27 JUNE 2011

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Article from BTNews 27 JUNE 2011

COMMENT: London and its airports

It has been a busy week for the business traveller in terms of news and events.  The Paris Air Show, at Le Bourget, once again proved a fascinating shop window for the industry with new aeroplanes and innovations.  In London the third Business Travel Market attracted British and European buyers to a showcase of those involved in the sharp end of the business.  In Brussels SITA assembled together the airline technical geeks for its 13th Air Transport IT Summit.  Each gathering symbolised a vital segment of business travel and networking at its best.

In London an event took place that may prove to be just as thought provoking.  The Times CEO Summit brought together Willie Walsh, now Chief Executive of International Airlines Group, the owner of British Airways, and Boris Johnson, Mayor of London.  The discourse was interesting.

It is universally accepted that Heathrow has reached bursting point.  Its performance in terms of passenger numbers is not due to its popularity as an airport, but London’s dominance of one of the great commercial and leisure centres of the world.  Expansion will only come in the future (except for a slight tinkering around of the air traffic rules) with the growth of aircraft (A380) and the removal of those at the bottom end of the scale resulting in higher average passenger numbers per aeroplane.

At the Summit Mr Walsh told The Times that he had abandoned any resistance to the Government’s political decision cancelling the Heathrow third runway.  We think him wrong.  BA may be happy with the status quo which leaves the airline dominant at Europe’s current largest hub.  A third runway would open up a can of worms.

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, espoused upon his ideas for a runway in the Thames Estuary.  AERBT is not against the scheme in principal.  It is the practicalities that worry this publication. 

New major airports around the world only work under certain circumstances.  Montreal was closed, Sydney did not even get going, Charles de Gaulle (Paris) and Chek Lap Kop (Hong Kong) were straight swops.  Narita (Tokyo) has not been a success.  The only true comparison is Kansai International in Osaka Bay (Japan), opened in 2004 and now with two runways.  It exists side by side with the old Osaka Airport, domestic only, and on the other side of the city.

AERBT will continue to fly the flag for Northolt as a short/medium term solution to London’s airport problems and as a stepping-stone for either the Thames Estuary or another palatable site.

In June 1982 a Brymon Dash 7 landed at Herons Quay (by Canary Wharf) in London’s disintegrating docklands to prove the principal of a city centre airport.  The three parties drawn in, political, investment and airline, fought a difficult battle to establish the facility.  Take away that airport today and there would be uproar.

The establishment of London City Airport (LCY) was an interesting experience for those involved.  A completely brown field site and a sceptical public.  But we have moved on over the last 30 years.  LCY is a success, the aircraft of today (and their noise footprint) are vastly quieter than of that decade.  And the use of Northolt meets the political challenge of “no new runways in the life of this Parliament”.  Think of the advantages it would bring to the regions linking such far-flung places such as Carlisle, Humberside, Inverness, Newquay and Plymouth to London.  BA would probably be wary but the benefits would accrue.  And Heathrow would profit too.

We believe that Northolt is the way ahead.  The experience of LCY proves that it can be done from what was a much less forward starting point.  What is required is a developer of vision.  Initially at any rate a deep pocket is not required.  The other elements can be assembled and we believe that the will is there. 

Malcolm Ginsberg

Editor in Chief

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