The Airports Commission’s forecasts suggest the cost of construction of an Estuary Airport would be five times that of their shortlisted options.
The Commission says the cost of an Isle of Grain airport, which they say is the most viable of those presented, was around five times that of the three short-listed options at up to £112 billion.
They say the plans would present major environmental issues, especially around impacts on sites by European environmental legislation.
As well as the cost, and environmental issues, the Commission felt that the new surface access infrastructure required would be very substantial, with potential cost, deliverability and environmental challenges of its own.
All of this, added to representations from a number of airlines and alliances who are unenthusiastic about moving from Heathrow, meant the Commission could not see guaranteed success for the creation of a new hub airport in the Thames Estuary, which is the key reason it was left off the shortlist.
Part of the airline’s lack of enthusiasm may come from expected increased landing charges at an Isle of Grain airport. The massive cost would require airport charges around three times those at present in force at Heathrow in order to recover the investment.
It is also not clear that a new airport would be able to provide the hoped-for London-area aviation capacity expansion, as Heathrow would close to fund the construction of the new airport, and clashes with airspace would mean the likely closure of London City Airport. The Commission’s report says that the net capacity gain from an Isle of Grain airport would be equivalent to a single extra runway at Heathrow or Gatwick.
The Review’s Interim Report says that while the problems they identify are not necessarily insuperable, no complete solutions to them have been presented and they would take many years to overcome. This would add significant risks to the timescales set out by the Commission for addressing the capacity gap.
The Commission’s view is that no proposal for an Estuary airport advanced so far has presented a sufficiently powerful case for it to be recommended as a credible option for further detailed assessment at this stage.
However, they don’t want to remove the possibility altogether, as they say the scale of benefits associated with such a proposal is potentially greater than for any of the other options that the Commission has considered.
This is why they believe that it is appropriate to continue to analyse the feasibility and impacts of an Isle of Grain airport in addition to the further development of its short-listed options, and will carry out further analysis during 2014 on the proposal, with a view to making a final decision on it at the end of that year.