Why Heathrow does not need to be expanded and the UK does not need a new hub airport

There have been a great many speculative articles over the past few days, since the Chancellor announced the consultation on the draft white paper on aviation policy was suddenly, and unexpectedly, delayed till summer. A likely cause of the speculation is that the DfT is probably having to include Heathrow in the consultation, or risk legal challenge. GACC (the Gatwick Area Conservation Campaign) has set out some of the key reasons why Heathrow does not need to be expanded, and why a new hub airport is not needed in the UK. Gatwick and Stansted have space and are well under capacity.  There is nothing stopping airlines putting on flights to the Far East from London airports, it if is their choice to do so.  If these flights could be run at a profit, they would be provided.  Geographically, for travellers from Europe heading east, the UK is in the wrong place, so is not well situated as a hub for them.  In another informative article, Murad Qureshi also set out why Heathrow does not need to  be physically expanded, as its passenger numbers are already growing, it has more than enough space for business travellers, and large numbers of convenient flights via hubs like Dubai to anywhere further east. The problem with the growing number of passengers using Heathrow is the noise and local air pollution.



From GACC (Gatwick Area  Conservation Campaign)

Aviation Policy Postponed

Headlines in the Sunday papers have suggested that top Tories are thinking of re-opening the issue of a new runway at Heathrow – with an unenthusiastic nod towards Gatwick as a possible alternative.

This story, which is still only a rumour, obviously arose from the surprise announcement in the Budget speech that the consultation on the new aviation policy has been delayed until later in the summer. Only a fortnight ago the Department for Transport (DfT) were saying that they were on track to publish it before the end of March.

The DfT is due to produce a draft white paper on aviation policy (for which GACC has contributed many suggestions), together with a separate consultation on the issue of a hub airport, which was to have invited any proponents of a hub to submit detailed plans.  The new draft white paper is due to cover subjects important to local residents, such as aircraft noise, night flights, and whether flight paths should be concentrated or dispersed.

The delay may be due to the threat by BAA to seek judicial review if the consultation excludes Heathrow – as happened in the case of Gatwick in 2002.  GACC chairman, Brendon Sewill, said ‘We have huge sympathy for our friends at Heathrow whose houses and lives would be blighted yet again and who, having won one decisive victory, would — if the rumours prove true — face having to fight the battle all over again.’

Sewill added:  ‘there seem to be a lot of naïve ideas around’.  For example –

The Chancellor said  I also believe this country must confront the lack of airport capacity in the South East of England …..  But Gatwick is only 80% full and Stansted only 50% full.  Indeed Gatwick is still handling 2 million fewer passengers a year than five years ago.

The Chancellor also said that “….we cannot cut ourselves off from the fastest growing cities in the world.”   But there are plenty of slots available at Gatwick and Stansted.  If there are enough British businessmen who wish to fly to cities in China, the Far East or Brazil it would be profitable for airlines to put on flights from Gatwick or Stansted now.  If the existing runways are not full, a new runway would remain empty.

It is often said that Britain needs a new, or bigger, hub airport.  But it is generally accepted that we can only have one hub airport.  Gatwick has not got the space to build one extra runway, let alone the three or more new runways that would be needed to compete with Paris, Amsterdamor Frankfurt.  For the reasons why any new runway at Gatwick is not feasible, see  www.gacc.org.uk/the-runway-issue

Sometimes it is said that Gatwick could provide a subsidiary runway for Heathrow.  That has been tried in the past:  Laker, BCal, and Dan Air all tried it and all went bust, and BA failed to make it work. See www.gacc.org.uk/aviation-policy (Hub airports)

It is often said that the purpose of a hub is to serve expanding markets in the Far East.  But that is to forget geography:  Heathrow was a good hub when most people in Europe wanted to fly west to America, but Englandis in the wrong direction if they wish to fly east.

Sometimes it is said that building a new runway is needed to provide jobs, and stimulate growth.  But construction of a new runway at Gatwick is ruled out before 2019. (1)  More jobs after 2019 are not going to help cure the present recession.

(1) The Observer (25 March) quoted David Cameron as saying ‘No construction work could start at Gatwick until 2019 but this would not stop officials drawing up plans to establish a framework.’ … but this sentence does not appear in the official text of his speech on the No.10 website, and it is not clear what is meant by ‘a framework’ — perhaps nothing more than the new draft white paper currently being prepared by DfT officials.

GACC is the main environmental body concerned with Gatwick.  Founded in 1968, we have as members around 100 Borough, District and Parish Councils and environmental groups covering about a  twenty miles radius from the airport.  Our committee, elected annually, represents all areas. Because we rely on rational argument and put forward constructive solutions  we have had strong support in Parliament and at every level of government.





A growing Heathrow – noise and air pollution needs tackling

March 25, 2012 (Murad Qureshi)

Murad is Chair of the Environment Committee of the London Assembly

You only have to see a double deck A380 landing at Heathrow to realise the airlines are expanding

With all the talk about the coalition government reconsidering its position with Heathrow in today’s sundays papers, its assumes that Heathrow is not expanding and ignores Londoners concerns about noise and air pollution.

While Heathrow may have reached its upper limit of flight numbers to and from its runways, the actual numbers of passengers passing through its terminals is most certainly increasing. You only have to witness an A380 plane land at Heathrow, off-loading 500 plus passengers to realize that Heathrow expansion is a practical reality.  If all aircraft passing through Heathrow were on the same scale, then it would be much easier to contemplate the extra tens of millions more passengers which could potentially use the airport.  Currently, it can handle around 66 million passengers and once the redevelopment and construction of the five terminals are completed it will be able to cope with 90-95 million passengers a year. So whos says Heathrow isn’t getting bigger.

Interestingly its the Arab and Asian airlines who have been bringing in the extra passengers with A380, with them offering connections with other flights in Middle Eastern hubs like Dubai. Clearly responding to the demands of the their customers both business & lesiure, without demanding more slots and thus capacity at Heathrow while offering us the connections still. So while direct flights maybe not on offer by these airlines, you are certainly been offered very convenient connections and the full plane loads suggest customers are happy with this arrangement.

The major concerns is the impact which this increasing capacity will have on the immediate local environmental in terms of air quality and noise.  After Central London, Heathrow airport is the second major hot spot for poor air quality in London particularly with Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2).  Poor air quality is leading to the early deaths of at least 4,300 Londoners a year, and the UK is already facing legal action and fines of £300 million for its breaches of EU air pollution limits.  While much attention is rightly given to this major public health issue in London, little is directed specifically at Heathrow.

The environmental impact of Heathrow is not exclusive to west London.  Although, it is acknowledged that 28 per cent of all people in Europe affected by aircraft noise live under the Heathrow flight paths, that’s some 700,000 people; this does not account for those affected by operational freedom trials currently taking place in Heathrow, on places like Wandsworth, where some 500 plus noise complaints have been made since the start of the trials last November.  The flight noise problem has clearly spread across London, but before we begin to address these issues, there must be an honest and informed analysis of the status quo and the problems.  Furthermore, this needs to be done before the Government’s consultation on night flights begins towards the end of the year.

In this respect the recent, the Environment Committee report “Plane Speaking – A growing Heathrow &  its noise and air pollution” attempts to begin to deal with these issues in a very significant year for aviation in London.

The report highlights surface transport concerns in and around Heathrow which can make a major contribution in reducing the local environmental impact. This has to be improved otherwise increased passenger numbers will generate more road traffic, the a major source of the air pollution around the airport. This includes: making better use of the Piccadilly tube line connection; making sure Crossrail offers the service levels to take on the growing numbers of passengers coming into central London; that it’s appropriately linked to the new planned High Speed Rail 2 (HS2) has links to the North in order to minimize long car journeys to the airport.  Finally and fundamentally we must begin to accept that Heathrow is a major transport hub for modes other than air transport alone, attracting as much traffic from ThamesValley, further West as it does from centralLondon.  This clearly has knock-on effects for transport provision planning and infrastructure in London as well as consequences for the environment including air quality and road noise.

So while the current focus maybe on whether we should build new hubs in London & the South-East, we should not forget that with the advancement of technology and the steer towards bigger aircraft, in reality, Heathrow is expanding, carrying more passengers with all the side effects this brings.  What we must do is work out how to manage the resulting air and noise pollution without further burdening Londoners living around the area and beyond in Greater London and be consistent across the whole of London. 2012 will be a decisive year for aircraft noise sufferers with the publication of the Government consultation on the new night flight regime expected in the spring.  So plainly speaking, Heathrow is expanding anyway by passenger numbers certainly and residents concerns about noise and poor air quality still need to be addressed.






These are two of the  Sunday papers’ reports about a speculative change of heard by government on a third Heathrow runway:


Sunday papers speculate on Tories’ change of mind on Heathrow runway

Date added: March 25, 2012

There has been a rash of very similar stories in the Observer, the Independent on Sunday and other papers today. The story seems to be somewhat flimsy, and based on no new evidence, on rather a slow news day. There appears to be nothing new other than David Cameron’s vague comment, comment by the Chancellor, and a statement from Tim Yeo earlier. Nothing else is new, other than journalist speculation. The Independent talks of the rifts in the government, between the Chancellor, Nick Clegg and Justine Greening. It also talks of “Secret plans being drawn up in Whitehall include the possibility of transforming the runway at RAF Northolt.” The Independent also says: “.. flights from Chongqing, China’s biggest city, do not go direct to any of London’s four airports. Mr Osborne has privately admitted it was a “mistake” to rule out Heathrow expansion.” Zac Goldsmith has threatened to resign as an MP if Heathrow expansion went ahead.

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Observer: “Top Tories admit: we got it wrong on third runway at Heathrow”

Date added: March 24, 2012

The Observer says that according to senior sources, both David Cameron and George Osborne have been persuaded by pressure from industry to re-examine a 3rd Heathrow runway. Apparently they have been lobbied that otherwise trade will move elsewhere in the EU. The Liberal Democrats remain deeply opposed to a 3rd runway. MPs such as Vince Cable, Justine Greening and Zac Goldsmith would be deeply opposed. However, many senior Tories want to back the runway, and have this in their next general election manifesto. The possibility of using Northolt has been put forward again. The government is afraid that without a huge hub, even larger than Heathrow, the UK will be left behind economically. Those in favour of the 3rd runway are claiming the hugely increased carbon emissions from expanding UK aviation would be taken care of through the EU ETS

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