In Depth

'Third Heathrow runway is not enough,' say business leaders

Institute of Directors calls for further expansion at UK's airports, saying country is 'lagging behind'

Heathrow should let planes land all night, says airline boss

19 May

Heathrow should abandon its curfew and let planes take off and land 24 hours a day, according to the head of Qatar Airways, who also sits on the board of the airport.

Akbar al-Baker said European airports are losing business to rivals in Dubai and Doha because of tight restrictions on night-time operations.

He has a seat on Heathrow's board of directors as a representative of Qatar's sovereign wealth fund, which owns 20 per cent of the airport, The Times reports.

"The thing that is impeding Europe's growth is that airports are locked up from 11 o'clock at night to 5.30 in the morning, which is a very, very critical time for east-west transfer," al-Baker said.

He went on to suggest that complaints from local residents were often unjustified. In Qatar, he said, "people are not making as much fuss about noise as they are in Europe".

Al-Baker said that Britain must face down opposition and commit to expanding Heathrow or Gatwick in order to secure London's future as an aviation hub.

Over the past decade, new and rapidly expanding airports in the Middle East have attracted an increasing share of international air traffic.

"Dubai International Airport overtook Heathrow for the first time in January and February in terms of monthly passenger traffic," the Daily Telegraph reports. "Aviation chiefs warn the expanding hub airports in the Gulf will suck even further business away from London. 

Heathrow to offer £550m in compensation for third runway

13 May

HEATHROW will offer £550m in compensation to people affected by its plans for a third runway, while Gatwick has said a new runway there would mean low fares and 120,000 new jobs.

The two airports have unveiled their revised expansion proposals as part of their bids to build the UK's next runway.

The plans will be submitted to the Airports Commission, which will make its recommendation on how to expand UK air capacity in 2015 after the general election.

The government-appointed body choices are likely to boil down to a second runway for Gatwick or a third runway or extended runway at Heathrow. London Mayor Boris Johnson's proposal for an entirely new airport in the Thames estuary has not been ruled out, but the commission said it would need to do further analysis before deciding if it is a viable option.

Around 750 homes would need to be demolished for the extra runway at Heathrow, but the airport has promised to buy those houses at 25 per cent above market value, as well as pay for stamp duty costs and all legal fees. Other residents would receive improved noise insulation, reports The Guardian. The revised report also suggests a congestion charge for those dropping off passengers at the airport by car.

Gatwick claims that, at £7.8bn, its expansion plans are cheaper than Heathrow's and more beneficial. It says ten million more passengers would be able to travel each year with a second runway at Gatwick than with a third runway at Heathrow.

Gatwick also claims its new runway could be completed five years earlier than Heathrow's and that only 14,000 people would be affected by noise compared with 240,000 at Heathrow.

"Why would you choose to fly a quarter of a million more planes every year over one of the world's most densely populated cities when instead you can fly them mostly over fields?" asked Gatwick's chief executive Stewart Wingate.

Airport expansion: report opts for new runways at Gatwick and Heathrow

17 December 

NEW runways at Heathrow and Gatwick are among the three options short-listed by the Airports Commission in a report released today.

The London Mayor's proposal for a new airport in the Thames estuary has not been ruled out, but the commission said it would need to do further analysis before deciding if it is a viable option.

Businessman Sir Howard Davies, who is leading the commission, was set the task last year of independently investigating the options for expanding the UK's aviation capacity. Today he published his interim report, which will be followed by the final report before summer 2015. The options so far include:

  • Adding a third runway at Heathrow
  • Lengthening one of the existing runways at Heathrow
  • Adding a new runway at Gatwick

Heathrow's owners submitted evidence to the commission arguing that a new runway could be in place by 2029, allowing 260,000 more flights.

Boris Johnson says a new Heathrow runway would be "catastrophe", but supporters say it will be quicker and cheaper than other options, and will help to maintain the UK as an international aviation hub.

Heathrow is one of the world's busiest hub airports, handling 70 million passengers in 2012, says the BBC, but it operates at 98 per cent of its capacity.

Davies says the capacity challenge "is not yet critical but it will become so if no action is taken soon". The commission's analysis supports the provision of one additional runway in the south east by 2030, he said. Its analysis also indicates that there is likely to be a demand case for a second additional runway to be operational by 2050.

On Sunday, transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin said that the government would stick to its pledge not to back another runway at Heathrow during this parliament. But the government has said it had not ruled out any options when it came to airport expansion in the south east of England.

Mayor's 'fury' as Heathrow expansion favoured over Boris Island

12 December

A "FURIOUS" Boris Johnson has questioned the independence of the Airports Commission amid claims it is backing the expansion of Heathrow over the London mayor's proposal for a new airport in the Thames estuary.

Johnson vented his frustration following a meeting between the chancellor, George Osborne, and the head of the commission, Sir Howard Davies. The Times says that Davies is believed to have told Osborne that his "three favoured options" for relieving air traffic congestion involved new runways at Heathrow.

Johnson is vehmently opposed to the idea of expanding Heathrow due to concerns over increased aircraft noise and pollution. He has called for the construction of an entirely new airport - dubbed 'Boris Island' - in the Thames estuary.

The mayor said he was stunned by Sir Howard's stance. “I have participated in this process in good faith, despite increasing concerns about its methodology. If only three options are left on the table, all beginning with the word Heathrow, that would be scandalous,” he said.

“I am surprised, if it is true, that Sir Howard has seen the need to brief the Chancellor at this very delicate stage, but it is, of course, his job, not mine, to show constantly that the commission is truly independent.”

The Airports Commission plans to make recommendations on short-term options for easing capacity constraints this month. A full report on long-term solutions is due in two years. 

The situation is becoming critical because Heathrow is at full stretch. Its two runways are used by almost 500,000 aircraft a year, which is around 98 per cent of their capacity. BAA, the airport's operator, is keen to offer more flights, particularly to emerging markets such as China. But unless something can be done to extend Heathrow's capacity, more and more business will be lost to rival hubs in cities such as Paris, Amsterdam and Frankfurt. That's bad for tourism, bad for business and bad for the UK economy as a whole.

So, what's to be done? There are several options and each has its own set of advantages and disadvantages. The proponents of each are passionate; opponents equally so.

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