Times Leader pushing for Heathrow expansion

The Times writes – heavily influenced by the aviation industry lobby – that the only hope for the UK economy is to expand Heathrow, build a third runway , and to hell with any adverse effects on anyone. The Leader writer appears not to be aware of some of the basic facts and has swallowed entirely the mantra of the aviation industry that aviation is the driving force of all economic activity –  which is not true. This Leader continues the long campaign to put pressure on the government to grow Heathrow and produce an aviation policy that greatly expands UK aviation capacity.

 The Leader in the Times on 13th January says: [some comments from AirportWatch members, correcting some inaccuracies in brackets] 

THE TIMES Leader:  Plane Wrong

The economic case for further expansion at Heathrow is so strong that political obstacles must be overcome

January 13 2012


Of the Government’s two major decisions to date on transport infrastructure, it has got one right and one wrong. Approving a high-speed rail link from London to Birmingham and points north is correct and courageous. Scrapping plans to build a third runway at Heathrow is mistaken and cowardly. Whatever the political constraints, the coalition must look again at expanding Heathrow. The inclusion of a spur to Heathrow as part of the HS2 rail project makes the Government’s mulish refusal even to discuss extra capacity at the airport even more baffling.

When other newspapers jumped on the bandwagon against the third runway, The Times remained consistently in favour — both before and after the election. On reflection, we were right. The UK’s only hub airport is now full up. Last year, Heathrow’s two runways operated at 99.2 per cent of their capacity. Heathrow remains the most used airport in Europe, but will not be so for much longer, while its two runways have to compete against Schiphol’s six [ actually five runways, and only three are parallel to can be used together] and Frankfurt’s and Charles de Gaulle’s four each, the latter two already offering flights to seventy more destinations than Heathrow.  [And Gatwick also offers more destinations but with only one runway, so what?]  With no slack in the system, as every traveller knows, what should be minor problems can cause long delays and cancellations.  [That is entirely the fault of the airlines who persist in scheduling more flights into Heathrow than it can handle instead of using Gatwick or Stansted.]

British business is already suffering the effects of these capacity constraints. Direct flights to many UK provincial cities have been axed to free up slots for more lucrative long-haul ones. Yet many direct daily international flights that should exist — to Guangzhou, Ankara, Manila, Jakarta — do not, simply for lack of runway space.  [ When will the Times learn some geography!   Businessmen or women in most of Europe would not wish to fly to any of these places via London because it means a much longer journey. ]  The effects of this on trade and tourism are dire. Five times as many Chinese tourists visit France, principally to shop, as come to Britain.   British exports to emerging markets, notably Brazil and China, are lagging for lack of the connectivity that the UK’s competitors enjoy.

Nobody believes that expansion of Heathrow is an ideal solution. For some residents living very close to the airport, a third runway will be, at the very least, disruptive. They can be compensated. But the wellbeing of the few [morally debatable]  cannot hold sway over the wellbeing of the nation. Further afield, modern quieter aeroplanes and the potential to extend the night-time curfew should offset the increased traffic. The environmental impact of dozens of planes circling is, at the moment, considerable, 600 tonnes of CO2 being discharged into the skies every day by planes stacked over London.  [Again that is entirely the fault of the airlines who persist in scheduling more flights into Heathrow than it can handle.]

Rather than re-examine the issue of a third runway, the Government is now said to be looking more favourably at a brand-new airport in or close to the Thames Estuary. Yet the cost of such an airport dwarfs that of laying another 2,500 yards of concrete at Heathrow. It would also take the best part of 20 years to become operational.

In any case, this is not an either/or question. Given the projected increase in passenger numbers [the DfT forecasts show that, unless new methods are introduced to control aviation climate change damage, no new runways should be built in the South East until 2050 ] it may well be that a new airport is necessary in addition to an enlarged Heathrow. Yet the Government is heading for the worst of all worlds — to do nothing about either. David Cameron’s pre-election commitment to scrap Labour’s plans for Heathrow was ill judged. The Tories’ subsequent refusal to consider new runways at any of the London airports is scandalous. The Government’s position on the estuary airport is to dither.

That is not good enough. The Conservatives are supposed to be the party of business. It is hard to think of anything more vital to the health of British business than the provision of sufficient aviation capacity, the lifeblood of the global economy. And yet the Government has no aviation policy worth the name.

It had better devise one, and soon.  [Yes, of course, you silly leader writer.  Have you not heard that a new draft White Paper is due to be produced in March ? ] On the crucial decisions that will determine the UK’s economic competitiveness for generations, a success rate of 50 per cent is no success at all.


 Comments from AirportWatch members:

People living near Heathrow  “can be compensated”?  Pah…
I am appalled that the Times can write such rubbish.
I quote from the article – “It is hard to think of anything more vital to the health of British business than the provision of sufficient aviation capacity, the lifeblood of the global economy.”  That is just unjustified hype.
The Government always caves in when confronted with this argument as is is frightened of the fallout of the threat of financial meltdown. Yet it is a completely empty threat!  It is about time we stopped being governed by economic fear.
From a purely political point of view a decision to expand Heathrow would present enormous difficulties for the current Government.  How could the Lib Dems swallow another U-turn after the tuition fees debacle?   Would ministers strongly opposed e.g. Greening, Villiers.  Would they be able to remain in office? It would also cause a major rift with Boris on the eve of the London elections and all the Tory Councils and MPs around the airport would come out in opposition.
Frankly the Government has enough on its plate already e.g. the  recession, unemployment, the Euro-crisis, NHS “reform”, HS2 and the Scottish referendum. They would be absolutely mad to support Heathrow expansion under these circumstances. Is the “Times” so in thrall to the aviation lobby that they can’t see this?

Just a quick calculation – current passenger numbers imply that around 1% of the UK population fly on any given day.  So that means 99% of them don’t.  Surely any economic activity that the 99% take part in every day is likely to be more vital to the UK than aviation?

What of the GMB Union’s role in this? (Renewed calls for third runway at Heathrow – Jan 11th).  I have just read that industry lobbyists set the policy on drinking laws.  Unsurprising, yes – but it’s time that lobbyists were publicly called to account for their undue influence.