How do you solve a problem like Heathrow?

The world’s premier international airport celebrated its 66th birthday this year and, amazingly, succession planning has been in motion for more than half its life. So forgive me for finding the latest “will they/won’t they” Heathrow third runway speculation somewhat tiresome!

lhr1208_005.jpgRegarding succession planning, more than four decades ago Flight International reported on “plans for a combined deep-water port and airport on reclaimed land off the Essex coast at Maplin Sands, adjacent to Foulness”.

This was the proposal for the location of “London’s third airport” – that much-used phrase that has applied variously to “green-field” projects, the strategic development of Stansted – and on occasion Amsterdam Schiphol!

But had that Thames Estuary airport gone ahead, Heathrow could have eventually made way for an all-new London aviation gateway offering plenty of room for expansion. (And had the original 1944 development envisioned for Heathrow been adhered to – involving the demolition of two more villages – then today’s “third runway” debate would have been about a fourth runway).

But more frustratingly, 1969′s Maplin plan would have probably paved the way for London’s own multi-runway “aerotropolis” to rival Beijing, Paris CDG and suchlike.

So how ironic it is that London’s most viable long-term airport capacity growth option is centred on a plan for an all-new development in the very same estuary just a few miles from away.

The argument that the proposed site for the new airport is too far from any catchment area may have some weight. But the simple reality is that given Heathrow’s appalling transport links, the roads around West London are going to eventually grind to a halt without any significant further expansion (in fact they already have on the M25!). So journey times from the home counties may end up being similar!

IMG_7712a.jpgFlight International‘s “Terminal Decision” comment penned 11 years ago after the approval of Terminal 5′s construction said: “It is vital that the airport’s ground infrastructure is developed in tandem with the new terminal to ensure that there is not systemwide gridlock in 2007″.

As someone who uses Heathrow’s roads regularly, I can attest to the fact that the local road infrastructure has hardly changed over the last decade and can often be mistaken for one of the airport’s long-term car parks at peak times. So before talk of a third runway is taken seriously, there must first be action to address the ground transportation links – both road and rail.

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One Response to How do you solve a problem like Heathrow?

  1. CREADEOUTSOUT 14 October, 2013 at 1:27 am #

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