New study to look at viability of Thames Estuary airport

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Long-running efforts to create a new airport for London in the Thames Estuary, east of the UK's capital, have continued with the launch of a £100,000 ($155,000) study into the project.

The study, funded by UK-based architects Foster & Partners and infrastructure consultants Halcrow, goes well beyond previous plans for a 150 million passenger a year coastal airport to replace London Heathrow. The study's proposed Thames Hub would group the airport with rail freight links, a tidal energy barrage and a flood protection barrier.

Plans for a new airport off the Thames have been mooted at least since the 1960s and have come to prominence again in recent years due to the backing of London's Mayor Boris Johnson.

Proponents have pointed to the benefits of moving away from space-constrained Heathrow and reducing the noise and pollution of aircraft on approach to London's current main airport as they fly across the city centre.

Opponents have cited the huge cost of not only building an artificial island on which to locate such an airport but also of the high-speed surface transport links that would be required to persuade people to use such a location.

Founder and chairman of Foster & Partners, Lord Foster, claimed that the proposals "are far from future fantasy. They are both essential and down-to-earth". Such an airport would also allow London to compete with expanding airports in Europe and the Middle East, he argued.

The results of the study, which will span a 50-year period out to 2060, are due to be published in September.