UK opts for Heathrow in growth bid

The British Government has signalled it wants to expand UK airport capacity through building a third runway at London Heathrow but questions remain over the speed with which the massive infrastructure project could take place.
A commission led by Sir Howard Davies last year recommended a third runway at Heathrow although other alternatives included a new runway at Gatwick or extending one of Heathrow’s existing runways.
A public consultation will still have to be held on the effects of airport expansion before the government makes its ultimate decision as part of a national aviation strategy. MPs will then vote on that decision in the winter of 2017-18.
Any new runway capacity would therefore not be available much before 2025 as construction is not likely to begin until 2020 at the earliest.
Transport minister Chris Grayling said in a statement: “… we have made clear that expansion will only be allowed to proceed on the basis of a world class package of compensation and mitigation worth up to £2.6 billion, including community support, insulation, and respite from noise – balancing the benefits and the impacts of expansion.”
Welcoming the government’s runway decision, Martin Rolfe, chief executive officer of UK air traffic control NATS, said: “We welcome the Government’s clear decision on the location of a new runway and its announcement of a faster planning process to deliver it.
“We will be working closely with Heathrow airport and all stakeholders to develop airspace designs that help maximise the benefits while maintaining safety and minimising noise and other environmental impacts.
“Having now made an important decision to secure the future runway capacity the country needs, we must get on with modernising airspace right across the UK to ensure we can meet the forecast growth in air traffic of 40 per cent by 2030.
“We are delighted to see the Government’s support for airspace modernisation, which will be crucial to future efficiency. Without such airspace modernisation, over the coming years the travelling public will see a major rise in delays and flight cancellations. These decisions will signal to the world that the UK is open for business, which is more important now than ever.”
Ben Vogel of Jane’s Airport Review is more guarded, believing today’s decision by a special cabinet committee merely signals the start of a year-long delay before any binding vote is held.
“The latest government statement on UK expansion seems to be a step forward, but, in fact, it fails to resolve the issue. By building in another delay before the final vote, the government raises suspicions that it will find further excuses to kick the can down the road,” said Vogel. “Political expediency is leading to a delay that may affect the UK economy at the worst possible time, as the government seeks a navigable path through the Brexit maze.”
He said Brexit adds a whole new set of complexities separate from the lengthy planning approval process; protests from local councils, concerned residents and environmental activists; political opposition; cost wrangles with airlines; and the possibility that Gatwick may mount a legal challenge.
“The lack of movement on airport expansion undermines UK economic competitiveness and credibility among aviation stakeholders worldwide,” said Vogel. “Even if ground was broken on the third runway tomorrow, it would probably take 15 years before the first aircraft used it. Airport operators in Paris, Amsterdam and Frankfurt will be delighted. They’re growing on the back of the UK’s vacillation and prevarication.”
Philippa Oldham, who heads transport policy issues at the UK’s Institution of Mechanical Engineers, agreed: “The year of consultation means yet more uncertainty, at a time when we need to be definite about our industrial strategy. We need to use airport capacity in the South East to boost the whole UK economy. Air freight is an important contributor, with a particularly important role in supporting trade with countries outside the EU. This delay is therefore particularly worrying following the Brexit vote.”
Read: Heathrow submits third runway proposals