Latest clutch of articles speculating on, or lobbying for, one or other airport option …

Though there is no news yet on the terms of reference or the composition of the Davies Commission on future airport capacity, that does not stop the papers and the aviation industry from continuing to put forth their pennyworth on the matter.  Steve Ridgway, in the Telegraph,  says expanding Heathrow is the only way.  Digby Jones says (with various inaccuracies) that we have to have a 3rd Heathrow runway and that “we can move Heathrow to 24/7 flying. That would be a temporary fix at best and a cause of discomfort for residents living under the flight path”.  A cause of discomfort? And the Independent on Sunday has a stab at assessing the chances (only taking some of the issues into account) for Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Thames Estuary or a 4 runway hub airport somewhere in Oxfordshire by “a business consortium, now known to include British Airways and BAA veterans”.  

Heathrow expansion is only ‘affordable’ option, says Virgin Atlantic chief

Virgin Atlantic chief executive Steve Ridgway has moved against relocating to a new airport in the Thames Estuary, warning that Heathrow expansion is the only “affordable” option to improve Britain’s links to key markets abroad.

By  (Telegraph)

20 Oct 2012

The aviation veteran also attacked government “inconsistency” for the way ministers support aircraft manufacturers but heavily tax and regulate airlines, even though they support thousands of jobs and generate billions of pounds in overseas sales.

In one of his last interviews before he departs Sir Richard Branson’s airline after 23 years, Mr Ridgway said Virgin will only support a hub airport in a location that “passengers want to fly from”.

“Right now, and for the foreseeable future, in affordability terms, that is Heathrow,” Mr Ridgway said.

He conceded that both regional airports and point-to-point airports such as Gatwick have an important role to play in improving aviation capacity, but added: “If you’re going to connect the UK to the world you need to be doing that through a hub where you can build traffic and have viable routes.”

The mayor of London’s proposed “Boris Island” airport in the Thames Estuary, would, in itself, probably be quite “cheap” to build, Mr Ridgway admitted. But he said the transport links and other infrastructure would be the real stumbling block.

“It’s everything else that goes with it, moving the whole locust of the economy,” he told The Sunday Telegraph. (sic)

Mr Ridgway said he found it “frankly quite depressing” Government aviation policy had not progressed since he joined Virgin Atlantic in 1989.

He added that it “annoys” him the “love” for plane part exporters did not extend to firms “actually flying the planes”, even though they “generate many billions a year, so we are a pretty large exporter in our own right”.

His comments come after Heathrow revealed that it took an airline which wanted to launch new routes to Mexico four years to secure take-off and landing slots, despite the Government targeting greater trade with the Central American country.



Evening Standard.


“Act now on the airport issue or get left behind”

Says Digby Jones (who once was Director General of the CBI), 

Be it Heathrow expansion or ‘Boris Island’, urgency is the key: the more London dithers, the stronger our rivals get

Reach for the skies: Heathrow is still Europe’s most active hub but it has rivals in Schiphol and Frankfurt

This is Asia’s century. The cities and countries in the developed world that grasp that fact will be the winners in the coming decades, providing jobs and tax-generating wealth for their people. Those cities in Europe that can develop easy flight connections with the great cities of China, India, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, Taiwan and Japan will win. It’s a simple fact of 21st century commerce: flight connectivity means business.

Given that 60 per cent of the passengers on a long-haul air route don’t even originate at the departure airport in question, it is understandably difficult for people to grasp why it is so vital to a nation’s economic development that such flights are encouraged, indeed are vital to competitiveness.

Critics ask: since 240 of the passengers on a jumbo leaving Heathrow for Beijing today flew in a couple of hours earlier from some other country, why is it so important to the UK’s economic survival that we have as many of such flights as possible? The answer: because of the other 160.

A hub airport facilitates the routing in and out of intercontinental passenger traffic. Without that 60 per cent, the long-haul route isn’t financially viable — so the 40 per cent don’t benefit from a point-to-point route from, say, London to Beijing, because no airline can afford to operate the route. Thus the European cities that can provide the hub for the transit of the 60 per cent simultaneously provide the point-to-point route for the 40 per cent: that city grows and develops trade with the jewels of Asia.

So a successful hub airport for the UK is essential if we wish to maintain our position in the Premier League. Schiphol in the Netherlands, Charles de Gaulle in Paris, Frankfurt in Germany are large, successful hubs. Indeed, more long-haul flights leave Frankfurt for China every day than leave Heathrow for that country in a weekend. [This is not true, if Hong Kong – which is part of  China – is included. See figures. Including Hong Kong, Heathrow has almost twice as many as Frankfurt or Paris, using 2010 data. AirportWatch comment]. 

Heathrow is still the most active hub in Europe and London is still Europe’s preferred commercial destination. But that is a position that is ours to lose. If something is not done, and done quickly, we will be consigned to an enormous loss of prestige, reputation, job creation and tax generation. There will be no way back.

Accepting economic decline and an inferior status is one of the choices available. Some will say that that is acceptable if it is the price for fewer aircraft movements in our skies. The inactivity of so many politicians leads me to believe that they have basically accepted that, regardless of what they may say to the contrary. Always watch what a politician does — or doesn’t do — not what he or she says.

But if we are to do something, what should it be? First, we can build a third runway at Heathrow. The arguments for and against have been well-rehearsed but it does present the quickest fix — although a recent US study points to increased pollution levels within a 50-mile radius.

Second, we can move Heathrow to 24/7 flying. That would be a temporary fix at best and a cause of discomfort for residents living under the flight path. [“A cause of discomfort” is a remarkable understatement of the truth. With several hundred thousand people across London having their sleep disturbed, every night, and the health and quality of life implications of that? AirportWatch comment]. 

Third, we can make much better use of Birmingham airport, which is currently operating at 40 per cent capacity. Build a high-speed rail link from Heathrow to BHX and treat it as another terminal with another long runway. This is worthy of greater investigation but airlines and their passengers will need to be persuaded that the time to travel by train between the two is worth it, rather than walking around the corner at Schiphol or Frankfurt.

Lastly, there is “Boris Island”. This would deal with the pollution issue because of its location. Such a huge infrastructure project at this difficult time would also provide an enormous boost for jobs and wealth creation. The cost would not have to be borne all at once and this is a project that is crying out for private sector capital. It would remove at a stroke the capacity issues that blight Heathrow. The UK’s continued pre-eminence as a European hub would be assured.

But more people belong to the RSPB than to all the political parties combined. Imagine the protest as bird breeding grounds were disturbed. The economic survival of our country would take a back seat to birds.

And to persuade airlines to make the move, Heathrow would have to close. Indeed, the proceeds of its sale for domestic building land would make a significant contribution to the cost of building a new island airport. But with Heathrow’s closure would come tens of thousands of redundancies. Are the same MPs who are campaigning for no expansion ready for the alternative? They can’t have it both ways.

Meanwhile, we will all be waiting well into the next decade just to get through any planning inquiry for a Thames airport. We cannot wait that long.

Those are the choices. What do I want? A new estuary airport has the greatest appeal, although a third runway will fix it more quickly. What do I really want? Simply for something to be done now.

Hiding behind the excuse that the Coalition Agreement prevents anything happening — by way of a decision as to what and where, let alone hold a planning inquiry or get anything built — is a dereliction of duty by ministers. The nation needs a decision: globalisation doesn’t wait for the niceties of domestic politics.

That decision may well be “nothing doing” — but at least then we’d all know where we stand. Businesses could plan for a diminishingly powerful Britain as relative decline takes hold. Environmentalists will have certainty and so will investors and job-creators.

But imagine the grandchildren of today’s political leaders asking them as they sit in their rocking chairs “Why is our country in the Second Division?”

I guess they won’t hear the truthful reply: “Because we dithered, because we failed to lead.”

Lord Digby Jones was director-general of the CBI from 2000-2006 and Minister of State for UK Trade and Investment in 2007-2008.



 Independent on Sunday says: 

London airports waiting to be cleared for take-off

There is widespread agreement that London needs more flight capacity, but little consensus on the options. Mark Leftly and Lucy Tobin report

by MARK LEFTLY LUCY TOBIN  (Independent on Sunday )

The row over airports expansion in the South-east has produced very little that is tangible, bar the invention of a rather marvellous word to describe Boris Johnson: “bonkeramus”.

Mocking the London Mayor’s predilection for making up words on the spot, the Stop Stansted Expansion campaign coined the term to show just how unimpressed they were with his belief that the Essex airport could be replaced by a massive four-runway hub.

The campaign’s economic adviser, Brian Ross, says Johnson’s expertise in Latin should mean he is well aware that the phrase means “a bonkers idea put forward by an ignoramus”. For good measure, Ross added that Johnson should stick to running buses and bicycles.

Whether it’s a crazy idea or not, Johnson has manoeuvred himself squarely into the centre of the debate, primarily pushing for his preferred plan for a floating hub in the Thames Estuary waters. What he is truly opposed to is a third runway at Heathrow, even though business leaders and major airlines want extra capacity to ensure that the west London site remains one of the world’s foremost airports.

Prime Minister David Cameron has played a blinder politically by ordering both a Department for Transport consultation [No, the current consultation is on aviation policy – it began in July and aniticipated a DfT consultation on capacity. The government then decided in September to cancel this consultation, and replace it with the Davies Commission. AirportWatch comment]  and an inquiry, headed by former Audit Commission chairman Sir Howard Davies, into the issue. That ensures that there will be no answer this side of a general election, which means that Cameron won’t lose votes in Conservative heartlands where residents don’t want any more noisy aircraft flying low over their houses. [He hopes he won’t lose votes, though that is unlikely]. 

However, this hasn’t stopped more and more options being announced by their zealous supporters, the most realistic of which are illustrated above. There are others, such as expanding Birmingham airport and transferring short-haul flights from Heathrow to RAF Northolt in Middlesex.

On Wednesday, the chief executive of Qatar Airways, Akbar Al Baker, spoke of the “catastrophic situation” for the British economy. He argued that London and the South-east can’t wait the 20 or more years it would take to build a new airport and needs to focus on the most expedient option, which he believes is a third Heathrow runway. [Qatar Holding, in August, bought a 20% stake in BAA, or Heathrow Ltd as it is now called. So there is a connection there.  LInk   AirportWatch comment].

If nothing is done, Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted will be at capacity by 2030. A report  [sadly the report is an extraordinary one, and remarkably worldly] by a think-tank, the Policy Exchange, says that the capital desperately needs a four-runway hub if it wants to compete with European rivals in Amsterdam and Frankfurt.  [Heathrow is, of course, already a larger airport, and better connected, than any of its European rivals, a fact that tends to conveniently be forgotten. AirportWatch comment].

This notion of a “hub” is key. It’s the passengers who transfer at Heathrow that brings in so much money and Dubai, which is in such close reach of six time zones, is threatening to overtake it as the world’s busiest international airport.  [Dubai is better geographically situated than the UK for links to the Far East. The UK is well positioned for links to the Americas]. 

Tony Douglas, the former chief executive of Heathrow who today is overseeing the $7.2bn (£4.5bn) Khalifa Port complex in Abu Dhabi, says that most of the interested parties are looking at the issue from the wrong angle.

“If you really wanted to, you could build a platform on stilts over London and land aeroplanes there,” he chuckles, arguing that the point is that there first needs to be agreement over why an airport is required and what the actual needs of the economy are. Only then can the options be properly assessed.

However, The Independent on Sunday has taken a stab at evaluating the possibilities of five of the most promising options ever being built. The judgement suggests that Boris Island probably isn’t a flyer, while expansion at Gatwick and Stansted is likely, but far from a solution.

The secretive nature of the work being undertaken by a business consortium, now known to include British Airways and BAA veterans, to build a new four-runway hub in Oxfordshire means that it remains the wildcard.

However, given the short-term needs of the economy, an awful lot of evidence points to a third runway at Heathrow one day being approved.



The Independent gives its assessment of the 5 most likely airports for expansion [very incomplete]

Stansted, Essex

As it stands

BAA is selling the low-cost airlines’ favourite airport


A £3bn Crossrail link, which could help facilitate two extra runways, or Johnson’s idea for a replacement four-runway hub


Political support

New owners will endorse more runways

Plenty of room for expansion


Without Crossrail, Stansted has the poorest rail connections of the options

Cost for four runways has been estimated at £80bn

BA and others will object to moving operations so far east

Out of the hangar4/5



Thames Estuary

As it stands

Some form of ‘Boris Island’ has been mooted since the 1970s


There are two: Lord Foster’s four-runway idea and Johnson’s superhub near Whitstable


Huge economic benefits for a region relatively untouched by the benefits of aviation

Scope for flights to run through the night

High speed link would mean a 20-minute journey into London


Unclear where the £40bn funding would come from

Aircraft would run into London’s other airports’ flightpaths

Big business doesn’t want to relocate from west London

Out of the hangar: 1/5




As it stands

Britain’s second busiest airport


A second runway that could double capacity from 34m passengers-a-year to 70m


Much cheaper than building an entire new airport

Would allow more spare time to be built into take-off and landing schedules, so avoiding airport closures

Jobs: Gatwick generates about 23,000 airport jobs and 13,000 through related activities


Would still only be a point-to-point rather than hub airport

Surrey, Sussex and west Kent residents will campaign against

A long-standing agreement means work can’t commence until 2019

Out of the hangar: 3/5




As it stands

BAA and BA veterans are working on plans for a £60bn four-runway hub


Initially would complement Heathrow but eventually replace it


Would be 30 minutes to London by high speed rail

Has already attracted interest from potential Chinese backers

Brief claims it would avoid flight path over built-up areas


Backers yet to be revealed

Depends on High Speed Two

Would provoke countryside campaigners

Out of the hangar: 2/5




As it stands

The world’s biggest international airport and third biggest by total passenger numbers


A third runway would focus solely on short-haul flights


BAA would easily get the £10bn funding in place

Would appease large FTSE companies that have businesses close to Heathrow

Economic benefits to UK of £30bn, according to the CBI


Political opposition is huge – and residents are in key Conservative constituencies

No room for a fourth runway, which will be vital as other hubs continue to grow

Academic claims extra runway would treble pollution deaths

Out of the hangar: 4/5

Bonkeramus Boris

7.10.2012 (Stop Stansted Expansion – SSE)

Stop Stansted Expansion (SSE) has invented a new word – ‘bonkeramus’ – in response to Boris Johnson’s suggestion of Stansted being developed as the UK’s new hub airport with four runways and operating on 24/7 basis.

SSE Economics Adviser Brian Ross commented: “Boris is fond of inventing new words and we’re sure that, with his expertise in Latin, he’ll understand that bonkeramus means ‘a bonkers idea put forward by an ignoramus’. The Mayor of London has neither the knowledge nor the authority to pronounce on airports policy for the East of England. He should stick to running buses and bicycles in London.”

Boris Johnson’s suggestion of major expansion at Stansted was made in a speech to London businessmen last week where he said that London needed more airport capacity but he re-affirmed his opposition to a third runway at Heathrow and hinted that his earlier ‘Boris island’ idea could be unaffordable.

The Mayor of London’s intervention comes less than a month after the Government announced that it would be setting up an independent Commission under Sir Howard Davies to identify and recommend options for maintaining the UK’s status as an international hub for aviation. The Davies Commission will produce an interim report by the end of next year and a final report by the summer of 2015, after the next General Election.

SSE has condemned Boris Johnson’s intervention, describing it as trying to pre-empt the work of the Davies Commission. Mr Ross concluded: “Boris should remember that he is the Mayor of London and has no mandate for the East of England. We will not stand idly by if he tries to appease his West London voters at our expense with an ‘anywhere but Heathrow’ policy.”


Stansted is expected to handle some 17 million passengers this year, compared to its 2007 peak of 24 million. It has permission to handle 35 million passengers a year.

Two airlines, Easyjet and Ryanair, account for over 90% of Stansted’s passengers. The airport no longer has any long haul passenger flights.