30 NOVEMBER 2015

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Article from BTNews 30 NOVEMBER 2015

COMMENT Plus Flybe applies for use of RAF Northolt

Or

Why not close Northolt Aerodrome?

Business Travel News  has long campaigned for Royal Air Force Northolt (NHT) to be opened up for regional scheduled low frequency air services giving the Province’s connections to and from London, and also Heathrow.  Quieter aircraft than hitherto and more business for the local community.  We welcome the news that Flybe as applied for a change use for the airport. (See Northolt resurrected in the issue and for the full background 19 October)

Given the value of the land (close on 600 acres or perhaps 9,000 houses) and its West London location, there is a very good case for closing RAF Northolt today!   This will not happen.  However  Business Travel News  suggests shutting the government airfield when R3 opens.  Military enclaves on civil airports work (Belfast International and Gibraltar are two examples, and there are others) and with the new runway slots will not be a problem.  Heathrow’s opening hours are much greater than Northolt and a few apron spaces far cheaper than a whole airfield.  And what a bonus for the then Chancellor with the sale.

Flybe is to be applauded on its initiative but it now faces a battle with the MOD for this change of use.  Given goodwill, Prestwick to Northolt could be operating by next summer.

The response by the MOD is as expected. “While there would be some associated challenges, they may not be insurmountable and could be subjected to a detailed feasibility study”.  For Sir Humphrey read Philip Dunne MP, Minister of State Defence Procurement.

The detailed MOD letter talks about the very occasional emergency use of Northolt (which happens at all airports) but fails to point out that sensitive movements can use the northern aprons, and that the airspace problems are for the future when R3 opens and, as we suggest, Northolt is closed. Currently there are no NATS complications, the scheduled services are like-for-like change.

The Prime Minister is aware of the value of regional air services and a customer. He is also engaged in a response to the Airports Commission report.  Northolt was not part of Sir Howard Davies' brief but it could be essential in the UK’s transport infrastructure for the next 15 years. Mr Cameron is also a user of Northolt.  Far cheaper to take a £50 flight from Northolt to Liverpool than use a chartered Airbus A319 for government business.  Likewise to Newquay for his family holiday. Better for everyone.

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John Jones, Reigate

Northolt is such an obvious solution to the short term capacity squeeze at LHR but it will never happen. With the MOD's involvement it will be lost in the long grass until irrelevant.


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