23 JUNE 2014
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Today (23 June) H M The Queen opens the new Heathrow T2, a major step forward in the rehabilitation of Britain’s major airport. But just four miles away is another once vital operation, and still very much useable, RAF Northolt, which could very quickly, until HS2 is built and the new London runway becomes ‘on line’, solve the critical transport connections for the regions. It meets the Government’s criteria too.
Last week Business Travel News gave details of the Airports Commission “Utilisation of the UK’s Existing Airports Capacity,” call for evidence.
The big question is whether Northolt (NHT), London’s hidden airport, is part of this exercise by Sir Howard Davies and his experts. It operates commercial civil flights (including the BAe 146 of The Queen’s Squadron), has plenty of spare capacity and sits by the A40 with Heathrow T5 less than 15 minutes away. It also has an Underground Station with direct service to Oxford Circus.
Whilst executive flights are OK at NHT, the same aircraft used for scheduled services are deemed inappropriate. If NATS (aircraft traffic) can accommodate these civil movements the airline services should pose no problems operated by the Royal Air Force, but with contracted civilian services, NHT is a drain on the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
An increase of the movements' limit was announced in Parliament from 7,000 to 12,000 per annum. This is being disputed in the High Court by Biggin Hill and Oxford airports. One can understand a seemingly misguided challenge by Oxford (any loss of slots by private aircraft at Northolt must be good news for the former Kidlington), but Biggin Hill has its own huge eastern London catchment area and will not lose business. Farnborough’s attitude is just to ignore Northolt and carry on as usual.
As things stand Flybe is known to be examining Northolt as a base to complement its soon to be launched London City operation. The CityJet subsidiary VLM is in talks with various people with a view to operating ‘wet lease’ services to a number of destinations. Eastern, now part of Bristow, has Prestwick/Northolt in sight, and of course its home base at Humberside would find non-stop flights to and from London just what the doctor ordered.
Northolt is a ready-made airport and its use for scheduled commercial operations meets the Prime Minister’s pact not to build any more runways in the South East until the Airport Commission has reported.
Opening up NHT for regional scheduled traffic would have the immediate effect of dealing with the problem of access from a number of domestic points that are waiting for HS2 (in 2030). For BA it would be good news in attracting high value passengers who are now deserting the airline in big numbers to Amsterdam and Frankfurt for connecting flights East. Walsh should lobby on Northolt’s behalf. “Our Dear Channel Islands” as Churchill put it, would again have quick connections to London. And the world from Heathrow.
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