16 APRIL 2012

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Article from BTNews 16 APRIL 2012

COMMENT: The case for Northolt

Speaking to the BBC in Indonesia during his Far Eastern tour last week British Prime Minister David Cameron reconfirmed his objection to Heathrow’s third runway.  “It will not happen,” he said.

So where are we?

Were you aware dear reader that whilst up to 22 United Kingdom airports are served by Amsterdam only six are linked to Heathrow.  The British Airways takeover of bmi will eliminate competition on these remaining domestic routes into London’s main airport with dire results for the Provinces.  Whilst BA may well be forced to offer some slots to competing carriers the sheer cost of Heathrow and difficulties with interlining will eliminate any real interest.  When bmi dropped Glasgow, Virgin suffered.  This will be replicated.  Virgin has a dilemma.  It is a fine long haul carrier.  Does it want to involve itself in the specialised skills required of short haul services?  All it will say is “we are reviewing all options.”  The investment would be heavy.

AERBT believes that the short to medium term answer for the Heathrow capacity problem is to resurrect what was once Europe’s busiest airport, Northolt (NHT), as a point to point operation.  Perhaps at a later date a monorail system could be introduced for hub traffic.  The four-mile (say six minutes) distance is just about practical for connecting passengers.

A parallel can be drawn with London City Airport (LCY).  It was a brown field site in a rundown industrial and port area 30 years ago.  Brymon Airways, landing on Herons Quay, Sunday 27 June 1992, changed all that.  The idea of an airport was opposed by some, led by Ken Livingstone.  Mr Livingstone later, in an about turn, was to open the highly successful DLR extension to the airport.  Take away London City today and there would be uproar. 

LCY as an enterprise has worked for three reasons. 

The political requirement (LDDC)
The airline (Brymon)
The developer (Mowlem)

All three (more or less) worked together as a team for the common good.

This should be the way forward for Northolt.

Very briefly, from a political position NHT satisfies the ‘no new runway’ policy, deals with the Defence cost problem, involves no houses being knocked down, supports the regions with routes into London, and of course relieves Heathrow.  It also adds revenue to the local community and council.  Just like Stansted no government cash is involved either.  Yes there will be very limited additional noise but the Embraer 190 and Bombardier Q400 are even quieter than the Dash 7 that opened up London City.  The technical problems can be overcome.

From an airline point of view it would be (initially) a West London version of LCY, point to point, with strong inbound traffic (and European airports within one hour’s flight time) and outbound routes to the UK regions.  There is an Underground/Overground station (Ruislip Gardens) close by the present entrance/guardhouse and the A40 runs parallel to the runway.  Several market analyses have indicated strong market potential.

For the investor/developer half the land could be turned over to housing and either the existing runway used (1687m), or part of it as per London City (1199m) limiting the aircraft types somewhat.  A more ambitious project for a 2,500m strip with an Airbus A330/Boeing 777 capability is possible, but it would be much more expensive and take a great deal longer to go through the planning process.  However the longer runway construction could be undertaken at night time with normal operations during the day.

In financial terms turning the military operation into a civil airport is not mega money.  Yes, the aerodrome rules are different, but given enthusiasm to drive the project forward none of the technical problems are insurmountable.  Stobart has proven how quickly you can put up a 2m-passenger terminal at Southend and the other infrastructure work is minimal.  Yes, NATS will initiate all sorts of air traffic difficulties, but there is plenty of separation in the technological age.  Just take a look at Los Angeles International with its four parallel runways. 

The Prime Minister has said no to Heathrow’s third runway.  He has also acknowledged that something needs to be done urgently regarding airport capacity in the South East.  Northolt could be the answer.  It will give the UK breathing space whilst the future of our worldwide air connections is properly sorted out.

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