24 JANUARY 2011

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Article from BTNews 24 JANUARY 2011

COMMENT: Common sense at last.

Last week London City Airport was given the final go-ahead to expand from a current maximum of 90,000 movements a year to 120,00 following a High Court hearing.  At virtually the same time London Mayor Boris Johnson called for a new airport to be built in south-east England after a report said Heathrow was losing out to European rivals, reigniting the debate on London's airport capacity. 

The London City news is good for the capital and all the businesses that now rely on the airport.  It is a victory for common sense and Newham Borough Council who were initially opposed to the whole concept but now give the airport vital help.  The expense and aggravation of the hearing was caused by yet another minority group who gained funds (and media coverage) for a protest that had no foundation in law. 

Currently 10 airlines serve 35 destinations at the former docklands airport.  A one-third increase in movements gives scope for real expansion.  No investment in terms of extra taxiways is required.  The airport’s record year was 2008 with 3.3m passengers and 83,922 actual movements.  For the future a doubling of passengers is quite possible.  In time the 50-seat turboprops that were initially the foundation of the airport will be replaced by 70-seat prop jets and also 100-seat jets.  The management has a wish-list of new airports to add as destinations.  

"The capital's airports are full, our runways are crammed and we risk losing jobs to Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Madrid or other European cities should we fail to act," Mr Johnson said last week after the report was published.  "We need to start planning for a brand new airport that can help meet the ever-increasing demand for aviation and act as a hub, particularly to the rest of the UK."

An imaginative scheme, that for a third short runway at Heathrow was hastily scrapped for pure political reasons after an exhaustive public enquiry that gave the go-ahead when the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government took office in May.  What a waste of money and effort.

The Mayor’s aviation advisor Daniel Moylan, a banker, says that a new airport should be built in the Thames Estuary and that Heathrow allowed to become a secondary point to point airport.  Tell that to Mr Johnson’s past constituents in Henley, his former seat when he was Member of Parliament.  The area is dependent on Heathrow. 

Mr Johnson’s current focus is the London Mayoral election of 2012, once again up against Ken Livingstone.  Mr Livingstone, to his credit, was party to the bid that secured the Olympics to London, only for the ultimate prize, of carrying the Olympic flag out of Beijing, undertaken by Boris.  Ken would love to win in May 2012 and play host to the world.  Logic will go out of the window as they both make their play to the electorate over the next 15 months for the glory of being the London chief in July 2012.  Sadly the airport issue will be moribund.

The London City Airport expansion is good news for the air transport industry and the country.  

Whilst the Thames Estuary scheme is fine in theory, in practice it is a non-starter for all sorts of reasons. 

In March the Government will issue a “scoping document” as part of an air transport review in 2012.  More waffle.  Fortunately London is still the clear leader in attracting business travel and tourists but is gradually losing out, now serving 157 airports compared to Frankfurt’s 235 and Paris Charles de Gaulle’s 224.

London City is good news.  Heathrow, Gatwick, Luton and Stansted it’s no news that aggravates.

The air transport industry wants to know where it is going now. 

Malcolm Ginsberg

Editor in Chief

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