Estuary - has been ridiculed, feared and admired. But no party has yet outlined how, if or when there will be expansion in aviation in the UK.

Does it matter? And why is aviation expansion so important to the South East?

The business argument includes job creation. In fact according to BAA's website 30,000 people are employed at Heathrow so it is a huge income generator.

The business community also thinks Heathrow has to remain competitive and maintain a high number of routes to emerging markets.

As part of that is Heathrow's position as a hub airport. This means passengers spend money at the hub but more importantly the argument goes that as cargo goes through there, passenger routes can be maintained.

But the big issue for customers will be cost. John Strickland from JLS Consulting told me that if demand for air travel starts to exceed supply then air fares will go up.

He says as long-haul routes are the most profitable for airlines, then you could see a phasing out of short-haul flights as slots become more scarce.

Also, there is the reliability argument that if Heathrow is running at capacity. As soon as there are any problems, then delays stack up extremely quickly.

Of course, anti-expansion campaigners would dispute all of the above and say the environmental costs are not worth it.

The Government's aviation strategy review is expected in the coming months so we will know more then about how or if aviation will get the expansion it craves.

Follow me on Twitter: @TomSEdwards


  • Comment number 1.

    Without relatively cheap oil expansion is futile.

  • Comment number 2.

    Heathrow is a busted flush. It's grown so big an powerful by geographical luck and excessive lobbying (on both T4 &T5) that it forgets where it is positioned on our green and pleasant land.
    In the 21st century, no planner would ever propose a 3 runway airport on inland marsh ground, where hundreds of daily flights take off over heavy residential areas in both directions for 17 hours a day. So why expand the one we have in this scenario? eh... because it's cheaper than building a proper airport elsewhere.

    The 30k extra jobs argument is flimsy . Are we saying we couldn't create the jobs wherever any expansion would be? Better still. Think Crossrail style budgets and start a project elsewhere. Maybe this new airport & profits would stay in British hands rather than be syphoned of to a Spanish bank balance. Geographically the commercial world needs the UK. It's perfectly placed. Most carriers are only switching transit flights to Paris and Amsterdam because the landing fees are more favourable. No other reason.

    Check out an your favourite satellite mapping photo service to where JFK (New York) is. It's positioning and runway plan is the right idea for the future - by luck as well I have to add. It's just a pig of an airport to arrive at as Heathrow... but hat is another issue


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