As the deadline for submissions to UK's Davies Commission closes Professor Keith Hayward, the Royal Aeronautical Society's Head of Research, provides analysis of Heathrow Airport's latest expansion plan. [caption id="attachment_8388" align="alignnone" width="403"] Heathrow has proposed three options for a third runway. (Heathrow Airport)[/caption] Having lost the battle for one extra runway, London Heathrow now offers up three – two to the north of the existing airport and one to the southwest. Its submission to the Davies Commission set up to examine airport strategy in the South East of England, primarily London, presents a trio of privately funded options costing between £14 and £18 billion. Other costs include demolition of between 800 and 2,700 homes and expanding the putative noise footprint across a number of London communities. Over the 2025-29 construction period, Heathrow managers argue that aircraft will be much less noisy and different approach patterns will reduce rather than increase the noise blight. [caption id="attachment_8395" align="alignnone" width="356"] Map of the proposed LHR north-western third runway option (Heathrow Airport).[/caption] Other ideas to increase Heathrow capacity have included a recent suggestion to move operations westward with two longer mixed mode runways. The basic argument remains the same: a world class hub is required to serve London and the UK, Heathrow is on the edge of viability, all the other alternatives are either too costly or ineffective. [caption id="attachment_8394" align="alignnone" width="356"] Map of the proposed LHR south-western third runway option (Heathrow Airport).[/caption] The London Mayor, Boris Johnson, long an advocate of a new airport out on the Thames Estuary was again quick to challenge Heathrow’s new proposals; but “Boris Island” solutions are the most costly alternatives, likely to require public subsidies and underestimate the infrastructure needs of a new airport some distance from the city in a relatively unpopulated area. Generally, the advent of a new generation of fuel efficient long-haul wide-bodied aircraft may reduce the value of hubbing, but will not entirely undermine the importance of “global hubs”. These are still the basis of many airline business models and underpin some fundamental truths about how best to fill aircraft and to serve a disparate network. [caption id="attachment_8393" align="alignnone" width="356"] Map of the proposed LHR northern third runway option. (Heathrow Airport)[/caption] For many Britons, of course, none of the London options (including a better use of the four airport constellation – LHR, Gatwick, Stansted and Luton) are relevant to their needs; their preferred solution is to hub elsewhere. Two still underused runways at Manchester and a modernised Birmingham are but two of the provincial alternatives to an often difficult journey south (the promise of a High Speed railway notwithstanding). Most of the “northern” airports are well linked to the near continent or to the Gulf, where access to the global network is assured. Sir Howard Davies intends to publish a preliminary report next year; but the full report and any decision will await the outcome of the 2015 General Election. This will be a proverbial hot potato, and the best bet is a default to the four airport amalgam, with slightly longer odds on Heathrow R4. Boris Island is the clear outsider. [caption id="attachment_8392" align="alignnone" width="176"] The Thames Estuary Airport concept is now looking increasingly unrealistic.[/caption]

Keith Hayward
18 July 2013