New talks on increasing capacity at Heathrow

15.6.2010 (Evening Standard)

by Joe Murphy, Political Editor

Campaigners against Heathrow noise today reacted with suspicion as the Government announced a task force
for "better not bigger" airports in the South-East.

Transport Secretary Philip Hammond said the new group would open a "new chapter" following the coalition government’s
decision to kill off the third runway.

It looks set to reopen the debate about whether more flights can be squeezed
out of Heathrow’s existing runways, with one of the business groups represented
saying that improving the airports was a "tall order" with current capacity.

Dominated by big players in the aviation industry, the group will hold a series
of meetings to find ways of making operations at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted
more efficient.

Government sources played down speculation that it would examine ways to increase
the number of flights in and out of the big three airports.

They said efficiency measures and a better passenger experience would be the
main focus. Mr Hammond declared: "I have a clear vision of our airports which
sees greater reliability, shorter queues, less hassle and better services for

"It is absolutely crucial that we get this right as aviation is vital to our
national economy."

He said the taskforce would look into securing Heathrow’s hub status "within
the constraints of the existing runways". However, Heathrow operator BAA has always
claimed that it could not continue successfully as a hub for international flights
unless a third runway was built to increase capacity.

Maggie Thorburn, a campaigner for anti-expansion group Hacan, said: "We have often said that better not bigger seems a good policy. However,
we are always deeply suspicious of any body that has representation from the aviation
industry without balancing it with community interests."

A spokesman for business group London First, which will sit on the taskforce,
made clear that more flights should be put on the agenda.

He said: "Of course business wants Heathrow and other airports to be better servants

"We are happy to work with the Government to help achieve that goal, through
regulatory and operational changes.

"But sustainable improvement in reliability, delays and passenger service remains
a tall order when Heathrow is so full. We’d like to see a plan B for London’s
strained airport capacity."

The taskforce, chaired by transport minister Theresa Villiers, will include the Aviation Environmental Federation which campaigns against noise and pollution, and passenger group Air Transport Users Council. But most of the 13 places go to aviation and business interests, including BAA, BA, Virgin, easyJet, Ryanair, London First and air traffic controllers.


The new South East Airports Task Force

1.   Members invited to partake in the group are:


Minister of State for Aviation (Theresa Villiers)


BAA Heathrow

GIP Gatwick

BAA Stansted

CAA (Civil Aviation Authority)

NATS (National Air Traffic Services)

BA (British Airways)

Virgin Atlantic



London First

AUC (Air Transport Users Council)

AOA (Airport Operators Association)

AEF (Aviation Environmental Federation)

2.   The first meeting of the group is expected within the next month, at which
the precise terms of reference will be agreed.   These will then be available on
the DfT website.




see also




“New chapter in aviation policy” – Hammond

by Sara Turner

Transport minister Philip Hammond has said future government aviation policy
will “recognize the need for restraint”, despite the importance of air travel
to the UK and global economy.

“The Government believes that aviation makes a vital contribution to the economy
of this country”
said Hammond,  “and to the lives of our citizens. The aviation sector contributes
some £11bn to GDP and directly employs some 200,000 people.”

But Hammond went on to say that he “cannot simply allow” continued growth of
the aviation industry ” at the levels it has in the past”, as the consequences
in terms of noise and local air quality, as well as CO2 emissions would be “unacceptable”.

We need to start a new chapter in aviation policy – one that promotes a competitive
aviation industry, supporting UK economic growth, whilst recognising the need
for restraint,” he said.

“We have already begun that by making clear our opposition to adding yet more
runways at Heathrow, Stansted or Gatwick.    Instead, we must explore different ways in which to improve the efficiency of
these key components of our national transport infrastructure

In a bid to “improve the passenger experience”, the Department for Transport
has set up a South East Airports Task Force, to explore measures to “help make the most of existing airport infrastructure
and improve conditions for all users”.

Theresa Villiers, the Minister of State, will head up the group, which Hammond
said would also include “key players from across the industry”.  

“Its initial focus will be on action at our three biggest airports – Heathrow,
Gatwick and Stansted,” he added. “I am confident that, by working closely with
the aviation sector, alongside our regulatory reforms, this will help deliver
improvements for all.”

The Lib-Con government has already scrapped plans for expansion at two of London’s
busiest airports, Heathrow and Stansted, instead pushing forward plans to build
high speed rail lines in the UK.

The DfT is also working to reform the economic regulation of airports, which
some think may mean a further break-up of the UK’s largest airport operator BAA.

The company has already sold off Glasgow airport, and is appealing against being
forced to sell Stansted and one of its Scottish airports.


AEF do not have more information on this at present  
Comments from AirportWatch members:
The way to be “better not bigger” is to reduce the fraction of capacity

that is being used, so there is slack in the system. BAA wanted to do

this by adding a runway (but ultimately aiming for it to be 95% full

again, as that is when they maximise their turnover) but there is

another way – reduce the number of flights.

Most of LHR’s customers are from London, so  it is not obvious  you

need Crossrail in order to get these people to stop using LHR to reach

Paris and to use Eurostar instead – it is merely down to cost firstly,

and convenience secondly. Address both of those ie make air more

expensive, and more constricted on flights to Paris, and add whatever

pampering they need at St Pancras and you are likely to be well on your

way to a slacker and hence better LHR.

How about a south east London stop for Eurostar – that would quite

possibly reduce the total travel time for a slab of people and be much

cheaper than Crossrail.    Does Crossrail allow Eurostar to use the main

network? If not then it is probably pointless and very expensive.

Efficient through ticketing from the UK railways to Paris would also

help eg one ticket takes you from Bristol/Birmingham/Manchester to

Paris, including London Underground (with a Metro ticket thrown in).

The title of this  article is unfortunate.   The talks will not be solely

about Heathrow; they will be about all the South East airports

including Gatwick where there is an intention to increase the number

of passengers from 32 million per year to over 40 million.   That would

involve bigger planes and 20000 extra flights a year.

The environmental impact of such expansion would be widely felt and

the economic impact would also be negative because such growth would

be unsustainable.

Airport Watch is united in campaigning for an end to any expansion in

aviation whether at Heathrow, the South East or more widely.