London’s airports require additional runways to accommodate future growth and emissions targets, says a body set up by the UK government to assess capacity needs.
However, the Airports Commission will not make its recommendations until after the next parliamentary election.
Future air travel demand is “likely” to exceed existing airport capacity in the southeast of England even if it grows slower than the Department for Transport has predicted, and even if the government were to constrain air transport growth in order to meet environmental targets, says Howard Davies, the commission’s chairman
The “imbalance” between air travel demand and airport capacity in southeast England cannot not be resolved by market forces alone, the commission argues.
It adds that regional airports with spare capacity, such as Birmingham, will not be able to “absorb all the excess demand”, while government’s means to allocate flights across different hubs are “very limited”.
“We will need some net additional runway capacity in the southeast of England in the coming decades,” says Davies.
Relying on existing runway capacity – which the governing parties pledged not to expand, before the UK’s last general election in 2010 – would “likely” produce not only a “distinctly suboptimal solution” for travellers and the aviation sector, but also what would “almost certainly not be the best solution in terms of minimising the overall carbon impact”, he says.
However, while the commission had to assess the evidence for airport expansion by 2013, the recommendations on how capacity growth should be realised are not due until “summer 2015” – after the next general election in May of that year.