Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Why A Third Runway Would Be A Disaster

by Anna Bazley

Agitation over the possibility of a Government green-light for a third runway at Heathrow, an idea first mooted in 2007, reached fever pitch over the weekend. In his Autumn Statement of last year, Osborne expressly stated that the Government would ‘explore all options for maintaining the UK's aviation hub status, with the exception of a third runway at Heathrow’. This represented what was merely a continuation of coalition policy ever since the elections of 2010. However, in last week’s Budget, Osborne explicitly stated a need for new runways in the South-East of England. This lead many in the journalistic and aviation worlds to revisit the still-contentious issue of a third runway at Heathrow, despite the fact this would represent a U-Turn for coalition government, a move that the Liberal Democrats could not endorse and that the Conservatives would find an untenable position. Even the current Conservative Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has defiantly stated that "it will not be built as long as I am mayor."

Johnson cited concerns over noise pollution and ‘fumes’ pervading the West End of London in the event of a third runway being approved, though he is open to the possibility of expansion of Stansted and Gatwick. Justine Greening the Conservative Transport Secretary, however, goes further, insisting that no expansion of either airport will take place. This represents an important environmental commitment from a Government that, as displayed in last week’s budget, prefers instead to superficially allude to green issues whilst eliminating any incentive or impetus to act upon them.

However, I am aware that environmental awareness is no longer a justification for new policy making, the world seemingly having conveniently forgotten the very real truths within An Inconvenient Truth. The decision must make economic sense. The fact is that Heathrow is the best connected business airport in Europe, with more flights to centres of business in the Guld states, the USA, Canada and the emerging BRIC nations than it’s two nearest competitors, Charles de Gaulle and Frankfurt, combined. Those who say that Britain, and London are lagging behind their European competitors therefore are misinformed. Our connectivity is still unrivalled. Heathrow also has a larger spread of destinations outside Europe, especially in the emerging economic areas, than many of its rivals which tend to focus on smaller European destinations.

So what does this mean? It definitely means that there is no pressing demand for a third runway at Heathrow, despite the clamouring of the aviation industry. It also calls into question the Chancellors worry for airport capacity in the South East of England, with Heathrow outperforming European rivals two to one and many other large airports already in the region, the Chancellor has perhaps fabricated a ‘need’. The idea that demand will continue to rise also disregards many changes taking place in the world today. With rising oil prices, a vocal climate lobby, the increase of video conferencing use by businesses and the emergences of new ‘hub’ airports in developing countries, there is an increasing likelihood that the third runway at Heathrow will never become the necessity many today are eager to portray it as.

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