10 OCTOBER 2011

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Article from BTNews 10 OCTOBER 2011

COMMENT: The London airports' dilema

Desperate times mean desperate measures.  That seems to be the airline industry's reaction to a Government/Civil Service suggestion last week to link Gatwick, Heathrow, and very, very surprisingly RAF Northolt, by high-speed rail. 

Maybe Whitehall has been reading AERBT’s comments on the little used quasi-military airfield north of Heathrow and west of central London.  Or someone, now charged with dealing with the airport problem, has taken down some dusty files and discovered that in fact London has a seventh commercially licensed airport (Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Luton, London City and Southend, being the others in passenger number order).

We also read in the newspapers last week of problems for Agusta Westland at Yeovil.  Readers may recall the highly successful British Caledonian helicopter link between Gatwick and Heathrow (100,000 passengers annually).  Dropped, just like the third runway, for pure political purposes.  Its resurrection would be cheap and very effective.  And why not bring in Stansted too.  21st century helicopters are not noisy.  When it comes to the alternative of massive building works they might even be vote catching.

AERBT believes that the solution to the London airports problem is Heathrow’s third runway.  Northolt remains a short term, cheap and highly attractive alternative.

Essentially the idea for what has been termed “The Heathwick link” is for a mostly underground rail line between the major airports with a journey time of 15 minutes.  The cost is put at £5bn.  London Mayor Boris Johnson is considering the idea as an alternative to any Thames Estuary project.

A Department for Transport spokesman said: "This proposal will form a useful contribution to the debate and will be considered alongside all other responses."

But a spokesman for BAA, which owns Heathrow, said a rail link would not solve the problem of runway capacity.

He warned: "A virtual hub between Heathrow and Gatwick faces seemingly insurmountable technical, operational, political and financial challenges, and would take many years to deliver."

The scheme is to be included in the Government's review of aviation policy, to be published for consultation in the spring of 2012.

The Heathrow quandary clearly has the Government rattled.  Why else leak Heathwick during the Conservative party conference.  (see also Aviation Foundation lobby group set up by major players below).

Malcolm Ginsberg

Editor in Chief

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