Heathrow 3rd runway will be back

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. 

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7 Responses to Heathrow 3rd runway will be back

  1. Joseph Markham 26 October, 2010 at 4:33 am #

    Heathrow cannot afford NOT to have a third runway, if it aspires to remain a global hub. Charles de Gaulle, Schiphol, Munich, Frankfurt, Madrid, Rome all have more runway capacity, modern terminals and easy interconnection.

    Leaving LHR with 2 runways will cap its growth, forcing passengers to connect via the other hubs… the loss to the English economy, I guess, would be measured in billions!

  2. Andrew 26 October, 2010 at 12:28 pm #

    Please prove to me, using comparable data on things like advance booking or walk-up, that air travel is a fraction of the cost of rail.

  3. Mark 26 October, 2010 at 4:56 pm #

    As I understand it a large proportion of the slots at LHR are taken up with hub operations, passengers in transit making no contribution to our economy. BAA need to increase the fees for such operations to drive away such traffic to other hubs that have the capacity and free up slots for domestic passengers.

  4. David Learmount 26 October, 2010 at 5:35 pm #

    No contribution to UK economy? Transit passengers on Virgin, British Airways and BMI earn money for those airlines, which keeps their employees in jobs that are mostly highly skilled and well paid. Transit passengers make more routes viable for those carriers, linking the UK to world points that might not otherwise be served.

    Air transport is a business that the UK happens to be disproportionately good at. While there is a policy to encourage growth in other sectors, should this one not be encouraged?

  5. Mark 27 October, 2010 at 10:23 am #

    True enough. But as The Economist put it, “International transfer passengers who never leave the airport are useful to the airline industry, but they are of little wider economic value.” http://www.economist.com/node/12562325
    Hubs can be anywhere, an airport running at full capacity doesn’t seem the best place. Demolishing a large part of West London to make more room for transit passengers is ridiculous!

  6. FF 27 October, 2010 at 12:34 pm #

    Like you, I think the Government will eventually come round to the idea of a third runway. That’s because it makes absolutely no sense to control flight movements by restricting the length of available tarmac.

    We have to accept politically driven limits on air movements. Sensible limits could be placed on total number of movements, total noise levels, time of day and routings. Within those limits airports and airlines could maximise their revenue by investing in larger, quieter planes traveling at certain times of the day. Runway congestion works against them achieving those limits.

  7. Roger Lee 15 November, 2010 at 8:40 pm #

    Rather than banging on about a lost cause necessitating demolishing West London , why not use Lyneham ? The RAF are leaving in a few years and road and rail connections are good to Swindon .It would be handy for all the passengers from the Midlands ,S.Wales and the Westcountry .To appease the Scots move Brize Norton Traffic to Scotland and Brize could become a London Airport if Kidlington can !