Birmingham airport continues to promote itself as the alternative to a “Boris island” airport

John Morris, head of government and industry affairs, Birmingham Airport has a long article in the Birmingham Mail and the Post, saying how ideally suited his airport is to take extra traffic and expand hugely, being the best solution to the alleged lack of airport capacity. He says Boris is “quite right to ask how Britain’s airports can meet the growing demand from holiday-making families and business travellers” and asks “….it hardly seems possible that an estuary airport could be built within 20 years. So how is Boris going to fill the gap in the meantime?”  Answer: Birmingham. The DfT future passenger forecasts in August 2011 suggested Birmingham might reach 27 million passengers by 2050, but the airport puts this at 30 million by 2030. They want the focus moved from the south east, and they want what they describe as courageous thinking.  i.e. expand Birmingham.


Boris Island v Birmingham Airport: The debate over UK’s air traffic expansion

3…2.2012  (Birmingham Post)
Artist's impression of the Thames Hub airport, otherwise known as Boris Island


Does the UK need the ‘Boris Island’ airport in the Thames Estuary or is there a solution to be found at existing facilities in the regions? Experts from both camps offer their arguments.

John Morris, head of government and industry affairs, Birmingham Airport:

Thanks to London’s tousle-haired Mayor, airports have become front-page news. The debate about recently-launched plans for a “Boris Island” has ignited a fierce debate about Britain’s aviation strategy.

The business community worry that Britain’s competitiveness is at stake.

Environmental Non Governmental Organisations claim air-travel is no longer relevant in an age of Skype. And British families wonder about the cost and convenience of the occasional holiday.

This is a debate worth having. The crisis of Britain’s airports threatens to derail economic growth. It is a metaphor for Britain’s failure to plan for the future. And the Mayor’s input is very welcome.

Of course, enormous obstacles to Boris’s vision remain.

Dutch air-traffic controllers. Three hundred thousand protected birds. Transport practicalities. The movement of the airport workforce and supply-chain. And the sheer cost of it all.

Nonetheless, London’s mayor is quite right to ask how Britain’s airports can meet the growing demand from holiday-making families and business travellers. And to think in ambitious terms about the answer.

Birmingham Airport

Because, as he rightly acknowledges, the answer is not a third runway at Heathrow. Everyone accepts that option is now closed.

Whatever the merits of an estuary airport, two important questions remain unanswered by London’s mayor.

Firstly, there is a question of timing. Department for Transport projections, announced in December 2011, forecast that the number of passengers using the UK’s airports could reach 540 million a year by 2040, ahead of the 2008 figure of 372 million. [ No, what the DfT forecasts in August 2011 said was that the central passenger forecasts for 2050 are for perhaps 525 million passengers per year, unconstrained. And perhaps 470 million constrained (or between 380 – 515 million for the lowest and highest estimates.  link   and report at  ]

With the best will in the world, it hardly seems possible that an estuary airport could be built within 20 years. So how is Boris going to fill the gap in the meantime?

Birmingham’s nine million passengers could be doubled today, on existing infrastructure. Our approved master plan sees more than 27 million people using the airport by 2030, and this could increase to over 30 million. Boris will need this capacity to fill the gap. [ The DfT forecast mentioned above says 25 – 27 million maximum for Birmingham.  Page 43. And see below ]

Second, there is the question of location.

Whilst a high-speed rail link would do much to link an estuary airport to other parts of Britain, it is critical that Britain maintains airport capacity near its manufacturing base to create swift, affordable links with our export and import partners.

Mayor Boris should accept that it is no longer desirable for millions of passengers from the North and the Midlands to clog London’s overwhelmed airports, particularly those travelling to destinations well-served by regional airports like Birmingham.

He should also support the possibility that some London-based passengers would be better off travelling to Birmingham Airport.

After all, with a one-hour journey-time from Euston, travelling from central London to a plane at Birmingham Airport is often quicker than the complicated trip to a Heathrow boarding gate.

Particularly if you consider the crowded check-in queues and long slog to many gates at Heathrow.

Our message to Boris is simple. Britain’s long-term aviation problem requires courageous thinking. But make best use of underused assets, rather than simply adding to the imbalance that has taken place.

And our message to Justine Greening, the Transport Secretary, is that the forthcoming aviation white paper must recognise the opportunity to distribute aviation in a way that economically benefits the whole UK – not just the South-east.

DfT August 2011  forecasts  Page 134 :

Changes in the max use (‘s02’) capacities since UK Air Passenger
Demand and CO2 Forecasts 2009 have been limited to a reduction of
the terminal capacity at Gatwick from 46.5mppa to 42mppa and of the
runway capacity at Birmingham from 192,000 to 189,000 ATMs.

At Birmingham the capacity was adjusted after consultation with the airport to
better represent the impact of the proposed runway extension.