Hello third runway, goodbye Ms Greening

The revival of interest in government circles on a third runway at Heathrow is fraught with difficulties for the Coalition. The notion that the Big Idea for transport would be High Speed Two which would obviate the need for a third runway was always nonsensical. I’m not for a moment suggesting that I believe the case for a third runway, but merely arguing that HS2 is a completely separate matter from demand for aviation.

Any serious move towards a third runway would create widespread dissent within the Tory party and immediately result in having to find another transport secretary. Indeed, the decision to appoint Justine Greening – whose constituency is under the flightpath and who has lobbied against the third runway – always seemed a bit odd given that already doubts about the decision to rule out Heathrow excpansion was being queried in Tory circles. Moreover, this is coming at a bad time for the mayoral election. Boris Johnson is already fulminating about it, and for once his ire is genuine, rather than a tactical manoeuvre to distance himself from an unpopular government.

Another local MP, Zac Goldsmith, has threatened to resign over the issue and there would be no shortage of other diseenters. Moreover, any decision to go ahead with the third runway would undermine the case for HS2 since it is supposed to – though it will not – reduce demand for flights from Heathrow. Airport capacity and expansion are always politically contentious, but the muddle of Tory policy has exacerbated the situation. My view is that ultimately there are plenty of runways and capacity in and around London which is blessed with five airports – six if Southend is included. If market forces were allowed to prevail, then slots at Heathrow could be sold to ensure that it was all those profitable flights to obscure Chinese provincial towns that filled the airport, rather than those to similar European towns.

  • Greg Tingey

    This is specvial-interest pleading by the air lobby.
    I wonder if any tories (a la Marples) have shares in the appropraite construction sectors, which are NOT likely to be involved in HS, but ARE in airport-construction … ?

  • Anonymous

    On 14.3.12 the London Assembly published their “Plane Speaking” report into air and noise problems at Heathrow; for this report Matt Gorman (BAA Corporate Responsibility Director) told the GLA Environment Committee that BAA already had planning permission to increase capacity from the present 69 million to 95 million passengers per year.
    Furthermore on 17.2.12 an article in the FT claimed that before or after the present rebuilding of T2 & T1 was complete in 2019, further planning permissions could be sought to re-build and expand T3 and further extend T5.The net effect of these developments could see Heathrow expand to 120 million passengers per year, whilst maintaining the existing 2 runway and 480,000 atm limit.

    I still cannot fathom CW’s paranoia about HSR and Heathrow; to me it always seemed fairly logical that having an international rail / air station station on the GWR (the Arup proposal) would promote modal shift from air to rail for mainland domestic and near continent flights; this would free-up some 40,000 atms/year.

    The loony green argument against this was that the released slots would be converted into long haul flights with greater CO2 / NOx emissions adding to global warming. But now the HS2 consultation is over, the government intends to consult on an unrelated matter of additional runway capacity in the South East.

    A 4 runway Thames Estuary airport operating 24hr/day will be capable of handling 1,000,000 atms per year i.e. far more than those released by extending HS1 and taking HS2 to a near Heathrow interchange.

  • Fandroid

    CW.  The logic of expanding Heathrow is very difficult to find beyond an instinctive ‘something must be done’ attitude that many politicians are susceptible to. (Think of badger culls – kill 80% of badgers to reduce TB by 18%). ‘Profitable’ flights to Chinese provincial cities require passengers to fill them. Where are those to come from? Short-haul feeder flights are essential to draw them in from a catchment area that is far bigger than SE England. To get Chinese leisure passengers to come in the opposite direction, the UK will have to face up to some very uncomfortable decisions regarding its jealous guarding of its borders. Why would tourists pay for a UK visa (and answer many extra daft questions) which allows them access to two countries, when a cheaper Schengen visa gives them free access to 26 countries? Our European neighbours provide far more convenient sites for hub airports aimed at the far eastern market. Why would anyone fly westwards to Heathrow to then fly back over their home to get to China? Schiphol is already the hub airport for much of provincial Britain, as KLM Regional (which seems to have mostly British crews!) flys to far more UK airports than does BA.  Lastly, as you say, London is unique in Europe in having five airports (even Berlin is reducing to one this summer). The hub concept has very limited mileage here, except for transatlantic flights, where geography is on Heathrow’s side. They should concentrate on holding on to that market, rather than dreaming pointlessly about the far east.

    Greg, apart from there not being many UK-owned construction companies left here (Check out the Dutch, Swedish and French names on the hoardings), there’s already a massive amount of construction work at Heathrow (have a look at T2 if you can) and more promised. Also, the main civils works are interchangeable between railway lines and airports, so the same firms would go for either.

  • Windsorian

    I don’t think anyone should underestimate the importance of the IAG / BA takeover of the 56 pairs of BMI slots at Heathrow; yes they have to surrender 14 on competition grounds, but that still leaves them with 42 daily pairs. Some will obviously have to be kept for domestiv short haul destinations, but where BMI and BA were in competition – a single larger plane can replace 2 separate planes used at present.

    Assuming BA are able to transfer half of the BMI slots to long haul, they could put on a daily flight to each of the 21 destinations in the Far East and S. America that were identified in a recent report commissioned by BAA Ltd 

  • Fandroid

    IAG already has a European – South America Hub at Madrid. BAA may want to attract more flights to South America, but it’s doubtful that IAG will create many new ones. As it stands, BA and other airlines use Miami as their South America hub on the other side of the Atlantic.  The difficulties of making money from direct flights to more obscure far eastern airports remain, however many slots are available. Perhaps Heathrow should be shifted to mid-Germany (say Stuttgart). The other four London airports could feed into it, and I’m sure that city would enjoy getting one over on Frankfurt! 

  • Windsorian

    Fully agree the Madrid to S. America routes exist because of Spain’s colonial history in that area, whilst the BA routes reflect the UK’s colonial past. But whilst recognising that Miami has traditionally been used as a BA hub for S. America, I do wonder if taking account of the IAG meger whether it still makes sense ?

    Surely it would now be more sensible to fly larger aircraft from Heathrow, via Madrid to S. America and keep all the fares in house, rather than share with a non-IAG company for the Miami to S. America leg ?  Following on from this, we are used to split-ticketing on UK rail, so how about the same from Heathrow to S. America where the first leg would be a short haul APD flight to Madrid, whilst the next long haul leg to S. America would not be covered by UK APD ??

    Found an interesting and lengthy article on the recent IAG/BA take-over of BMI –


    which may (or may not) give an idea of future routes and proposals.

  • Fandroid

    Thanks for the link Windsorian. There is a massive amount of informed analysis in that article. I’m pleasedu00a0that they too are sceptical about BA’s ability to increase East Asia passenger loads due to the ‘backtracking’ problem in Europe. I didn’t spot any mention of the Miami issue. I confess tou00a0a personal interest, as I fly to Germany a lot and wonder what will become of BMI’s Hannover route, and also where Lufthansa will send me to get my free coffee at Heathrow T1 !u00a0(currently in the BMI international lounge). I saw mention on the Lufthansa website that Frankfurt has very recently had an application to increase night flights turned down, and they are grumbling, as BAA does, about ‘threats to competitiveness’. When T2 is open Heathrow’s terminal facilities will be as good as any of the other big European hubs (eg Frankfurt’s Terminal 1 madhouse!).

  • Windsorian

    Back in 2003 theu00a0Commons Transport Committee commissioned a report from Mott MacDonald to look at the main competitiveness issues :nnhttp://www.aviationandtravel.com/pdf/Comparison%20of%20Aviation%20Policy%20at%20Key%20European%20Hub%20Airports.pdfIt nnBut this is now some 9 years out of date and UK taxation in the form of APD has advanced rapidly.u00a0If the government is proposing to re-open the SERAS options including R3 at Heathrow, then some of us think the comparison of key EU hubs needs revisiting.

  • Windsorian

    DfT have released speech to the 18.4.12 Transport Times aviation conference –


    which sets out in a bit more detail the options being considered.