This debate about runway capacity in the UK’s South East is endless and wearying, and it hasn’t finished yet. Not by a long chalk.
And delay is the problem. Put “Heathrow” into the “search” facility for this blog and you will find I have always said that the longer it takes for a decision to be made, the more inevitable it is that the answer has to be an additional Heathrow runway. The simple reason for that is that a new runway at Heathrow delivers more movements and more hubbing efficiency by far than an additional runway at any of the alternatives.
So the longer the delay, the more the capacity shortfall, the faster and more effective the solution has to be.
Hence the decision by Sir Howard Davies’ Airports Commission to include in his shortlist of three favoured solutions two for additional runways at Heathrow and another for a second runway at Gatwick.
The irony is that, environmentally, Heathrow could hardly be worse positioned. Expansion there exposes more people to noise and pollution than it does anywhere else, yet the longer the delay, the more it becomes the only solution.
One wild card Sir Howard has thrown into the debate is the argument that hubbing isn’t so important now (ie: Heathrow isn’t) because low cost point-to-point air travel is where the real traffic expansion has come from over the last ten years. But he ignores the fact that the growth in the low cost sector as it serves the UK’s South East is slowing as it matures. And low-cost in the sense of the Ryanair or EasyJet product has never translated well into long haul, which is why neither of those vibrant carriers has ventured there.
Finally, long haul needs a hub so its flights get fed, but the long haul carriers are not, under the present model, fed by low cost carriers, who don’t interline and don’t serve Heathrow.
Meanwhile, if you feel the need to come back down to earth from Sir Howard’s complex and lofty arguments, just read the brief, practical example of what Heathrow delivers (or fails to deliver) right now. It’s in the previous blog post, “Flying backwards“.