31 JANUARY 2011


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Article from BTNews 31 JANUARY 2011

COMMENT: Is Northolt the answer?

AERBT has this week two stories which on the face of it have no relationship.  The Transport Times London conference and the cessation of Air Southwest flights into Gatwick.  You could also add in the London City news from last week that the airport has been given permission to increase annual movements to 120,000.  The problems associated with New York, which we report on too, could be included to the scenario “Is Northolt the answer?”

At the conference it became clear that the Government has not a clue where to go regarding air transport for the London area.  It acknowledges that civil aviation plays a big role in helping Britain stay amongst the world’s leading nations.  Heathrow’s third runway, and for that matter the second runway at Gatwick and Stansted are not completely dead we learnt. 

The news of Air Southwest’s retreat from Gatwick highlights not only Cornwall and Devon’s plight in not having air links to the capital but also draws attention to the fact that in recent times the Leeds Bradford, Inverness and Teesside routes into Heathrow have gone too.  Belfast and Newcastle are seemingly in danger of being withdrawn. Liverpool, Humberside, the Channel Islands and even Norwich once had services into what is acknowledged as the World’s most important international hub.  All agree on the consequences of loosing the London routes.  Carlisle would like to be linked.

London City Airport (LCY) runs the executive jet operation at RAF Northolt, London’s secret airport.  In 2009 there were 13,000 movements, half of which were by elderly military jets which do not comply with modern noise regulations.

Go back 25 years and you will find that the opposition to the docklands airport, funded by Ken Livingstone, was vociferous.  Mr Livingstone now acknowledges that it is a success and even accepted an invitation to open the adjacent DLR railway station.  To close the airport now would be a disaster for the whole area.  Modern jets are quiet and airlines bring in business.

A close inspection of the noise footprint area for London City is not that much different than Northolt.  So why not have a “city” airport in the west of London, subject to the same aircraft constraints as LCY?  Link it with a simple monorail system to Heathrow and of course make use of the existing Underground.  Move the regional flights out of LHR and put a lower limit on aircraft size at that airport.  It makes real sense to replace a 68-seat ATR72 slot with one for a 500-seat Airbus.

The cost of such a project is not horrendous and the engineering task could be quickly undertaken.  No compulsory purchase and yes the Air Marshals might grumble.  Prince Philip can have his slots.  There is no climb-down by the Government and it would give a really great boost to the regions (and something for the local MPs to get their teeth into at Parliament).  In the meantime Westminster could look again at Heathrow’s third runway proposals and plough on with its long term plans for High Speed Rail.

A serious (and speedy review) of the Northolt scenario by this Government would at least give them a chance to show that they are thinking positively regarding air transport.  At the moment it seems to be acting like a headless chicken not knowing which way to run. 

Northolt is London’s secret airport.  With the modern jets it would remain hush-hush!

Malcolm Ginsberg

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