Prime Minister David Cameron has said that he understands that more aiport capacity is needed in the South East if the UK is to retain its “global hub” status.
Speaking ahead of the planned Government review of air capacity due to be announced by transport secretary Justine Greening shortly, he said: “I’m not blind to the need to increase airport capacity, particularly in the South East.
“We need to retain our status as a key global hub for air travel, not just a feeder route to bigger airports elsewhere, in Frankfurt, Amsterdam or Dubai.”
These other airports, mainly with four runways, have capacity enough to provide frequent direct routes to crucial developing markets like China, Brazil and India. Heathrow, operating at 99% capacity, has less ability to enable airlines to operate such routes. Airlines choose to operate routes such as those to North America in the limited slots available at Heathrow.
The review will look at the idea of a Thames Estuary Airport, already unpopular with Kent and Essex councils, but will not rule out expansion at Heathrow.
Mr Cameron said: “Yes, this will be controversial. We will need to take decisions for the long-term – and we will be bringing forward options in our aviation strategy which will include an examination of the pros and cons of a new airport in the Thames Estuary.”
Many feel the Thames Estuary idea is ill-judged. Sir Richard Branson, owner of Virgin Atlantic, told the BBC he wanted to see a third runway to be built at Heathrow and said it was better to expand Heathrow than build an airport in the Thames Estuary.
The Times reports that the air capacity review, due this month, will be postponed until after the Mayoral Elections on May 3, so that the issue of where to build new capacity does not influence the result.