10 SEPTEMBER 2012

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Article from BTNews 10 SEPTEMBER 2012

COMMENT: A wasted five years

This publication is ambivalent when it comes to a new London airport.  We can see merit in Boris Johnson’s argument for a four-runway operation in the Thames Estuary (and the very interesting Foster scheme) but we wonder just how long it will take.  The finance could be found.  London’s Mayor is not opposed to an expansion of Stansted either but the mass transport links would need to be vastly improved.

However history tells us that new airports far away from the city they serve do not work commercially.  Narita Tokyo, is hardly a success, Mirabel Montreal is a closed white elephant, and the Australians gave up at Sydney before they started.  Misinformed politicians and journalists cite Hong Kong as an example of what can be done, but if you build a new airport to replace the only existing one it is bound to be a success.  Hong Kong has one airport and will only ever have one airport.

We now have a Department for Transport statement issued Friday (7 September) http://www.dft.gov.uk/news/statements/mcloughlin-20120907a in the name of the new incumbent, Secretary of State for Transport, the Rt Hon Patrick McLoughlin MP (see below UK ministerial update).  Yet another review of airport capacity in the South East, this time disguised as a Commission.  Nothing new.  Back in the early seventies the Roskill Commission suggested Cublington – not a million miles from the current HS2 track in Buckinghamshire.  This was diverted to Maplin, with the Wilson government eventually cancelling the project on financial grounds. http://www.btnews.co.uk/article/4405

The Commission will not make its final report until after the end of this Parliament.  Quite how this affects the July Draft Airport Policy Document, and due to be adopted in March 2013, remains something of a mystery, but it is acknowledged in this latest statement.

Yes Minister (first seen on BBC1 in February 1980) continues to play on the West End stage. 

Sadly the old jokes are current and strident.

So where do we go?  This shelving of responsibility has to stop.  With respect to Sir Howard Davies, who will Chair the Commission, with the best will in the world it will suffer the same as Roskill 40 years ago. Binned!

We need action now and not in the middle of the next parliament (if then).  The world needs to see we are getting on with an airport policy, and not just talking about it.  A third Heathrow runway will take 10 years.

There seems to Business Travel News two quick fix solutions.  Mixed mode operations at Heathrow or reactivate Northolt as an scheduled airline airport.

Mixed mode is a cheap practical idea but can the infrastructure deal with the numbers both of aircraft (in terms of ground manoeuvring) and passengers.  Terminal 5 is already full.  Does it need expanding?

Northolt is to our mind the obvious solution.  It might keep even Boris happy, a short-term project that can be closed when the long-term solution is found and built. 

Northolt satisfies most objectives and could be up and running in less than two years.  BTNews does not see it as a long-term solution to the London problem, but as a cheap, quick fix, telling the world that the UK is not going to stand still and be overtaken (in aviation terms).

We see Northolt as an A-B airport not as a hub.  A London City for West London relieving Heathrow of some of its traffic and opening up the Provinces (and regional Europe) for new routes and improved frequency.  Typically Aberdeen does not require 12 flights daily when four wide bodies will do to meet the traffic flows.  Cornwall and Devon desperately need good links into London and likewise Liverpool.  Plus Teesside and the Humber estuary.  High Speed Two is years away.  Northolt will help relieve railway congestion and be good news for the Treasury releasing another (military) cost centre.  Technically the runway can be London City’s length (1200m) or anything up to 1600m depending on CAA safety requirements.  NATS says that anything is possible regarding air traffic. 

With Northolt what we will have is activity.  One can’t expect much help from BA as its immediate slot problems have been resolved, but there are other carriers with vision who might find this new civilian airport a worthwhile gamble.  Air France and London City have worked together from day one.  Also Swissair (and you can argue BA Colin Marshal Chairman of Brymon during its early LCY years).

Prime Minister when you arrived Heathrow’s third runway was nearly ready to go. Since then political dithering.  When your current term comes to an end we would have had a wasted five years.

What we need is action now or we will be left far behind in the race.  London 2012 shows what we can do.  It took seven years and succeeded.  At the current rate by 2019 we will still be talking!

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