Industry gives cautious welcome to airport expansion proposals but environmental lobby voices protest

Domestic and international industry has given a qualified welcome to the UK aviation White Paper - which recommends how and where extra airport capacity should be provided - while environmental groups are dismayed.

Industry's disappointment was that London Heathrow airport will have to wait at least 11 years before a third runway can be built there, and environmentalists are dismayed that the third Heathrow runway remains a possibility.

London Stansted, meanwhile, will provide the first of two additional runways for the south-eastern UK that the government says need to be built before 2030. The new Stansted runway should be in service by 2012 at the latest, says transport minister Alistair Darling.

For the UK's scheduled airlines and the international carriers who serve - or want to serve - Heathrow, London's main hub, slots there are among the world's most coveted, and the airport is almost at capacity.

Delay, and possible denial of, the third runway means constrained growth for those based there - British Airways, BMI British Midland and Virgin Atlantic - and frustrated demand for access byforeign airlines, particularly US carriers. If Heathrow is cleared for a third runway, the white paper proposes that a sixth terminal is built.

The International Air Transport Association's director general Giovanni Bisignani says "there is no room for two intercontinental hubs in the Heathrow area". Darling's parliamentary statement laying down plans for aviation infrastructure between now and 2030 makes clear that the government recognises the importance of Heathrow to the UK.

But it says aircraft are not quiet or clean enough yet to stay within European Union regulations on air quality while using a third runway there. It may be good for the industry, but of all the airport expansion options Heathrow is in the most populous area.

If, by 2015, Heathrow clearly cannot meet the environmental limits set out in the White Paper, or if local opposition groups sink the programme politically or by threatened legal challenge, a second runway will be built at Gatwick. Of two possible choices Darling says the government favours a wide-spaced parallel runway there.

For the UK regions, the White Paper's main recommendations are for a second, close-spaced runway at Edinburgh, Scotland and Birmingham International in the English Midlands. Proposals for new airports at Cliffe on the Thames estuary and near Rugby in the Midlands have been rejected. The government has made clear its backing for runway extensions and/or extra terminals at Bristol, Cardiff, Liverpool, and Teesside airports.

Source: Flight International