On Tuesday 17 December, the UK government’s Airports Commission released details of its much-anticipated interim recommendations for increasing essential UK airport capacity and connectivity by 2030.
Its independent review, led by businessman Sir Howard Davies, has shortlisted three options: Gatwick Airport Ltd’s proposal for a second runway, Heathrow Airport Ltd’s proposal for a new 3,500m runway, and Heathrow Hub’s proposal to extend the existing northern runway enabling it to operate as two independent runways.
In its press statement, the Commission adds that it “has not shortlisted any of the Thames Estuary options because there are too many uncertainties and challenges surrounding them at this stage”.
However, it will undertake a further study of proposals for a new airport on the Isle of Grain (or ‘Boris Island’ as it is dubbed after its champion, Mayor of London, Boris Johnson) in the first half of 2014, and report back later in the year. Also missing the shortlist were Stanstead Airport and Birmingham International Airport with their respective proposals for expansion.
The Commission will make its final and ‘robust’ recommendations to the UK government in summer 2015 – around the time of the country’s next General Elections. In the meantime, let’s take a look at some of the reactions to the shortlist so far.
Heathrow Airport is predictably pleased. Its chief executive, Colin Matthews, comments, “The world economy is changing fast and Britain needs a world-class hub airport with the capacity to compete against Paris, Frankfurt and Amsterdam. A third runway is the quickest, cheapest and surest way of connecting the UK to growth.”
Stuart Wingate, CEO of Gatwick Airport, was similarly upbeat, “I am very pleased that the strength of London Gatwick’s case has been recognised by the Airports Commission and that the shortlist has been narrowed down to two main locations.”
Not quite so happy was Boris Johnson, who declared that building a new runway at Heathrow would be a “catastrophe”. According to him, “A new airport in the inner estuary is the only credible hub option left.” However, the Commission’s report estimates the Isle of Grain option would cost up to five times as much as any of those short-listed.
Reaction from the airlines seems to favour Heathrow. UK trade publication, ‘Travel Weekly’ quotes Dale Cellar, chief executive of the Board of Airline Representatives in the UK (BAR UK) as saying, “Despite the inevitable challenges and disagreement that will follow, the vast majority of the airlines believe that expanding Heathrow is now the only sensible way forward for the UK.”
We also spoke to architects and civil engineers, HOK, creators of Heathrow’s award-winning Terminal 5 Intermodal Station. Richard Gammon, director of aviation and transportation, concluded, “The only practical solution to the issue of UK aviation capacity is the option that Heathrow has outlined for a third runway.
“Heathrow is vital to the economic prosperity of both London and the UK, and supporting its ability to evolve to meet the needs of the global marketplace must be a core part of maintaining UK plc’s global competitiveness.”