Report on the Evening Standard’s Great Heathrow Debate
The debate hosted by the Evening Standard took place last night in London had an unbalanced panel, with four speakers broadly in favour of expansion, and only one against. The speakers were Alain de Botton, Willy Walsh, CBI chief policy director Katja Hall, the Mayor’s adviser Daniel Moylan with the lone “anti-expansion” voice of the panel, Tamsin Omond leading member of Climate Rush, among other things. The debate was a missed opportunity for a high level debate, not having sufficient speakers from the opposition, but it was of a higher quality than expected. Willie Walsh confirmed that he is not expecting a third runway at Heathrow, and is not planning for it. He also agreed that the presence of a new runway would not determine whether business is attracted to London. No convincing arguments on the economics of a hub airport, or of a new runway, were put forward.
Despite a panel that was a touch skewed towards the aviation industry the Evening Standard’s debate on aviation was of a lot higher standard than you might expect. The debate, hosted by journalist Jon Sopel, brought together philosopher and writer Alain de Botton, BA CEO Willy Walsh, CBI chief policy director Katja Hall, the Mayor’s adviser Daniel Moylan, with the lone “anti-expansion” voice of the panel, Tamsin Omond leading member of Climate Rush, among other things.
Despite being pretty heavily outnumbered Tamsin Omond was able to make a real impression on the debate raising crucial issues and, in general, using sharper and clearer arguments than her fellow panelists. If she was a little defensive about not being a transport or aviation specialist she made up for it by calling John Stewart from the audience to speak and recognising the work of other campaigners.
What’s it all about?
Alain de Botton kicked off proceedings nicely by planting the discussion firmly in terms of the way businesses, including aviation businesses, by definition prioritise profits over social concerns, or those of the wider economy. He felt that speakers like Willy Walsh would be obliged to argue for aviation expansion regardless of the real case because corporations were legally obliged to maximise their profits. A little bit rum, but quite satisfying none the less.
Willie Walsh on the other hand was concerned that the government appeared to have no aviation policy although he admitted he was no longer campaigning for a third runway at Heathrow as he felt it clearly was not going to happen. Indeed, all the panelists thought a third runway was out.
Which is why people like the Mayor’s adviser were for a “new [unspecified] airport” and Katja Hall of the CBI said that the government was “choking growth” by its refusal to expand capacity so that more trade could be opened up to China and India. Oddly she wrote off the Eurozone altogether, despite the fact that they are or closest trading partners.
However, in the face of the idea that airport expansion was stopping Asian investment Alian de Botton mocked the idea that someone would not open a factory here due to a fictious inability to get a plane here. This seemed slightly weak but lead Walsh to admit that aviation capacity was not the key problem, but the government’s anti-immigration stance and the difficulty in getting visa’s – so it’s border controls that are the problem not airport capacity it seems.
There were some interesting debates that could have done with some expansion, like the merits of hub airports over spreading aviation’s impact among a larger number of smaller airports. Likewise the motivations of politicians was drawn into the frame briefly when Walsh damned the “obsession with votes” and he then warned darkly of “green votes”, which sound horrid. Omond mentioned briefly the fact that the aviation industry pays no tax on fuel and regards itself as a “tax free industry”. Well worth exploring in debate I think.
Siobhan Benita tweeted during the debate that the government should make a noise reduction programme a key and non negotiable criteria of expansion” but it was clear that most proponents of expansion saw other factors (like social or environmental harms) as something that could be ignored if the economic benefits were large enough.
One million people are, apparently, disturbed by aircraft noise in this couuntry and the WHO has made it clear that there should be a limit of 55 decibels above which there are clear health impacts. However, without a clear site for a new airport discussing its impacts on the area seems a little abstract, but important to note.
The best contribution from the floor came from one audience member who made a very clear and simple point. If capacity is the reason we’re not flying to China and India why did Walsh’s airline launch, on that very day, a new Heathrow route to Leeds, just two hours away by train. If Chinese routes are needed then let the train take the strain for internal travel.
It takes us to the point on on how to use aviation capacity. Omond thought we should ban domestic flights but in general laid out a more cautious case that we’re using our capacity badly and that air travel should be seen as part of an integrated network where often other forms of travel are more appropriate. Alain de Botton pointed out that more people manning the desks at immigration control might be a good way of freeing up Heathrow’s capacity, but it was profit over making the airport more people friendly and faster experience.
This was an extremely attractive argument that before we start expanding airport capacity we need to make sure we’re using what we have effectively. If we’re in need of intercontinental flights then let’s scrap the short haul flights and ensure we have other land based (or indeed sea based) transport to take us the shorter distances. Omond argued that, in fact, there was no capacity crisis but a failure to think creatively about our transport and economic needs.
Her argument that we need to reinvigorate our “ancient rail system” and “build real infrastructure” to help fight economic and environmental problems went down well with audience on the whole. When we were told by Moiland that aviation was private enterprise but that a new airport would require from the public purse more than £25 billion over ten years it did seem that there was a have our cake and eat it attitude from the aviation industry.
Of course, Walsh was actually keen on moore high speed rail to take people larger distances to his airports and he stated clearly that HS2 made turning Birmingham into one of London’s airports a real opportunity. So trains in themselves don’t reduce air travel and may, in fact, increase emissions if we aren’t careful when planning.
There were votes of the audience showing that people were against a Heathrow third runway, but a significant minority for, despite the fact that no speaker spoke directly in favour. It was “more evenly split” on a new airport in the Thames Estuary and then asked whether anyone had changed their mind – almost no one put their hand up. Which highlights the fact that if you come out to a midweek meeting on aviation you probably have strong views on it already – but the meeting was still useful and informative, deepening people’s understanding of the issues.
De Botton’s view that we should have a referendum on airport expansion has some merits – but only if that is an informed debate. This debate certainly helped inform the enthusiasts.
For me the take away message was from Tamsin Omond who argued for a better not bigger aviation policy. Let’s use our existing capacity better, stop using flights when we could use other transport and have a proper debate on the role of aviation in our economy and the real consequences of this polluting, pampered industry.
HACAN welcomes Willie Walsh’s recognition that a 3rd runway at Heathrow is off the agenda
June 28, 2012 HACAN has welcomed the recognition by British Airways chief Willie Walsh that a 3rd runway is off the agenda at Heathrow. Walsh also ruled out mixed-mode which he said would make the situation at the airport worse. Speaking in a debate organized by the Evening Standard in Central London last night Walsh admitted that, while he had supported a 3rd runway, he now recognized that it would not be built. He said that decisions about his business were now being made on that assumption. He cited, for example, that BA had acquired BMI in order to get more landing slots at Heathrow. HACAN applauds Willie Walsh’s honesty. When a straw poll was taken at the end of the debate a large majority of the audience voted against a 3rd runway. Click here to view full story…
Boris Island ‘a distraction’ says Walsh
British Airways will still fly from Heathrow in 2050 after parent International Airlines Group (IAG) bought BMI to ensure it could expand at the airport, Willie Walsh told an audience in London last night.
Speaking at an Evening Standard debate on London airports, Walsh dismissed a new hub airport in the Thames estuary as “a distraction”, said he supports high-speed rail and would not campaign for a third runway at Heathrow.
The IAG chief executive said: “I was disappointed with the Conservative decision to oppose the third runway, but I accept the decision. However, there is no plan B.
“A third runway should have been built, but it won’t so I can’t waste time. We bought BMI to give us the opportunity to fly to some of the routes [we had not been able to].”
Walsh told the audience of several hundred: “I don’t believe Boris Island will be built. You can have an airport where you like; if you don’t have airlines there, it won’t happen. In 2050, BA will be flying from Heathrow.”
Told that flying between Manchester and London wastes capacity at Heathrow, Walsh said: “If high-speed rail connected Manchester and London, I wouldn’t fly to Manchester. People fly from Manchester to Heathrow because they are connecting to flights.”
He said: “I hear more argument in favour of a third runway since I said I was not going to campaign for it. So I’m going to carry on saying that and we might see it built.”
Writer Alain de Botton argued against expanding Heathrow and described a new Thames estuary airport as “pie in the sky”.
He told the audience: “Our inefficiency in building airports is a symptom of efficiency in other areas, such as democracy. That is more important than business.
“We should celebrate the 15 years it took to build [Heathrow’s] Terminal 5. It is a tribute to our freedom.” De Boton added: “We have five airports in London. Let’s use them.”
Environmentalist Tamsin Omond said the problem was “miss-use of airport capacity”, saying: “45% of capacity is wasted on journeys of less than 300 miles, on flights from Heathrow to Edinburgh and Manchester.
London is the best-connected city in the world. The government is right to stay firm on its decision [on Heathrow].”
Daniel Moylan, aviation advisor to London mayor Boris Johnson who advocates a new Thames estuary hub, argued: “The question is not whether we have a fourth or fifth runway somewhere in the southeast. The question is whether it is going to be in Britain.
“The hub capacity used by a large number of people outside the southeast has already moved to Schiphol.”
However, Moylan conceded that half the funding for a new airport, provisionally costing £50 billion, would have to come from “the public purse”.
BA chief: We need a new hub airport to take place of Heathrow
28 June 2012
Speaking at the Evening Standard’s aviation debate, he sounded a death knell for Heathrow as the country’s premier international airport.
“I think we need to build a third runway at Heathrow, then we need to plan and build a new hub airport,” he told a capacity crowd of 900 Londoners. “I’m open to where it should be built. It should be in the best place possible.”
Mr Walsh, whose vast International Airlines Group includes British Airways, Iberian and now BMI, explained after the debate that Heathrow will eventually run out of capacity — even if it is allowed a third runway, which all three main political parties oppose.
With the current two runways, IAG’s airlines could be served by Heathrow for “the next 15 years”, he said. But even with a third runway, it would be running out of capacity by 2037.
“A third runway probably gets you 20 to 25 years, but not much more,” he told the Standard. “I can’t see where you’d put a fourth Heathrow runway.”
The former pilot, who rose to become one of the most powerful figures in aviation, called on the Government to choose a new hub within three years.
“You need a decision, with cross-party support, in this Parliament,” he said. “Can you postpone it beyond an election? No, I don’t think you can.”
He said a new hub should be “future-proofed” by having the potential to grow to at least four runways and many terminals, plus top-grade rail and road links. It must also keep costs down.
BAA boss Colin Matthews has warned that Heathrow’s status will be reduced to a “local airport” by 2027 unless it can expand.
Mr Walsh did not support Boris Johnson’s proposal for a Thames Estuary airport because of possible airspace conflicts, running costs and doubts about its appeal to airlines.
And unlike the Mayor, he insisted a third runway is needed as an interim measure to stop Britain falling down the aviation league table while a new hub is being planned and built. “We’re No 1 today,” he said. “If we slip to No 20, how do we get back to being No 1?”
His dramatic call was one of the highlights of an electrifying debate held at the Emmanuel Centre, Westminster. It brought together the air industry, business, environmentalists, residents and passenger groups.
The panel, chaired by the BBC’s Jon Sopel, included climate change activist Tamsin Omond, CBI chief policy director Katja Hall, the Mayor’s aviation adviser Daniel Moylan and writer Alain de Botton.
During lively exchanges, both Mr Moylan and Mr Walsh slammed proposals for permanently allowing “mixed mode” Heathrow flights, which would allow both runways to be used all day for both take-offs and landings. And all the expert panellists attacked the Government for its inaction over the air capacity crisis.
Mr Walsh said: “Let’s challenge David Cameron to do what he said he would and come up with the long-term solution. That may be difficult. I’ve seen no evidence of him wanting to do that.”
John Stewart, chairman of pressure group Hacan which represents residents under Heathrow flights, said today: “We applaud Mr Walsh’s honesty. We wait for the rest of the aviation industry to wake up to reality and start to engage in a constructive debate about the future of aviation in the UK.”
On a show of hands after the debate, an overwhelming majority agreed London is facing an aviation crisis but a majority was against a third runway. By a smaller margin, the hall opposed a Thames Estuary airport.
Transport Secretary Justine Greening said today: “Willie Walsh is right to say it is now time to grasp the nettle and look long term. I am determined to lead the debate that will secure our country’s long-term status as a leading aviation nation.” In Monday’s Standard she warned against “quick fix” solutions to capacity problems.
Heathrow owner BAA renewed its appeal for a third runway after Mr Walsh’s comments, saying: “For the foreseeable future, this is the only airport in the UK with the scale and capability of a global hub and we need an aviation strategy recognising this.”
We need new Heathrow runway as stopgap, says Willie Walsh
BA chief: We need a new hub airport to take place of Heathrow
New airport is better idea than high-speed rail, says Boris aide
28 June 2012
Boris Johnson’s aviation adviser claims there is a better business case for building a Thames Estuary airport than for the High Speed 2 rail line.
Speaking at the Standard’s aviation debate, Daniel Moylan said an island airport in the South-East would be part-funded by the private sector.
He said £25 billion of public money would be needed for the project, but argued that if the Government was willing to spend £32 billion on HS2 it should be willing to finance a new airport.
HS2, which will initially link London to Birmingham, has faced fierce opposition from some MPs and residents on the proposed route.
At yesterday’s debate at the Emmanuel Centre in Westminster, Mr Moylan said: “This is not pie in the sky. The figures are £25 billion for an airport and possibly £25 billion again for [rail and road links]. If you could sort half of that in the private sector then you’re left with a £25 billion cost over a construction period of perhaps 10 years. For the economic benefits it will generate … I suspect a very strong business case can be made.
“I’m not drawing invidious comparisons but as strong a business case, if not better, than spending £32 billion on high-speed rail.”
Mr Moylan said that a new four-runway mega-hub was vital to attract big business and investment to the capital, and with Heathrow full to bursting point, rival airports in Europe were now offering more links to developing economies than London.
“We cannot continue to attract investment, we cannot continue to be the headquarters location of choice for major companies … unless we offer them direct connections to a wide range of cities across the globe,” he added.
“It is just possible the Dutch and the French and Germans and Arabians have all got this wrong and the British approach of burying your head in the sand, not doing anything for 60 years, is the right one. Personally I don’t find it a very compelling case.”
But Willie Walsh, head of BA’s owner IAG, said he did not believe a “Boris Island” estuary airport would ever be built. He said: “It is an interesting issue but I think it’s largely a distraction. I struggle to see the business case.” Wycombe Tory MP Steve Baker, who has opposed HS2, said: “The financial case for HS2 is poor. The case for a high-quality hub in the South-East is a very good one.”
Panel’s views ban domestic flights, hold vote or build new hub
The environmental campaigner said she would ban domestic flights “in a second” as she argued that Britain does “not have a capacity crisis”.
Ms Omond, an author and founder of the Climate Rush protest group, said better railway connections are the answer and called for the Government to have a better “vision”.
She said: “I believe in Britain and I believe in keeping Britain great. Any responsible government would chuck this debate back into the airport bar where it belongs. We do not have a capacity crisis. The crisis we have is a misuse of our existing airport capacity.
“Heathrow, at 99 per cent capacity, flies 118 times a week to Edinburgh and 81 times to Manchester. Better rail connections between UK airports alone would release a runway’s worth of capacity for the South-East.”
Alain de Botton
A referendum must be held before the next big aviation strategy is allowed a go-ahead, the writer and philosopher said.
“The best mechanism ultimately is a referendum on what we should do with our aviation policy,” he said. “This is a particular issue and the only real way we are going to balance up the needs of business, the needs of the one million people who can’t sleep because of noise, and so on, is by some sort of democratic process.”
The chief executive of IAG, owner of British Airways, backed Transport Secretary Justine Greening’s calls for an end to what she called the “pub-style debate” so far on UK aviation.
He accused the Conservatives of coming out against a third runway at Heathrow in a bid to woo green voters and was sceptical about the benefits of a “Heathwick” solution — linking Gatwick and Heathrow with a high speed rail link.
The CBI’s chief policy director said ministers needed to take Britain’s growing aviation needs out of th “too hot to handle box”.
She said the private sector would step in to finance bigger airports, adding: “This is not a market failure. It’s a failure of nerve. The market is ready to deliver but it’s the Government’s failure to confront some tough decisions that is holding us back.”
THE mayoral adviser to Boris Johnson said that a failure to build a new hub airport in the South-East would condemn London to becoming a bit-part player in the global economy.
He said: “The Dutch, the French, the Germans — they get it. They are competing for our business. They are laughing all the way to the bank.
“We cannot expand Heathrow, it is in the wrong place. We need a new, proper airport.”