17 JUNE 2019

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Article from BTNews 17 JUNE 2019

COMMENT: The next Prime Minister

As BTN was saying last week, the forthcoming election of the British prime minister (to hold that position in theory at any rate until 5 May 2022), is of vital importance to the airline industry. This week's events seem to indicate Boris Johnson might be the successful candidate and his apparent change of mind over the future of Heathrow justifies repeating for the benefit of readers who missed it BTN's view on the subject.

By 2022, physical work should have started on Heathrow's third runway (R3), having already cleared parliament, and the airport itself all-electric in terms of infrastructure transport.

Britain’s largest and most important gateway would be well on its way to serving 90m passengers as the airline hub of Europe. Airlines would still be clamouring to get in.

As things stand, there are still a number of candidates for the post being vacated by Theresa May, but we shall concentrate on Boris Johnson, member of parliament for Uxbridge and South Ruislip since 2015, having been the MP for Henley from 2001 to 2008 and seen as a front-runner for the position.

At Henley, he was supportive of Heathrow. His present constituency is very reliant on the airport in terms of employment and in June 2018, when foreign secretary he faced sharp criticism from fellow Conservative MPs over his decision not to vote on Heathrow expansion by flying out of the country on an official visit to Afghanistan. The motion was carried by 415 votes to 119 – a majority of 296.

His tenure as a two-term mayor of London was curious. He took all the plaudits for the Olympics, but it was his predecessor Ken Livingstone who combined with his rival Lord (Sebastian) Coe, the former athlete, to secure the event.

Using public funds, Johnson campaigned vigorously for a Thames Estuary airport, the scheme turned down by the Airports Commission. It has been argued that with the very close-run 2012 mayoral election, Johnson did not win but Livingstone self-defeated, high-profile Labour supporters rejecting his campaign.

Johnson could have stood a third time but with Sadiq Khan as the main opposition, in a predominantly Labour expanse, he clearly felt another safe parliamentary seat was a better platform for his voice to be heard.

Johnson, perhaps with the estuary project in mind, opposed every way possible the expansion of London City Airport, the current development finally given the go-ahead by new mayor Sadiq Khan.

Crossrail, developed during Johnson’s tenure, also failed to replace the existing Silvertown for London City Airport station, with the current situation that the railway runs within 100yd of the terminal building but does not stop. A campaign for a station is still possible.

At the end of the day, Boris Johnson is pragmatic. If he were to become prime minister, he would want to see the country prosper. An expanded Heathrow is the key to that prosperity.

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