Chocks away as Birmingham Airport hits road to London

Birmingham Airport Birmingham Airport's new advertising campaign can be seen on the road to London

Anyone driving towards London's airports through Northamptonshire, Buckinghamshire or Oxfordshire is in for a shock.

New roadside billboards will warn them of "Heathrow: congestion ahead" and questions whether or not they are "Going in the right direction?"

And underneath, the strap-line of this high profile advertising campaign delivers the main message:

"Birmingham makes more sense."

Aviation strategy

According to Birmingham Airport's chief executive Paul Kehoe, "it's been predicted that passenger numbers in Britain will increase by another 125 million by 2030".

He adds that, "with Heathrow full and Gatwick nearing capacity, it's clear the South East will soon have a capacity problem unless something is done".

His message is strategically timed.

Birmingham Airport poster

This summer, the government is expected to publish its long-awaited strategy for UK aviation, and he hopes his airport can be part of the solution.

A coherent, joined-up policy on airports has eluded one government after another, year after year.

I remember about a decade ago on my way into a meeting of local business people, I unexpectedly found I had the ear of a then transport minister.

I asked why the government was planning a new aviation strategy.

"Because," he admitted, "successive governments haven't had one."

Anyone can see why it has proved so hot for successive governments to handle.

Balancing the demands of the aviation industry with the obvious environmental concerns is not the stuff of popular politics.

Result: inconsistency, short-termism and series of one contradictory policy to another.

Airport dilemma

Take, for example, the endless to-ing and fro-ing over a third runway at Heathrow.

Birmingham Airport fact file

Birmingham Airport

Birmingham Airport is run as a public/private partnership.

Birmingham Airport is the UK's third largest airport outside London.

The airport currently serves 143 direct scheduled and charter routes.

It also offers an additional 279 possible connections worldwide.

Birmingham Airport handles nine million passengers per annum.

The Labour government backed the proposal, which they said would help keep London ahead of the likes of Frankfurt, Amsterdam and Paris Charles de Gaulle.

Then in came the coalition, determined to prove itself "the greenest government ever" and the third runway was scrapped.

Ministers promised instead that high speed rail would reduce the number of domestic flights sufficiently for Britain's main gateway airport to meet growing demand for international flights with its existing runways.

That would certainly chime with the constituents of the Transport Secretary Justine Greening in Putney, underneath one of Heathrow's main flight paths.

(Though of course cabinet ministers always tell us they put their own parochial concerns to one side when deciding government policy).

But with mounting speculation that the bill paving the way for high-speed rail may not pass through Parliament before the next election, the airlines and Heathrow's owners, BAA, are renewing their pressure on ministers for yet another about-turn on the third runway.

There has also been talk that the government may be warming to an idea floated by London's mayor for a new airport in the Thames Estuary, nicknamed 'Boris Island'.

But neither of these proposals is for the here and now.

Birmingham's airport managers say after a £200 million investment programme, they could handle an extra nine million passengers a year from now.

They have 143 non-stop destinations in Europe, North America and the Indian subcontinent.

The new runway extension will also enable direct services to the Far East, South Africa and the US west coast from next year.

Other options?

Meantime Chris Crean of Friends of the Earth in the West Midlands has a different answer altogether.

Airplane The Friends of the Earth believes that we need to become less dependent on unsustainable air travel

He says we need to wean ourselves off our over dependence on unsustainable air travel which he says is doing great damage to the ozone layer, polluting the atmosphere and swallowing up vast swathes of hitherto green open spaces.

He also accuses the politicians of giving the aviation industry what he sees as an unwarranted subsidy by exempting aviation fuel and the aircraft themselves from VAT.

And he says the longer the Government delays a decision over what to do about the London airports, the more Birmingham Airport will exploit the uncertainty by suggesting it has the answer to the capacity problems in the South East.

Have your say on what you think makes sense for aviation.

Make a comment on this blog post and I'll hope to read it out during this weekend's Sunday Politics programme from 12:00 noon on BBC One on Sunday, 10 June 2012.

Keep up with me on Twitter: PatrickBurnsBBC

Patrick Burns, Political editor, Midlands Article written by Patrick Burns Patrick Burns Political editor, Midlands

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  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Birmingham Airport is a major source of work for us as we offer cheap airport transfers between Coventry and Birmingham.

    Airport Transfer in Coventry
    Taxi Services in Coventry

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    With London Luton Airport once again growing faster than any other London Airport, surely the government should be making investment there.

    The only people to benefit from Heathrow expansion are the shareholders and BAA management team who will reep vast cash bonuses.

    Luton is currently under utilised during mid morning and late afternoons so it has scope for contined growth.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    As for the Thames Estuary, the environmental damage that would be done by it would be horrific with 300000 birds having to be culled and the SE sea life industries (oysters etc) destroyed.

    You need a hub airport (or collection of well connected airports) in the middle of the country, not tucked away in one corner!

    Even the head of Air Traffic Control said it was the worst place to build it!

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Expanding Birmingham and Manchester makes perfect sense. We shouldn't be so focused on London being the only city in the country to do business with.

    Let's encourage more investment and business into the North and spread the wealth more through the UK. Having Heathrow, Gatwick, Birmingham, Manchester and even Leeds & Newcastle linked in a high speed rail circle would be great for UK Plc!

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    Can I just ask why Patrick is "Political Editor, Midlands" rather than "Political Editor, West Midlands"? I thought BBC East Midlands had its own Political Editor?

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    It's good to see BHX pushing the airport outside of it's natural catchment area, and excellent that the runway extension is finally moving ahead, albeit 20 years late!

    However, don't allow Kehoe's PR machine to hide the reality which is that the April rise in passenger numbers is the first significant increase for months, and there's a lot of ground to make back.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    The question isn't about the runways, but about the trains. Can the trains carry the numbers from London up to Brum? Will there be direct trains from other parts of the UK to B'ham International? That is what an integrated Transport policy is about. Expansion of Bham airport needs a change to rail franchises.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Transport in this country is a major problem that needs to be addressed & complete in the next 2 decades.

    People would rather take a trip to Birmingham than go to Europe for an international flight especially with HS2 in mind! It would buy us time, provide a better standard of air travel even-out North, South divide & we have a major hub at Thames Estuary airport connected by HS1 & HS2 perfect!

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    How interesting that Chris Crean from "" friends of the Earth"" thinks we should wean off flying. So we need to be easy to access from the wqorld if we are to increase our production and also let the visitors flock to our area dn create jobs. I suspect he is against the HS2 as well where the numbers travelling in a narrow corridor to and from London and the North West and Yorkshire

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    I'm not sure HS2 will be good for Birmingham Airport unless it has managed to lure local customers away from Heathrow by providing a similar number of flight options.Manchester always had the advantage of distance from London, but improved rail services appear to have reduced the attraction. After watching the airport for 60years I wish it well.



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