Love it or hate it, Heathrow’s politically cancelled third runway will be back.
Why? It’s the most environmentally friendly aviation solution for UK plc, even if not so for the thousands (millions?) of citizens living directly under Heathrow’s arrival and departure paths.
Who says it’s the most global-cooling air transport move? Richard Deakin, CEO of UK ATC provider NATS.
Any other location for an additional runway serving the UK’s south east, or traffic pattern rearrangements to allow increased traffic from existing runways, would result in less efficient routeings and higher emissions, he says.
The now-abandoned Labour government air transport white paper had come to the same conclusion, so Deakin’s not inventing an idea.
He’s not saying the third runway will happen or should happen, just that it’s the least-polluting answer if air travel demand is to be met.
But is air travel demand to be met?
Both member parties forming the current coalition government, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, claim demand can be met by alternative methods which do not include a third runway at LHR or any additional runways at Gatwick or Stansted either: they say increased demand for domestic travel can be met by improved rail services, and for international travel by allowing growth from regional airports, but not from the UK south east and London.
Is this realistic? Travellers can’t afford the relative cost of UK rail travel (air travel is a fraction of the cost), and international trade and tourism depends heavily on international air travel. Artificially limiting freedom to travel on business and leisure when the good times return will become politically suicidal.
Of course one way the government could make rail travel competitive on price with air travel is to increase air passenger duty massively. There is a big increase in the pipeline already, but still not big enough to do the trick. But expensive transportation is not popular and it’s an economic damper which the governments of competing economies are avoiding imposing on their home markets.
The change in political stance will take years to develop, but it will happen. Watching how the government will spin their U-turn is going to be the fun part. Less of a spin, more of a squirm.
Like Deakin, I’m not saying a third runway should happen. But I am saying it will happen. You heard it here first by many, many years.