Airport expansion back on government agenda

Aircraft departures sign Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The government's consultation on future aviation policy raises expansion issues

The old issue of airport expansion is back on the political agenda again.

The government's consultation on what its future aviation policy should be closed in October and the aviation industry is pushing hard to be allowed to expand, particularly in the South East.

In its submission, the Board of Airline Representatives in the UK (BAR UK) says the lack of a clear aviation policy is damaging the UK and hindering business development.

"The capacity constraints in London and South East England need to be addressed as a matter of priority," it says.

'Effectively banned'

BAR UK, which represents 86 carriers using British airports, argues that the lack of slots is inhibiting business expansion.

And with no plans in the pipeline to expand any airports, some airlines, it claims, are considering their future investment in the UK.

A poll of its members reveals that 94% are concerned about the lack of additional capacity at Heathrow.

They believe that the capital is the most important destination in Britain: 74% of all visitor arrivals in the UK are at London airports.

"The government's ditching of the previous administration's aviation policy has effectively banned any new runways at the three largest London airports and set back the economic role of aviation by over 10 years," says the report.

"This then begs the question, if Heathrow is full but is unable to add capacity, and other London airports are not considered practical alternatives or not allowed to expand, then how is the UK economy likely to be affected?"

'Lobbying hard'

BAR UK would prefer to see a third runway at Heathrow but the campaign group Stop Stansted Expansion is already on alert.

"The industry is lobbying hard at the moment," says its spokesperson Carol Barbone.

"If they don't get a third runway at Heathrow then it's very likely the issue of a 2nd runway at Stansted will be back on the agenda again."

Image copyright Other
Image caption If Heathrow fails to get a third runway the issue of Stansted's expansion will be back on the agenda

Those are words that will prick up many ears.

There are other options: Southend is starting to grow, and Luton would like to be allowed to take more flights, but the airlines feel those airports are too small to become hub airports.

There are also several plans to build in or alongside the Thames off the coast of Essex including the so-called "Boris Island".

But sources in the Department for Transport have told us that those schemes in their present form aren't seen as being practical.

Both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats went into the last election promising no more airport expansion in the South East in this parliament, but many MPs privately admit that this position can't be sustained after the next election.

And Labour, which put the Stansted 2nd runway plans on hold just before the general election, will neither say yes or no on whether they would back expansion in the future.

'Massive contribution'

Ed Miliband told us last month that the issue "would have to be revisited" at some stage.

He said the important thing was for Britain to draw up proper targets for greenhouse gas emissions first and then see what room there was for any airport expansion.

"The government must back airport growth," says Ed Anderson from the Airport Operators' Association.

"We make a massive contribution to growth and jobs in the UK.

"We create £50bn of wealth a year and are responsible for 9,000 jobs in the UK economy. There must be no more delays."

The industry was lobbying hard at this year's party conferences, and around Westminster at the moment there are dozens of posters highlighting the advantages of London's airports.

The airlines and airports argue that their planes and operations are more environmentally friendly these days. They believe they have a strong case to be allowed to expand.

If the government buys their argument and gives the green light to further airport growth it is almost inevitable that our region will be affected.

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