Letter from business people in Sunday Telegraph lobbying for airport expansion

A group of  business people from the business world, some from large organisations and some from apparently tiny ones, have written an open letter published in the Sunday Telegraph, on airport capacity.  The Telegraph has run a sustained campaign against Air Passenger Duty for years, and has run articles in favour of increased UK aviation for years too.  This letter is part of a campaign by the aviation industry and its supporters, in the run up to the start of the government consultation on future UK aviation policy that starts at the end of this month. There will be many more of these publicity grabs this month, and in the months to come.  The letter reiterates the myth that the UK will somehow sink to being an economic backwater if the south east does not have an extra runway, if there is not a larger hub for flights to China etc etc. Same old arguments. What is interesting is that repeatedly the industry does not appear to have any actual statistics to back up their claims. Self interest, rather than the wider good, appears to be the underlying motive.

Sunday Telegraph

Why Heathrow is a test of the Prime Minister’s leadership

Like Basil Fawlty not mentioning the war (“I think I said it once, but I got away with it”), the third runway at Heathrow has become a “non-subject” in polite society.

 by Kamal Ahmed,  business editor of the Sunday Telegraph

3 Mar 2012

In their letter today, nearly 70 business leaders, (see letter below)  representatives of chambers and commerce and union heads talk of the need to support Heathrow, promote competition and find a solution to this country’s aviation crisis. The development of a third runway at Heathrow does not once pass their lips.

Similarly, in his interview with The Sunday Telegraph, Colin Matthews, the chief executive of BAA, the owner of Heathrow, talks about the need to look at all the options and delicately raises the cost issues any Thames Estuary development would raise. The phrase “Runway Three” is not mentioned.

The supporters of the expansion of Heathrow are playing a smart game. Long-term, a third runway at Heathrow may be the ultimate aim, but at this stage the last thing the growing lobby for reopening the debate about the issue want is to startle the horses. Given David Cameron’s propensity not to be quite sure whether he’s riding a particular horse or not, the approach is the right one.

It is becoming increasingly obvious that the Government is in an unsustainable position on aviation, ruling out the option of a third runway at Heathrow for short-term political reasons more relevant to the period before the last election. At that time, both the Tories and the Liberal Democrats put the needs of a few local MPs around Britain’s only hub airport ahead of the economic and business requirements of the whole of the UK.

The Prime Minister was persuaded that the expansion of Heathrow was an environmental and noise pollution issue. To back a third runway would be tantamount to rejecting the “Vote Blue, Go Green” message he was keen to promote and would make his trip to the Arctic to be pictured hugging a husky appear hollow.

But that was before the threat of a double-dip recession and an increasingly muscular fightback by those sympathetic to the economic case for improving Britain’s infrastructure. As George Osborne, a member of the Cabinet less convinced by green-wash government than some of his colleagues, pointedly put it at the Conservative Party conference last autumn: “We’re not going to save the planet by putting our country out of business.”

There is a growing realisation among a small number close to the Prime Minister and an increasingly vocal set of MPs ably led by Kwasi Kwarteng that the Conservatives are going to have to reconsider their “no expansion at Heathrow at any cost” position.

Mr Kwarteng, the Tory MP for Spelthorne, itself near Heathrow, has developed policy options around compensating local people adversely affected by any expansion. Such discussion documents will become increasingly important as the Prime Minister and the Chancellor consider their next move.

Rather than being a threat to Heathrow expansion, the development of the Thames Estuary option – a new, four-runway airport off the Kent coast – is actually a lifeline. In the past, the options were: expansion of Heathrow or keeping Heathrow as it is. Now the options are: the expansion of Heathrow or its closure.

The economics of aviation are such that only one hub airport is sustainable in a country the size of Britain. If the Thames Estuary option is given the green light then, if it is to work, airlines will have to be obliged to move there (despite almost certainly higher landing fees). The threat to Heathrow will then be clear along with the hundreds of thousands of jobs such a significant piece of transport infrastructure supports.

One signatory to the letter we publish today is Chris Parker on behalf of Microsoft. Microsoft’s UK headquarters is in Reading, a short distance from Heathrow. As a global giant which requires connections to the rest of the world, the site is an obvious plus because of its proximity to Heathrow. The same is true of GlaxoSmithKline in Brentford, West London. If Heathrow goes, what will their attitude be to maintaining a presence in the UK? Might it just be simpler for them to move close to another European hub airport such as Schiphol, Frankfurt or Charles de Gaulle where none of the ridiculous constraints faced by Heathrow exist?

Somewhat gingerly, the third runway lobby is starting to show a little ankle. Later this month, Justine Greening, the Transport Secretary, will announce yet another stage of the interminable aviation review which is likely to raise the estuary option. But to have a review without including the one option that has already been investigated and is workable – a third runway at Heathrow – is bordering on perverse, if not legally questionable. As one senior aviation figure put it to me – such a position would be like having a review of supermarkets without including Tesco.

Do not expect anything definite at this stage but in the end Heathrow will be put back in the mix. The currency of politics is uncertainty (something that business leaders find hard to grasp) and I am sure Mr Cameron will um and ah for a good deal longer on such a delicate issue. He has privately told colleagues that it is all very well talking about the macro-economic case for a third runway but he will be the one blamed when it comes to tearing down the local church to make way for more airline-friendly Tarmac.

But, make no mistake, the case for some leadership and a significant move on Heathrow is starting to encroach on the Prime Minister’s thinking. In the Treasury the “Northolt question” has been discussed – whether or not there is anything that can be done to link the RAF runway in West London to the Heathrow complex. It is becoming clear that the UK has a global leader in its present airport provision – a position that is under threat. As with the financial services sector, do we really want to consign that lead to the history books in the search for some ill-defined and ill-thought-out future?


One of the many comments said:  “Commercial self interest dressed up as patriotism”.


 Sunday Telegraph

Heathrow in crisis: letter in full

Here is the letter from nearly 70 business leaders, representatives of chambers and commerce and union heads talk of the need to support Heathrow, promote competition and find a solution to this country’s aviation crisis.

 3 Mar 2012 (Sunday Telegraph)


Dear Sir,

As an island nation, aviation is essential to our ability to develop new global trading opportunities that can deliver growth and jobs back home. UK businesses trade 20 times as much with emerging market countries that have a direct daily flight to the UK as they do with those countries that do not. [ Check out Flight Mapping that shows how many countries Heathrow has flights to.  And Flight Stats, which shows how many flights per day go from Heathrow to any destination.  AW.  Which countries can they mean? ]   

There is a huge opportunity for the UK to lead in connectivity to growth markets but we need a hub solution that has the capacity to compete if we are to seize it. Constraints at the UK’s only international hub airport at Heathrow will see it fall behind France and Germany in the next ten years unless something is done. £14 billion of trade and many potential jobs would be lost to our economy as a result.

Paris and Frankfurt already boast 1,000 more annual flights to the three largest cities in China than Heathrow does. There are 21 emerging market destinations with daily flights from other European hubs that are not served from Heathrow.

So we call on the Chancellor and Transport Secretary to ensure that as it develops its aviation strategy, it considers all options, both in terms of regional airports and the UK’s hub airport, that could support British businesses in seeking new sources of growth now. Growth won’t wait – while there are more ambitious long-term projects for aviation that can be examined, in the near term Heathrow must continue to be part of the solution if the UK is not to miss out on vital trading opportunities. With economic recovery so fragile we cannot afford to cut our country off from growth and jobs.

Yours sincerely,

Colin Matthews, Chief Executive, BAA
Len McClusky, General Secretary, Unite
Mick Rix, National Officer for Aviation, GMB
Simon Walker, Director-General, Institute of Directors
John Longworth, Director-General, British Chamber of Commerce
Baroness Valentine, Chief Executive, London First
Paul Briggs, Chief Executive, Thames Valley Chamber Of Commerce
Ann McGregor, Chief Executive, Belfast Chamber of Commerce
Stuart Patrick, Chief Executive, Glasgow Chamber of Commerce
John Mowbray, President, North East Chamber of Commerce
Mark Goldstone, Head of Business Representation & Policy, Leeds, York & North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce
Steven Leigh, Head of Policy and Representation, Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce
Jim Shannon, MP, Member of Parliament for Strangford
Mike Nesbitt, MLA, Northern Island Assembly
Andrea Hunter, Business Development Manager, Aer Lingus
Chris Parker, Director, Law & Corporate Affairs, Microsoft
Uel Hoey, Business Development Director, Belfast International Airport
Gerry Beamish, Beamish Associates International
Andrew Murray, Senior Consumer Affairs Officer, The Consumer Council
Jonathan Riley, Partner, Pinsent Masons
Alex Cameron-Hollyer, Telefonica 02 UK Ltd
Sinead Little, Account Director, Kerygma
Ray Hayden, Partner, Anglewise
Desmond Wilson, Chairman, Wilson Group
Jack McLaren, Partner, Johnston Carmichael
Mark Turner, Client Service Director, Marsh
Chris Sheerin, Director, Kite It
Graeme Matthews, Business Development Manager, DeVere
Alph Forrest, Regional Representative, BIFA
Neil Kennedy, Partner, Mac Roberts LLP
Peter Ward, Partner, Fairhurst
David Heaton, Partner, Baker Tilly
Hary Singh, Solicitor, Walker Morris
Nigel Charlesworth, The Smart Agency
Geoff Allison, Managing Director, Smith Electric Vehicles
Richard Shearing, Director, Anodos Discovery
David Knowles-Leak, DKL
Neil Impiazzi, Partnership Development Manager, SEGRO
Mike Pearson, AEROSPORT
Jo Wright, Oury Clark
Philip Walker, WTT Results
John Izett, Partner, Montagu Evans
Peter Rose, Managing Director, MAPP
David Sleight, Member, Wokingham Borough council
Tim Smith, Executive Director, Reading UK CIC
Bill Gornall-King, Partner, Boyes Turner
Trevor Hulatt, Allport Ltd
John Warchus, Clarkslegal LLP
Lawrence King, Critchleys
David Richardson, Croner
Patrick Griffin, Crossrail Ltd
Anthony Cox, Donnington Valley Hotel & Golf Course
Katrena Drake, Firehost
Richard Cushing, GuestLogix
Graham Beith, Handelsbanken
Paul Rogers, HCL Axon
Carl Dodd, Account Manager, Blue Arrow
Matt Jenkin, Morgan Cole
Jo Willett, Oxford Innovation Ltd
Jack Buchanan, Pearson in Practice
Kulwarn Nagra, Rawlinson and Hunter
Giles Withey, ROLTA
Simon Turner, Seymour Taylor
Andy Cowle, James Cowper LLP
Tony Cottam, KPMG LLP
David Hayden, Mercure Castle Hotel
David Simpson, Millgate Homes
Julian Strutt, MILT, BCR Associates




A few of the comments below this letter include:

It is these idiots insisting on a single hub solution that have caused the problem in the first place.

The UK has airports all over the place and a number of them could have developed to be bigger than Heathrow if it were not for the determination of these people that they must have a single hub system.
Some of the above morons work for company /organisations you have heard of – most do not e.g. we must not scare the manager of Donnington Valley Hotel and Golf Course – how would we survive if we did that?

High oil prices are about to crash the world economy again and probably take a few airlines down with a bank or two so yes let’s spend precious resources on what will turn out to be a white elephant.

This letter is prime evidence of the chronic state of cognitive dissonance in the business world.


Some comments by AirportWatch members:

Interesting that the advocates of airport expansion or a Heathrow 3rd runway still give no hard evidence to back their argument up.  The fact is that they simply do not have it.

There are powerful reasons why the Government can’t give way on this. It would lead to the Liberals breaking up the coalition, the position of several ministers( Greening, May, Villiers) would be untenable, there would be a major falling out with Boris and Tory Councils and MPs around rhe airport would come out in revolt.C ameron has enough on his plate (the economy, NHS, HS2) without adding to it.

The counter arguments need to be made just as loudly and clearly to the wider public, reminding people about the negative impacts and of the myth that the UK risks becoming an economic backwaterif London ‘only’ has six runways rather than seven.

The business section of today’s Telegraph is dominated by the pro-Heathrow campaign, including the front page headline and the leader column. This is a taste of what’s to come when the consultation proper gets underway. The Heathrow lobby includes some powerful vested interests who won’t give up easily and will use legal as well as political pressure. There must be a significant risk of the Government succumbing to this.

The REAL reason we don’t have loads of flights to China, et al, is NOT lack of runway space, but because THEY are not executing enough business to make such flights viable.
This is a feeble bit of journalism whose “arguments” don’t add up. Why is the Government’s current position on aviation “unsustainable”. Why would the likes of Microsoft move to France even if a Thames Estuary Airport even got built. How would building a third runway stave off a double dip recession this year?

I doubt the Lib Dems would break up the coalition – it would be suicidal for them. They might drop to 20 or less seats in the house if an election was called now. If a third Heathrow runway went ahead, it would not be within this Parliament anyway, so that would not be worth going to the wilderness for. After all, tuition fees were not a big enough issue.

The silent majority of businesses need to speak up and to state clearly that a new runway or new airport is NOT in their interest and a costly distraction

The coalition has committed itself to a fixed term Parliament ending in 2015 so presumably an election wouldn’t have to be called if the Lib Dems left the coalition.  They could not agree to a U-turn on Heathrow without losing all credibility ( Vince Cable would certainly oppose such a move)
The aviation lobby know they are not going to get a third runway or any south east runway decision in this Parliament. They are clearly planning for the next one.