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11 JANUARY 2010


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Article from BTNews 11 JANUARY 2010

ON TOUR: Heathrow Terminal 6 or the third runway debate

Just before the holiday break there were two significant announcements regarding what many agree is the major transport project of the next decade Heathrow’s Terminal 6.  Firstly Parliament’s Transport Select Committee endorsed the government’s support for the third runway, and secondly, to the surprise of many, the Committee on Climate Change also went in favour of expanding air travel. 

It is worth noting at this point that Heathrow is not standing still with T2 now finally closed and work well on the way with its replacement.  The Heathrow “Airtrack” project, essentially a link between T5 and the Waterloo, Reading and Guildford lines at Staines, is now defined and Lord Adonis, Transport Minister, will probably call for a public enquiry, expected to take place in the Spring.

We must mention at this point the minister’s ambitious plans for the railways but in truth it is a decade away from any form of application by which time, sadly, Andrew Adonis will just be a name in a reference book. 

A legal challenge
Next up is a legal challenge in the High Court, 23 February, but possibly more damaging is the official Conservative policy of opposing any expansion, with no firm alternative proposed, strange views from the party of free enterprise.

The economic case for an additional runway is persuasive.  The Government calculates that the proposal for a third runway at Heathrow would generate over £4.8bn in direct net economic benefits – the 2003 ‘Future of Air Transport’ White Paper, reinforced the view that Heathrow is much more than “just an airport” for London, recognising that it delivers significant direct/indirect benefits to local and national economies and, at the same time, the Government recognised that “these strong economic arguments must be weighed against serious environmental disadvantages”.  The White Paper set out stringent air quality targets which have to be met before the Government can support any proposals for a third runway.

Heathrow was conceived during the Second World War, when it became apparent that the existing main London commercial airport, Croydon, would not suffice, for the larger aircraft already in service and on the drawing board.  A site west of London, known as Heath Row, was chosen for the new development.  The original planners must in retrospect be considered brilliant, as the resulting international airport, now the world’s busiest, has generated a massive effect, responsible for a series of whole new communities; the results seen as far as Swindon, where typically Honda chose to build their new car plant.  The original planners also foresaw the future and amazingly, the new proposed site for Terminal 6 is in exactly the same position as suggested for a series of commuter runways in the original master plan.  Bath Road in its present form, did not exist, London’s main artery being the Great Southwest Road and the London Road down towards Feltham.  The area south of Hayes, was mainly rural and farmland.

The world’s most important international airport
Heathrow is still Europe’s and the world’s dominant international airport hub, although with the continuing introduction of very long-range aircraft, this position is likely to be eroded in terms of it being a technical halt between India, Asia and North America.  There are still more flights per week to New York than the combined Amsterdam, Charles de Gaulle and Frankfurt operations.  For every major international destination, it leads its European rivals with ease.  However, in terms of transfer passengers, Frankfurt has been in front for some years and continues to do so.  The British Airways tie-up with Iberia would probably reduce flights to the potentially massive South American market, which is a pity, but on the plus side the coming of the Airbus A380 in numbers will push up the average passengers per flight from the current 160 per aircraft.  Hopefully Air France will revert to Airbus A320 series aircraft on all routes from the hub, it presently substituting small ATR turboprops on some routes. 

The BAA view is whilst the airport will grow to 85m passengers plus by 2015, the transfer number will remain fairly static at around 22/23m.

The argument that an expansion of regional airports is the way ahead is a poor one.  BA has tried many times to expand North Atlantic services from both Glasgow and Manchester, without success.  Globally, two international airports for a major city does not work.  Charles de Gaulle outperforms Orly, JFK as a worldwide hub is far more dominant that Newark, and in Japan the airlines want to retreat from Narita to Haneda.

The T6 project is designed around the concept of a 2,200 metre runway, OK for narrow-bodied jets and turboprops, but far too short for heavy wide-bodied aircraft.  It would be parallel to the existing 09/27 (L-R) and be sited just to the south of the existing Holiday Inn.  The proposed terminal design includes a railway station and a transfer system to the central area.  Road connections to the M4 are planned to be particularly easy.  Most of the parking, hotel, office and industrial area will remain but the scheme does include the loss of 700 properties including the entire village of Sipson and also part of Harmondsworth.

Land purchase schemes
BAA has voluntarily published two land purchase schemes enabling the airport company to purchase both land within the expanded boundary of the proposed three-runway airport, and just outside, blighted areas, once it goes for planning permission.  Home and commercial property owners, as noted on the schemes, can register with BAA, who will issue bonds guaranteeing values based on notional June 2002 figures index linked to values generated elsewhere.  This scheme, which BAA very clearly notes was not required of them in law, hopefully will take much of the worry from residents rightly concerned for their future.  There is also a home relocation assistance format for people living within a certain noise band of the airport and a community buildings noise insulation offering for what in effect is a larger area.

BAA recognises that the consequences of the decision will be difficult for some and has reiterated its desire to work closely with the local community to try and ease the emotional stress the expansion will bring to some residents.  But ultimately, the Government has made it clear that it believes the national benefits of expanding Heathrow outweigh the heavy cost to the village of Sipson. 

The Department for Transport summed it all up very well with its policy statement on the third runway. 

“As the economic downturn demonstrates, we live in a global age.  It is critical that Government makes the tough choices necessary to deliver long term prosperity to the United Kingdom.”



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