Times letter: Heathrow decision inevitable following Brexit

Sir, Bad government begets bad government. Ironically it was David Cameron’s fatal decision to hold a referendum that has now forced the government to show “Britain is open for business” by agreeing to expand Heathrow irrespective of the financial cost, which makes the scheme unviable, and the environmental damage, which makes it unethical.

The proclaimed advantages of Heathrow over Gatwick are marginal — a bit of convenience for a few transit passengers that could easily be sorted by allocating regions of the world between the two airports. The fact that easyJet is to be the biggest new customer at Heathrow belies the notion that expansion is about being “open for business”, as does the envisaged expansion in domestic flights, sucking the lifeblood from regional airports. Point to point, not hub and spoke, is the future.

Moreover, despite the UK and Chinese governments recently agreeing to double the number of flights allowed to operate between the two countries, BA has just announced it is cutting flights to Chengdu — just the sort of destination that the third runway is supposed to serve.

The more fundamental, and unanswered, question is: if passengers had to pay for the full environmental damage wreaked by aviation, would there be any need for expansion at all? A start could be made by taxing aviation fuel, immediately relieving the pressure on airport capacity.

Christian Wolmar

  • RapidAssistant

    There are just so many problems here…..aside from the concerns of anyone who lives along the Bath Road whose homes/businesses stand to be wiped off the map….

    Fragmentation of the airline business is big one – Boeing for instance designed the 787 precisely for these reasons, that people were going to be flying long haul in smaller planes on point to point routes, as opposed to the Airbus A380 which assumed that the growth lay within the traditional hub and spoke model which LHR serves. Airlines have voted with their feet – over 1100 787’s have been sold compared to 300-odd A380s. Boeing is now talking about designing a successor to the 757 – the only single aisle plane that has true long haul range for precisely the same reasons.

    So why do we need to keep on investing in mega-hubs like Heathrow? Many of the UK’s provicial airports are crumbling and in dire need of investment.

    Secondly do we really want more planes flying over the crowded skies of South East England? Heathrow is already in the wrong place, no other megacity in the world lies under the approach path into its main airport. Why compound a planning mistake made in the 1940s? Personally, if this runway had to be built, then it should have gone to Gatwick, so that more scheduled long haul could go from there, and move some of LGW’s holiday and charter flights to Stansted or Luton? In other words, spread London’s air traffic out more equally among the four big airports.

    Last but not least – is there going to be the demand for all this extra airport capacity in the future? For example, British Airways’ Australasian business is coming under attack from the Gulf carriers, who can offer a far more attractive range of connections from their Middle Eastern hubs, and I know plenty of people who now prefer breaking up a journey to Australia or the Far East at Dubai starting from their local airport – they find breaking the journey into two 8-hour chunks is more attractive than say doing a big 12-14 hour slog from Heathrow on BA’s increasingly stingy economy class product.

    And besides, the internet now allows teleconferencing, so business travel will reduce, as it has been doing for years. This is a massive headache for the sort of traditional flag carriers that operate from LHR – these airlines’ business model largely relies on the profits from long haul, premium business class seats, and I expect to see more airline bankruptcies and mergers in the future, as more point to point carriers offering a direct service at a reasonable price to all edge in on their business.

    In short – I think this runway is obsolete before it is even built.

  • ChrisD324

    Yes, keep the planes flying over the South East.
    They are used to them down there.
    They are near enough to be used (if you must) as well as being well away from us.
    The South East has the pleasur, let them have the pain as well.

    Give Gatwick, Stanstead AND Luton extra runways as well.

  • Peter

    Ghastly decision.

    Shows the UK is “open” for corporatism and multi-million pound lobbying more than anything else.

  • Colin56

    A simple way to increase capacity at Heathrow without the necessity of building a new runway – or extending an existing one – would have been to relocate all cargo flights to another airport such as Stansted where there is runway capacity.
    Our current infrastructure planning process is more or less a permanent guarantee that a third runway will never be built anyway. We will continue through endless, meaningless ‘consultations’, planning ‘inquiries’ and the rest until the end of time, and in the meantime the aviation industry will have seen the light and gone elsewhere. Just look at the outcome so far of the current process – the ‘Airports Commission’, the ‘pause’ and now a ‘decision’ that is anything but.
    Heathrow is a terminal tragedy, one of the worst airports in the world, something that the UK, as a supposedly ‘developed’ nation, should be thoroughly ashamed of. It’s almost as bad as the railways – but CW will know more about that.
    If we really want to get ahead of the game, we would be enabling airport investors and owners to build new capacity at LHR, LGW and Stansted. Or, we would take them back into public ownership as strategic national assets and develop them using the profits currently being loaded into bank accounts overseas.

  • Birchanger

    Most, perhaps all, of Heathrow’s freight is carried in the holds of passenger aircraft. Besides, Stansted has grown rapidly recently and couldn’t cope with many extra day-time heavies. Or were you thinking to impose the freighters on us at night?