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3 Oct 2014
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Come Fly With Me?
by Tom Symonds
It's a decision the government’s been putting off for years, where to build Britain’s next major airport runway is a crucial one.

The airline industry is not mincing its words. The consensus of opinion is that nothing less than three new runways will do - if possible at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted.

Executives point to the government’s own predictions of the growth in demand by 2020. They suggest the number of air passengers will probably double, and could possibly triple.

In the post-war years commercial flying used to be the preserve of the rich. Then prices came down and it became a realistic way for tourists to travel, once a year, to their summer holiday, and business people to meetings.

Now ticket prices are dirt cheap, if you book carefully with budget airlines, and we’re using aircraft like our cars, for quick trips away for the weekend.

But its not just the growth of aviation that’s fuelling demands for extra runways.

Virgin’s Sir Richard Branson says he’s forced to buy bigger and bigger aircraft, because there are so few available slots to land at the major London airports. Each slot is worth so much to Virgin, it has to try and get as many passengers through as possible. Sir Richard has backed calls for three new runways in Southern England.

Anti aviation campaigners believe the government has overestimated the need for more runways and terminals. They say the predictions of growth are based on the experience of the 1990s, when the budget airlines were in their ambitious infancy.

The central decision the government has to take is whether to hold back the demand for air travel, meet some of the need, or meet all of it.

Other countries - the Netherlands and France in particular have chosen to invest for growth. Schipol airport in Amsterdam and Paris Charles de Gaulle have both seen recent expansion programmes.

The government is offering numerous options for the future though senior ministers insist no big decisions have been made, this is a genuine consultation. But what campaigners are calling the hit-list, will centre on the expansion of existing airports, rather than building new ones.

Stansted is seen as ripe for further growth. It is situated in a more sparsely populated area than Heathrow or Gatwick, and has a rail link to London. The perception is that Stansted has a smaller environmental lobby attached to it than other airports.

Heathrow is also on the list. With a new terminal, the airport’s fifth shortly to begin construction, airlines want extra runway space to ease the pressure on the existing two. But here there would be an almighty battle with residents and campaigners. There is also the small matter of a legally binding cap on flights, a government condition for agreeing to Terminal Five.

Away from the South East ministers will have to decide if its possible to turn one of the regional airports into a new international hub. Birmingham, Glasgow and Edinburgh are the favourites. Airlines aren’t so keen. The real money is to be made flying to London.

And then there’s Cliffe. An area of the North Kent Thames Estuary thought to be one of the few places the transport consultants could find where a new airport could be built. Its close to London, but the site is of environmental importance.

The main problem for the airline industry is that building a new airport means building a new brand name, to rival Heathrow or Gatwick. London Cliffe Airport doesn’t really cut it.

Whichever options are chosen, expect long and tortuous battles over planning.

Perhaps they won’t be as long as the row over Heathrow’s Terminal Five - which was the subject of Britain’s longest planning inquiry.

But this is a highly contentious issue. The government’s decisions will literally change the lives of those affected

Airport expansion plans unveiled - from BBC News Online
Department for Transport
Civil Aviation Authority

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