As an ‘independent’ report is finally published to decide on airport expansion in the south of England, it is likely the new Tory government will conveniently treat it as just a recommendation, rather than the rule. Politics has played a big part in this debate and despite respectable campaigning from the owners of both Heathrow and Gatwick, Sir Howard Davies’s job has probably been made more difficult by the fact that at least five Conservative cabinet ministers represent seats in the area affected by noise and pollution around Heathrow.
Britain is fast being left behind as the Middle East, Russia and China are building international multi runway airports at a rate of knots. Even Ethiopia is planning to open the first of three new planned airports in 2018. So with Heathrow at 98% capacity and Gatwick’s proposals relatively easy to achieve why is Britain taking so long to deliver?
As with all major infrastructure projects decisions are made at the very top as that’s where the money supply comes from. Senior Conservative party members may secretly be driving a decision for a brand-new airport outside of London. Like HS2, this type of construction project is very lucrative for those in associated industries. Even the Mayor of London, now a Tory MP wants one in his name.
In reality, Heathrow is both the airlines’ and passengers preferred airport, as road and rail links to Central London are fast and efficient. It is already a ‘hub’ airport for connecting onto shorter European flights, or as a waypoint further afield. It is not true that all local residents have campaigned against airport expansion as many work at the airport and want to see it grow for increased employment opportunities.
Noise should really be a non-issue as new aircraft are getting much quieter and are now measured by their noise characteristics with fines levied on airlines that don’t comply. If it takes twenty years to extend or expand these airports, engine noise and air traffic control technology will have moved on significantly, making life easier for residents. The new generation Boeing 787 ‘Dreamliner’ and the Airbus A350 ‘Hushliner’ have quiet, lower emission engines and are already in operation.
I believe both Heathrow and Gatwick need to be expanded quickly for Britain to keep up with the rest of the world. It should never have been a question of either or, or even a political issue as the longer it takes, the more passengers and our economy will suffer. Heathrow, which is already the size of a small city, is set to be the winner this time around, with a new NW runway built through the village of Harmondsworth and the M25 redirected through a new tunnel beneath it.
In the meantime, larger aircraft like the A380 Superjumbo, which is likely to be stretched by Airbus to carry 765 passengers, is the only stopgap to increasing passenger numbers without expanding runways.
Anthony Davis is a broadcaster, private pilot and aviation journalist. Available for interview.