29 MARCH 2010


© 2022 Business Travel News Ltd.

Article from BTNews 29 MARCH 2010

COMMENT: Heathrow and the third runway problem

It stares us in our faces.  The solution to the Heathrow third runway problem, or T6.


Or to give it the official title, RAF Northolt.

Read on.  It is not the solution you expect. 

Our remedy may surprise you after Friday's High Court judgement.  It was certainly not a victory for the anti-Heathow protesters as the BBC attempted to indicate.  Transport Minister Lord Adonis came out fighting, stressing that the judgement did not rule out a new runway, but called for a review "of all the relevant policy issues, including the impact of climate change policy."

Back in 1946 Northolt was Europe’s busiest commercial airport.  With the emergence of Heathrow the then British European Airways (BEA) moved out in 1954.  It became the RAF’s air transport (communications) gateway for London.

Today its serves two purposes.  Firstly as the landlord for various military administrative organisations, secondly as an operational airport, eight in the morning until eight in the evening with very limited weekend use, run in air traffic terms by the Royal Air Force, and used by the Royal Squadron, RAF communications flights, plus other military wings including overseas visitors.  An executive jet base is hosted by London City Airport.

Three big problems.  It is a very expensive operation to run, however it is disguised; the locals do not like it as it is in the middle of a built-up area; thirdly there is a legal limit of 7,000 civil movements.  In 2009 there were 5,905 civil and 6,980 military movements according to a Parliamentary written reply.  RAF Northolt is not approved under the PETS scheme nor does it have the facilities to process animals.

For the most part the Royal Air Force operates elderly jets that do not meet modern noise regulations.  The military is not above the law and these aircraft should be replaced.

Our solution for the Heathrow third runway problem is to close Northolt!  Leave the non-flying activities where they are, and move the nearly 15,000 movements to Heathrow’s third runway.  

Of course the Air Marshals would shout.  They might even involve Prince Philip.

But think of the benefits.

The Royal Air Force gain a 24/7 operation, the executive jets better connectivity with long haul flights, and the tens of thousands living around the airport will be delighted with its closure.  The land can be sold for housing.  Whether the money goes to the RAF or the Exchequer the government can sort out.  Or perhaps towards the new Heathrow facility.

The Conservative Party, embarrassed by its anti-third runway policy, could support the move without admitting a mistake!  For whatever reasons the party has forgotten that the nation depends on Heathrow for commerce and is the reason for this country’s unique position as the hub for the world (and for jobs too).  Do we want to lose this position to Amsterdam, Frankfurt or Paris (or even Dubai)?

Currently Heathrow is limited to 480,000 moments on two runways.  A Government policy decision in 2009 limits the three runways to 605,000 movements in 2020 and 702,000 in 2030.

As a trade-off BAA could be generous and offer the RAF and its client operators a generous 20,000 movements at current rates plus inflation.  That would still leave over 100,000 movements for commercial operations in 2020.  Executive operations (10%) and airline services mix happily at London City.  In any event the RAF could move some movements to Brize Norton and for the real VIPs surely they would prefer a purpose-built facility at Heathrow. 

AERBT believes Northolt should be closed and the old (noisy) jets need to be banned.

Malcolm Ginsberg

Editor in Chief

See also AERBT 11 January

Index/Home page

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