30 OCTOBER 2017


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Article from BTNews 30 OCTOBER 2017

COMMENT: Time to act on Heathrow

As with Brexit, so with Heathrow. That body of the population in the “Just get on with it” corner must have despaired last week as the government announced yet another delay in making a decision, this time over Heathrow expansion. Of course, it wasn’t put quite like that; we are in the realm of minister-speak, after all. But the upshot is the “consultation period” over the subject has been extended.

“Just get on with it” never sounded more urgent. In BTN’s view, the case for Heathrow is made and should be put into action. 

The whole thorny subject will make for a lively debate at the AOA conference over the next two days, with transport secretary Chris Grayling, Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye and Gatwick boss Stewart Wingate among a long line-up of industry heavyweights scheduled to speak.

Attempting to explain the latest – er – development last week, the Department for Transport noted in a letter to interested parties that on 25 October 2016 – a whole year ago – the government announced that its preferred scheme for adding new airport capacity in southeast England was through a northwest runway at Heathrow.

This, DfT went on, was to be subject to consultation between 2 February and 25 May this year through a draft Airports National Policy Statement (NPS). “In the consultation document for the February consultation, the government explained it would continue to update its evidence base on airport capacity, including as a result of updating passenger demand forecasts and considering the impact of publication of the 2017 Air Quality Plan (the UK plan for tackling roadside nitrogen dioxide concentrations),” the DfT letter continues. 

The department recalls it was intended to publish the data during the February consultation, “but there was no suitable time to do so and the announcement of the General Election meant there were restrictions on publication”.

“We have revised the draft Airports NPS to reflect the changes to the evidence base, as well as initial consideration of the responses to the February consultation,” the letter continues. "We have also taken into account other broader government policy changes which have arisen during this period and some changes have been made to improve clarity. We have also revised some of the other documents which were published alongside the draft airports NPS.”

As we said, minister-speak. Or obfuscation. Take your pick. But it was enough for The Times Business Desk writer  and long time Gatwick supporter, Alistair Osborne to state, in his opinion “Gatwick has overtaken Heathrow as the airport whose expansion would bring the biggest boost to the economy and least damage to the environment, according to the figures in a new official analysis”.

The paper went on: “A public consultation into proposals to build a third runway for Heathrow was reopened yesterday, a year after they were endorsed by the government.

"The move came as the Department for Transport published updated reports on the impact of the expansion, including a revised noise analysis and new air-quality plan. The information, which was not previously available to the public because of restrictions before the general election, raises fresh doubts over Britain’s aviation capacity plans after decades of indecision.”

Grayling himself then stepped in by saying the case for Heathrow expansion was “stronger than ever”, adding that the government's timeline for the airport expansion remained on track, despite announcing the launch of the new consultation giving the public more time to respond. He added: "Leaving the EU is a new chapter for Britain and provides us with a great opportunity to forge a new role in the world. We are determined to seize that opportunity and having the right infrastructure in place will allow us to build a more global Britain.

"The case for expanding Heathrow is as strong as ever and we want to hear your views on it."

His view coincides with fact that the airlines are not in favour of the Gatwick case. BTN would summarise by saying it is a very fine airport, in the wrong position with poor rail and road links. It should consider upgrading its emergency runway.

In its response to the latest developments, Heathrow issued statistics that it said showed “overwhelming support” for the new runway plan, including the backing of more than 70% of MPs, trade unions (Unite, TUC, Community), business (BCC, CBI, FSB), Scottish and Welsh governments, airlines (easyJet, Flybe) and 37 UK airports. 

An airport spokesman added: “The consultation launched today is a key milestone in developing the Airports NPS which will strengthen the policy framework for expanding Heathrow. The forecasts show expanding Heathrow, the UK’s only hub airport, is even more important than previously realised. A third runway will ensure Britain’s place in the world as an outward looking trading nation. 

“Today’s consultation will be welcomed by business groups, trade unions and the majority of MPs who all recognise that expanding Heathrow is the only option to connect all of Britain to global growth.” 

The revised draft Airports NPS can be accessed at


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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

William Tahil, France

There is no case for expanding Heathrow. Use larger aircraft. Like the A380, an aircraft which British Airways were demanding unequivocally in the late 1990s. Then "politics" intervened - like it did against Concorde in 1976. This time, the environmental issues are too important. Airlines must use larger aircraft, not consume more land.

Richard Gardner, United Kingdom

The UK Coalition government under David Cameron effectively kicked this essential decision into the long grass wasting valuable years for purely political reasons, trying to pacify an anti-aviation Liberal Party. The subsequent Conservative government shows every sign of trying to further delay a definitive start to Heathrow's runway expansion by extending the debate still further. With Brexit looming we need to get on with the preparations for a growing aviation demand in the coming years. The conclusion has already been made to go ahead and we can't keep going back to the starting gate every year! Is there nobody in government capable of showing even a trace of leadership concerning this very important national issue?

Allan Schoenherr, Prague, CZ

I may disagree with BTN regarding Brexit but I wholeheartedly agree here. It is scandalous that the project has been delayed and jeopardised so many times. I guarantee were Heathrow located in virtually any other country they would already have be landing planes on the new tarmac years ago. There is no viable alternative to LHR.