Davies picks Heathrow

heathrow nw option 2013The Airports Commission has published its long awaited report , recommending a new North Western runway at Heathrow, the Airport’s own proposal.

There are conditions, including a night flight ban, and a commitment to no fourth runway being built. There are also conditions on air quality.

The Commission’s analysis shows that expanded airport capacity is crucial for the UK’s long-term prosperity. The Commission says that each of the three schemes shortlisted was considered a credible option for expansion, but that they have “unanimously concluded that the proposal for a new northwest runway at Heathrow Airport” presents the strongest case and offers the greatest strategic and economic benefits. Expansion at Heathrow provides around 40 new destinations from the airport and more than 70,000 new jobs by 2050.

The report describes the strengths and weaknesses of the other short-listed proposals. The Heathrow extended northern runway delivers similar economic benefits, is less costly and requires the loss of fewer homes. But it provides a smaller increase in capacity and is less attractive from a noise and air quality perspective. The Gatwick scheme is feasible, but the additional capacity would be more focused on short-haul intra-European routes and the economic benefits considerably smaller.

The Commission believes their  recommendation is for a fundamentally different proposition from previous proposals to expand at Heathrow. It delivers a full-length runway, maximising the connectivity gain. It is situated further west than the current runways, which will help to reduce the number of people affected by noise.

The report also recommends a string of conditions, including:

  • a ban on all scheduled night flights in the period from 11.30pm to 6.00am, which, they say, is only possible with expansion
  • no fourth runway: the government should make a firm commitment in Parliament not to expand the airport further – the Commission thinks there is no sound operational or environmental case for a fourth runway at Heathrow
  • a legally binding ‘noise envelope’ putting firm limits on the level of noise created by the airport
  • a new aviation noise levy to fund an expanded programme of mitigation, including noise insulation for homes, schools and other community facilities
  • a legal commitment on air quality that new capacity will only be released when it is clear that compliance with EU limits will not be delayed
  • a Community Engagement Board, under an independent chair, with real influence over spending on mitigation and compensation and over the airport’s operations
  • an independent aviation noise authority, with a statutory right to be consulted on flightpaths and other operating procedures at all UK airports
  • provision of training opportunities and apprenticeships for local people, so that nearby communities benefit from the jobs and economic opportunities

The Commission says their recommendations will ensure that an expanded Heathrow “can be a better neighbour”. The report also says that the government can and should use ‘public service obligations’ to support a widespread network of links from Heathrow to other UK airports.

The report notes that Heathrow is also the country’s largest air freight hub, carrying more freight by value than all the other UK airports combined. It says that the long-haul links that an expanded Heathrow can provide will support long-term growth in this sector, which plays an important role in supporting trade, including with emerging markets.

The report concludes that a new northwest runway at Heathrow will not increase noise above current levels, will generate up to £147 billion in GDP impacts over 60 years and over 70,000 new jobs by 2050, and will add regular daily services from the airport to around 40 new destinations, including 10-12 new long-haul routes.

Sir Howard Davies said: “Over the past 2 and a half years, the Airports Commission has reviewed the evidence without preconceptions, consulted widely, and followed an inclusive and integrated process. At the end of this extensive work programme our conclusions are clear and unanimous: the best answer is to expand Heathrow’s capacity through a new northwest runway.

“Heathrow is best-placed to provide the type of capacity which is most urgently required: long haul destinations to new markets. It provides the greatest benefits for business passengers, freight operators and the broader economy.

“Adding capacity at Heathrow also provides an opportunity to change the airport’s relationship with its local communities as some overseas airports have done. To make expansion possible the Commission recommends a comprehensive package of accompanying measures including a ban on night flights and a new noise levy to fund a far stronger and more generous set of compensation and mitigation schemes. And as there is no environmental or operational case for a fourth runway, the government should take action in Parliament to rule it out firmly and finally.

“This is a detailed and comprehensive report, based on a significant volume of technical material, and the government will need to review our analysis carefully. The Commission urges it not to prolong this process, however, and to move as quickly as it can to a decision. Further delay will be increasingly costly and will be seen, nationally and internationally, as a sign that the UK is unwilling or unable to take the steps needed to maintain its position as a well-connected, open trading economy in the twenty-first century.”

The Airports Commission, also known as the Davies Commission, was set up in September 2012 to examine the case for, and the solutions to, the UK’s aviation capacity problems – to consider how the UK could maintain its status as an international hub for aviation.

After ruling out building a new airport in the Thames Estuary – Boris Island – and expansion at Stansted, they settled on three options. One at Gatwick, and two at Heathrow – the North Western runway option proposed by the airport which they have now recommended.

Secretary of State for Transport Patrick McLoughlin has confirmed receipt of final report and says he will now consider the advice.

Patrick McLoughlin said: “My department has received the final report from the Airports Commission and will now consider that advice in detail.

“As a nation we must be ambitious and forward looking. This is a once in a generation opportunity to answer a vital question.”

David Cameron promised during his Prime Minister’s Question Time that a decision would be taken. He said: “I guarantee that a decision will be taken by the end of the year”.


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