7 FEBRUARY 2011

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Article from BTNews 7 FEBRUARY 2011

ON TOUR: Northolt revisited

Last week’s COMMENT “Is Northolt the answer?” produced a record postbag (if that is the right term in this electronic age).  There were no remarks of discord.  

Terry Liddiard was Managing Director of Manx Airways, as sister company of British Midland Airways in the short lived Airlines of Britain Group.  He was in South Africa last week when he read AERBT, as usual, and sent in this observation.  His covering note makes the point that the words are from memory and written “on the hoof”. 

“What goes around, comes around!

Manx Airlines used to operate three services daily to Heathrow from the Isle of Man, slots which were always under pressure in one form or another.  We were obviously keen to protect this important link, as well as to start a Belfast City – Heathrow service, and to operate five times a day from Liverpool, but slot constraints meant that this was impossible.  And so, in the early 1990s we undertook a complete commercial, operational, and technical evaluation of using Northolt for all domestic and Irish services, as well as a separate and independent survey of the ATC implications.

The results were very positive.

There appeared to be no insurmountable ATC problems, helped by the fact that all the services affected, other than those from the Channel Islands and Plymouth/Newquay approached from the North, and could be brought in at a lower level under the main Heathrow traffic. 

Logistically, by sitting the terminal building on the north side of the airfield there was very easy access to the Central Line and the A40.  The terminal itself,  the runway, and all other services could be based on a maximum aircraft size of 150 seats thereby keeping infrastructure costs to a minimum.  And, very surprisingly, there was also a comparatively easy route for monorail access to Heathrow Central – there is (or was) a clearly defined path, almost devoid of any buildings in what is a fairly well built up area (which can be seen on Google Earth – Editor).

There was some debate whether the current runway could be enhanced for use, or whether it would be necessary to realign it by 3.7 degrees, but, other than that, it could have been a very inexpensive solution, releasing, at that time, some 70,000 movements per year, freeing them up to be made available for more international services and larger aircraft, whilst at the same time preserving or reintroducing the important links to all regions of the British Isles.

The study was sent to the then Aviation Minister, and received the usual promise of 'due consideration'.

Some years later, following the change of Government, and when the Inverness – Heathrow route had become the latest casualty, I appeared before a Select Committee looking into the allocation of slots at the London Airports.  The Chair of the Committee, the late and much missed Gwyneth Dunwoody, was extremely concerned that neither she nor any of her officials had ever seen the Northolt review we had produced, and promised it would be resurrected and considered.  Nothing further was heard. 

Heathrow North, as we called it, will still tick a lot of boxes.  It would free up a very significant expansion of international services at Heathrow, substantially increase the average passenger load per movement there, and provide the opportunity for every region of the British Isles to have direct access, subject to commercial viability, to the country's major hub, increasing traffic feed to international services substantially, recovering it from its present routeings over Amsterdam, Paris, Frankfurt, etc.  

RAF Northolt as such would close saving a substantial amount of money and the tender for a private Heathrow North would have to include a certain number  of gratis slots for Government and military flghts, plus the use of an enclave on the airport, likewise free

The Government could take the plaudits of increasing airport capacity without compromising their stance on a third runway, and gain an income. A win-win situation which is good for the country, and shows that the coalition is aware of the air aviaton problems.

Terry Liddiard

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