Stansted airport expansion to go ahead

9.10.2008   (Guardian)

Dan Milmo, transport correspondent

Plans to expand Britain’s biggest budget airline hub, Stansted airport, were
embroiled in a funding row today after its biggest customers threatened to pull
more flights.

Britain’s biggest budget airline hub received the go-ahead to handle 10 million
more passengers but was warned by
Ryanair and easyJet that it faces fewer flights if it hikes fees to pay for the expansion.

The government rubber-stamped a proposal to lift the passenger cap at the Essex
airport from 25 million per year to 35 million, which allows around 120 more daily
flights. However, Stansted’s biggest customers are withdrawing planes from the
airport this winter in a row over landing fees and are threatening to pull more
services if the expansion increases costs further.

Ryanair and easyJet, who operate seven out of ten flights at the airport, have
warned that it would add £550m to the overall cost of the airport, which will
have to be paid off by higher landing fees.

“It could mean less flights. If BAA goes ahead and adds £550m on the value of the airport and further increases
its charges, both airlines will take out capacity,” said an easyJet spokesman.
More than 23 million passengers used Stansted last year, but passenger numbers
have dropped 4% since January, leading some analysts to doubt whether the 35 million
limit will be reached any time soon.

BAA, Stansted’s owner, said Ryanair and easyJet were “jumping the gun” ahead
of a regulatory inquiry that will set landing fees.

Jim Fitzpatrick, the aviation minister, said overcrowding at London airports
was a key factor in the decision. “There is an urgent need for additional runway
capacity in the south east,” he said.

Officials at the departments of Transport and Local Government admitted that there may be “some negative health effects due to changes in levels of
air pollution” but added that they would be small.

Shadow transport secretary Theresa Villiers backed the decision to allow more
passengers on Stansted’s only runway but warned that Conservatives would “strongly
oppose” a second.

Tim Yeo, the Conservative chairman of the all-party Environmental Audit Committee, said
the move would stoke a boom in cheap air travel.

“It is the wrong decision. It is a bad decision environmentally for East Anglia
and it is also wrong economically because the expansion of Stansted has depended
on low-cost flights and the expansion of that type of flying.”

Campaign group Stop Stansted Expansion, which has led opposition to development of the airport, said the decision was
“entirely predictable, cynical and unjustified”.

“Given the government’s gung-ho approach to airport expansion, we always knew
that the dice were loaded in favour of BAA,” said SSE chairman Peter Sanders.


The announcement came as expansion plans for City Airport, London’s fourth largest
airport, also received approval. The Docklands-based airport was given planning
permission to increase flights by 50%, from 80,000 to 120,000 per year.

Passenger numbers are expected to reach 3.2 million next year, although the downturn
in the financial services industry is expected to reduce demand at an airport
whose proximity to Canary Wharf and the Square Mile makes it popular with business