10 JULY 2017


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Article from BTNews 10 JULY 2017

COMMENT: The Arora Plan for Heathrow

After a quiet few weeks since the election, aviation hit the headlines again yesterday with wealthy hotel entrepreneur Surinder Arora submitting plans for a third runway at Heathrow which he says would be considerably cheaper than the current scheme. But will this and other honourable ideas just slow things down? R3 needs to be got on with.

What will be the reaction? Ministers are in action this week with aviation’s new man, Lord Callander, at an Airlines UK reception at the House of Commons tomorrow, 11 July, and transport secretary Chris Grayling at the Aviation Club on Wednesday (see in this issue of BTN).

It is unlikely either man will escape being questioned about the Arora plan, which also brings into the affair the possible role of Northolt,  just a short distance from Heathrow, and an interim measure.

The  Sunday Times  and the BBC reported  that Arora had put his runway proposals to the government's public consultation on Heathrow, which is also considering an airport plan for the development which would cost £17.6bn.

According to the newspaper, Arora, who has five hotels at Heathrow including two under construction, is offering to build and run the third runway and Terminal 6 in competition with the airport.

He has submitted a range of plans to the government, one of which would avoid the need for a controversial bridge over the M25, and claims his designs would be up to £6.7bn cheaper – a saving that would ultimately be passed on to passengers.

“Arora’s intervention is guaranteed to tip petrol on to the third runway debate given the fierce criticism already levelled at Heathrow’s scheme by airlines, which say they will end up paying for it via higher airport charges,” the Sunday  Times  reported.

The article quoted Willie Walsh, chief executive of British Airways’ parent, International Airlines Group, as saying: “The government should look closely at Arora’s proposal as it would significantly reduce costs.”

And Virgin Atlantic CEO Craig Kreeger is also reported to have weighed in, saying: “This once-in-a-generation project is an opportunity to challenge the status quo … Nobody has a monopoly on good ideas.”

Arora is reported to have assembled a heavyweight advisory board comprising Mike Clasper, the former chairman of HM Revenue & Customs; Sir Rod Eddington, former boss of BA and Cathay Pacific; and Robert Webb, BA’s former general counsel.

Eddington says: “This represents a game changer. Whether Surinder wins or not, the fact he’s put his hand up with a viable alternative to Heathrow will – among other things – force a discussion around costs and affordability.”

An airport spokeswoman said: "Heathrow's expansion proposals are supported by the government and have widespread cross-party political, business and union support.

"We continue to develop our plans to improve passenger experience, reduce the impact on local communities and lower the cost so we deliver expansion at close to current charges.

"Some of the options we are looking at sound similar to those suggested in this submission, and we will welcome views on these in the public consultation later this year."

The BBC report on the debate noted construction will not begin for at least three years and could be delayed by legal challenges over the runway's environmental impact.

Grayling’s Department for Transport has said a new runway at Heathrow would bring economic benefits to passengers and the wider economy worth up to £61bn, and create as many as 77,000 additional local jobs over the next 14 years.

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OUR READERS' FINEST WORDS (All times and dates are GMT)

All comments are filtered to exclude any excesses but the Editor does not have to agree with what is being said. 100 words maximum

Ian Dockreay, London

At the recent Aviation Club lunch, Chris Grayling mentioned that the Government is working on a 30-50 year Aviation Planning White Paper. It is debatable whether the planned third runway at LHR will ever be built, given the cost and environmental issues that surround the current plans. Given this situation, I urge the Government to look very seriously at an early start to the second runway at LGW and a six runway airport in the Thames Estuary in the 30-50 year time frame or earlier. Only these options together with an enlarged LHR can meet the growth projections for passenger and freight traffic in the South East over the next 50 years.

Brian Gurnett, Hemel Hempstead

I welcome the Arora project,but any scheme must be integrated with the M25 and M4 which is already choked. A bold move should be made by taking much of the road junction and its access underground. Since we are able to build CrossRail why not follow the example of Sydney taking so much traffic underground.

Norman Jackson, UK Dorking

25 years ago I came from IATA as Operations Director to explain to then aviation minister, that after an expensive and independent study that the UK was probably at highest risk among developed nations of massive economic damage for lack of runway capacity in the South East. That point is now past and the damage for the lack of the next runway is inevitable . The more important issue now is not where to locate the next runway but the one after that which should in my opinon be in the same location. This rules out LHR, I would have thought!

David Starkie, United Kingdom

For the idea of a shorter runway see my COMMENT piece 14 September 2015