6 JANUARY 2014


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Article from BTNews 6 JANUARY 2014

ON THE SOAPBOX: Malcolm Ginsberg, Editor in Chief Business Travel News

It is not the policy of your Editor in Chief to write the monthly ON THE SOAPBOX column, preferring to pen the anonymous COMMENT.  But such is the importance of the interim Airport Commission publication released just before the break he felt that some words were necessary to start 2014.   Malcolm Ginsberg has been involved with air transport for over 40 years and has sat on the executive board of two UK regional airlines.  He was very much part of the concept and introduction of London City Airport.

Airports Commission: Interim Report

Published on Tuesday 17 December after the final 2013 edition of Business Travel News had been distributed (was this just a coincidence?) the Airport Commission interim report runs to 226 pages, plus two appendixes, and a whole series of technical analysis.  It is massive.  By debating three weeks later BTN can at least objectively review what it says.  No hasty comments for us.

To add to this huge amount of paperwork four more summaries were published on 23 December plus a review of meetings with stakeholders.

The Commission states that one additional runway needs to be in operation in the south east by 2030, with a demand for a second by 2050. 

Rubbish!  Heathrow at 70m passengers for 2013 is running at 95% full, and Gatwick, not far short of 35m, has probably an even higher figure with its single strip.  Compound these numbers at 2% annual growth gives us 96m and 66m respectively for 2030, or a 37% increase.  Where are all these extra souls going to go to?  Clearly the Continental gateways.  British Airways’ awful recent punctuality figures were blamed by the airline to a lack of space at Heathrow!

On Christmas Eve the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg (Liberal Democrat) told the London Evening Standard that the report is not ‘a tablet of stone’ that all parties will have to support.  Sad this comment.  The Government has been moving towards some accommodation with the air transport community, its stance when coming to power definitely anti.

The Commission says it will study proposals for new runways at two locations.  These are at Gatwick, south of the existing runway, and at Heathrow with either a new 3,500m runway to the northwest, or an extension of the existing northern runway to at least 6,000m (the Jock Lowe scheme). 

The fact that not a single person involved in the colossus that is the Commission has any air transport experience becomes very apparent when the details are scrutinised.  Essentially it is made up of academics.

The report notes that the Skyteam Alliance might be happy to move from Heathrow to Gatwick to allow it to grow.  Delta paid millions to very successfully do the opposite (as did United) as a result of the new Atlantic bilateral.  It has just purchased a 49% stake in Virgin, thereby increasing its Heathrow influence.

In what looks like political expediency the Commission says it will further assess the case for a new airport in the Thames Estuary. 

It lists a series of works involving a number of airports, most of which are blatantly obvious and will actually happen over the next ten years regardless of the Airports Commission Report.

Where it is really poor is its dealing with the regions which are desperate for good links to London in order to prosper.  They are hardly mentioned.  If Davies has his way the north/south divide will only get worse.  HS2 is light years away.  Heathrow now only has seven domestic routes (it used to be at least 20). 

There is a crisis in the regions.

Brian Donohoe MP, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Aviation, said:
"I welcome the production of the interim report of the Davies Airports Commission.  However, I am concerned that the report offers no interim runway capacity solutions to cover the next 15 years.  In particular it does nothing to ensure that the UK’s only hub at Heathrow is accessible to the UK’s remoter regions such as my own constituency which includes Prestwick Airport and other regions such as the Highlands of Scotland (Inverness) and South West (Newquay).  I believe use of the existing Northolt runway is operationally feasible and economically essential to secure vital UK regional access to the Heathrow hub and its unique global network connectivity; I have written to Sir Howard asking him to correct his findings.”  Dundee, Humberside, Teesside, Liverpool and Plymouth also fit into this category, as does the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands.

RAF Northolt is four miles north of Heathrow. 

The facts are simple.  It has plenty of capacity, would provide revenue to the Treasury and still be available for real VIPs and the military.  Some of the (now subsidised) executive flights could go to Biggin, Farnborough and Oxford airports.  No real air traffic problems (where there is a will there is a way) or difference in aircraft movements.  In fact the Q400 and Embraer E series are noticeably quieter than many executive jets.  A sort of London City Airport to the west (and that was opposed by Mr Livingstone and others – close it now and there would be a real row).  Northolt has a fine Underground service to London (and Chiltern Railways at South Ruislip too) and with a bit of initiative British Airways would be a real beneficiary, the airport a 12-minute drive from T5 (as opposed to nearly one hour from Gatwick).  BA CityFlyer could be the airline, it has the right quiet aircraft, or Flybe, with spare capacity and anxious to retain visibility in the London area.  Contenders might be Eastern Airways, Aer Lingus Regional (owned by Stobart), or Loganair, which is backed by Bond.  Or a newcomer.  Winter 2014 is a serious target date.  Northolt might also take over some Heathrow slots, another plus point.  In oral evidence to the Parliamentary Group, Heathrow admitted that Northolt could work.

Sir Howard please promote Northolt now!  It meets the Government’s criteria of no new runways in the South East for the present.  As an economist you can see its benefits. 

In late 2015 your full report will be published, but that will only be the start of the fight.  In the meantime support Greater Britain.

Malcolm Ginsberg

Also see Airing the hub and Sir Howard grilled in this issue.

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