Expansion of Heathrow backed by Ministers

20.5.2008   (Financial Times)

By Kevin Done, Aerospace Correspondent

Ministers underlined their support for the future development of Heathrow airport
on Monday despite growing opposition to plans to build a third runway and a sixth

The Department for Transport told MPs it recognised "the immense value to the
UK of Heathrow’s status as an international hub airport and wants to see that

The government was responding to a recent report issued by the Commons transport
select committee, which said Heathrow was losing its popularity as a transit hub
to other European airports.   The MPs said it was "vital" Heathrow reversed that
trend in order to retake its place as the European hub of choice for international

The committee report said it was "clear that a chronic shortage of capacity is
hindering Heathrow’s ability to provide the sort of service to which it should
aspire". It expressed strong support for the expansion of capacity.

The transport department said on Monday it expected to make a decision on the
expansion this year following a three-month public consultation that closed in

The building of a third, short runway could increase take-off and landing capacity
at Europe’s most congested airport by 50% by 2030, according to government plans.

In launching the consultation, Ruth Kelly, transport secretary, said Heathrow
had operated for too long at nearly full capacity "with relatively minor problems
causing severe delays to passengers.   If nothing changes, Heathrow’s status as
a world-class airport will be gradually eroded – jobs will be lost and the economy
will suffer."

But the campaign against the expansion is gaining momentum, with one of the government’s
own advisers, the Sustainable Development Commission, expected on Wednesday to
express concern at the lack of agreement on generally accepted data on the benefits
and impact of aviation expansion.