BILL READ reports on a recent conference on the on-going debate over airport capacity in the Southeast of England. [caption id="attachment_7794" align="alignnone" width="403"] Crowded house? How much space is left at Heathrow?[/caption] Over the past few years, the debate over whether or not there should be additional airport capacity in the area around London has featured many times in the pages of Aerospace International. On 31 January a half-day seminar organised at the RAeS by the Westminster Energy, Environment & Transport Forum presented the latest views on the issue with presentations from representatives from government, airport operators, business and environmental groups. Two recent developments were much cited during the conference. The first was the publication in January of the UK Department of Transport (DfT)’s latest UK Aviation Forecast which predicts that passenger numbers at UK airports are set to increase from 219m in 2011 to 315m in 2030 and 445m by 2050. The demand for air travel is estimated to rise from between 1% - 3% per year – a lower figure than the 7% per year increase up to 2030 predicted in the DfT’s previous forecast published in August. The 2013 report forecasts that Heathrow will remain at full capacity while the other major SE airports are predicted to reach their total collective capacity between 2025 to 2040. At present, the British government has no plans to build new runways at Heathrow or any other London airport. However, there have been many calls from business groups for the coalition government to reconsider its policy, claiming that the lack of new airport infrastructure was restricting economic growth and losing business from London’s airports to international hubs in mainland Europe. As a result of these pleas, Sir Howard Davies was appointed in November 2012 to head an independent inquiry to investigate options for increasing airport capacity in the UK. However, the Davies Commission is not expected to present its final findings until after the next General Election in 2015 – a timescale that many of the speakers at the conference considered to be too long.
The case for capacity[caption id="attachment_7795" align="alignnone" width="333"] Stewart Wingate, CEO of Gatwick Aiport at the conference.[/caption] The case for increased capacity was presented by Baroness Valentine, Chief Executive of the London First business promotion group. “We need more capacity now,” she stated. “The market cannot wait for this inward-looking debate on runways.” Many other speakers agreed with her. “We've let go without new capacity for years,” added Peter Morris, chief economist of the aviation consultancy Ascend. “The result has been more and more traffic squeezed into existing capacity.” Daniel Moylan, aviation advisor to the Mayor of London also supported the need for change, saying: “I don't need to explain that flying is important. 80% of people who come to the UK come by air and London needs connectivity for economic growth.” “Connectivity is the lifeblood of trade and new air links are an enabler,” concluded Rhian Kelly, director for business environment, CBI. “We need to improve the trading role for the UK economy. Heathrow has reached saturation and is failing compared with Europe to offer flights to emerging economies.” However, the seriousness of the capacity crisis appears to vary depending on who you ask. Stewart Wingate, ceo of Gatwick Airport said that, although Heathrow is close to capacity, London’s airports as a whole could support 23% more flights with their existing runways and 32% more passengers through their terminals. Cait Hewitt, deputy director of the Aviation Environment Federation, claimed that government predictions of the rate of aviation growth up to 2030 and 2050 have fallen each time a new forecast is published. “Aviation’s value to the UK economy is overstated,” she says. “Connectivity is important for business but it doesn’t need to be from a hub airport, nor from direct flights and not necessarily by air.”
Noise and greenhouse gases[caption id="attachment_7796" align="alignnone" width="350"] Local environment issues such as noise footprints are an emotive issue. (Wikipedia/Arpingstone).[/caption] In addition to the positive benefits of airports, speakers also debated their negative environmental impacts. No speakers denied that airports do cause noise and pollution but those with interests in the air transport industry, stressed that these problems should be balanced against the economic advantages that aviation brings. The issue of the environment is an important one as airports and airlines are having to work to reduce levels of noise, pollution and greenhouse gas emissions to conform with EU and international legislation. “Climate change considerations indicate that building new runways would be reckless,” says Cait Hewitt. “The UK cannot meet legal targets of climate change by building new runways. Is it fair to expect other industries to reduce their emissions while aviation increases theirs?” Baroness Valentine stressed that carbon dioxide reductions from airports should not just focus on new aircraft technology and procedures. “We need also to look at CO2 emissions from ground transport,” she said. CEO of Heathrow Airport, Colin Matthews, explained how restricting the expansion of Heathrow would not help to reduce CO2 emissions. First, much of the pollution was coming from cars and other land transport and, secondly, if Heathrow was not expanded, people would use Paris CDG as a hub instead, this generating more CO2.
Expansion optionsA number of ideas have been proposed to ease the SE of England’s air transport capacity crisis. Among the short-term solutions are:
- 1. To add up to 120,000 flights per year into Heathrow through the introduction of mixed-mode traffic (including previous banned night flights and the dual use of runways for both take-offs and landings)
- 2. To make more use of surplus capacity at other London airports.
- 1. To build a third runway at Heathrow
- 2. To build a completely new airport east of London
- 3. To build a second runway at Gatwick
- 4. To convert the RAF Northolt military air base to civilian use and to link it to Heathrow with a rapid transport system.
Is Heathrow the answer?[caption id="attachment_7797" align="alignnone" width="333"] CEO of Heathrow Airport, Colin Matthews speaking.[/caption] Much of the debate at the conference concentrated on the pros and cons of both short and long-term expansion of traffic at Heathrow. “International airlines want to come to Heathrow,” says Colin Matthews. “Otherwise, why would they pay £25m for a landing slot?” He argued that expansion at Heathrow was essential to compete with other international hub airports at Paris, Amsterdam and Frankfurt. “We shouldn't delay,” he stated. “There is a real danger that Britain will miss out.” He noted that the reason that 80% of long haul airlines come to Heathrow is because it has highest number of transfer passengers. Stewart Wingate, CEO of Gatwick airport agreed. “There is competition between UK and continental airports,” he said. “Passenger and airlines can switch.” MP Tim Yeo also supported expansion at Heathrow, particularly if it could be linked in to improved land transport connections, including high speed rail lines. “A third Heathrow runway would reduce noise levels through the introduction of quieter modern planes and less stacking of aircraft waiting to land,” he said. The case against a third Heathrow runway was presented by John Stewart, chair of HACAN (Heathrow Association for the Control of Aircraft Noise) which represents local residents under the Heathrow flight path. “The third runway will never be built,” declared Stewart. “All politicians, including the Mayor of London are putting Heathrow in the ‘too difficult’ box. On the environmental side, a total of 275,000 people are already affected by aircraft noise and a third runway would increase this number by an additional 150,000.” He also argued against the adoption of mixed mode operations which would result in an additional 80,000 flights per year operating at all times of the day. “You're risking a revolution in Richmond,” he commented. Stewart also stated that there were pockets of pollution around Heathrow which were already above EU legal limits and increasing the number of flights would only make this situation worse. The environmental argument against Heathrow expansion was echoed by Daniel Moylan. “28% of the population of Europe are already affected by Heathrow." he said. “A third runway could affect up to 1m people. In addition, a third runway would require updated surface access with additional costs.”
Look east[caption id="attachment_7798" align="alignnone" width="403"] A possible 4 runway Thames Estuary Airport at Goodwin Sands. (Beckett Rankin)[/caption] In recent years, there have been a number of proposals for the building of a completely new airport east of London in the Thames Estuary. Robin Cooper, Director of Regeneration, Community and Culture, Medway Council, said there have been five recent proposals for new major airports located in the Thames Estuary.
- 1. Cliffe Airport - three runways, Cliffe, Hoo Peninsula (Olsen)
- 2. Thames Hub – four runways, Isle of Grain, Hoo Peninsula (Foster & Partner)
- 3. London Jubilee Airport – five to six runways, offshore in Thames Estuary six miles northeast of Isle of Sheppey (Trestad)
- 4. London Britannia Airport – four floating runways in Thames Estuary linked to north and south land terminals (Gensler)
- 5. Goodwin Sands Airport – four runways, Goodwin Sands (Beckett Rankin)