Mayor warns over airport capacity

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has warned the Government that the UK risks being relegated to a bit part player in the global economy unless the issue of south east airport capacity is addressed.

The Mayor wants the Government to give more serious consideration to the construction of a new hub airport in the south east of England, which has not been a popular option with ministers.

He cites figures calculated by the Department for Transport which estimate that by 2030 all of London’s airports will be operating at full capacity, and points to the growing opportunities to provide links to the businesses and growing economies in the Far East and other areas which it will not be possible to take.

This chimes with a recently released report which suggested the inability to provide daily links to emerging markets could cost the UK £1.2bn a year, and comes amid further discussions of ways to improve the south east’s connectivity with the World like the proposal to link Heathrow & Gatwick with a high speed rail link, and a suggestion made by Sir Terry Farrell during his speech at Place West London that a rail hub at Old Oak Common connecting five airports and six runways.

The Mayor’s comments, in a response to a Government study, warns that regional airports like Manchester are just too small to provide the efficiencies that a south east hub airport offers airlines who operate to those long haul destinations.

The Mayor notes that the UK’s only true hub airport at Heathrow is already running at 99 per cent of its capacity, which makes it totally incapable of responding to the emergence of new business destinations in Asia and elsewhere. This lack of capacity means European competitors are already snapping up business and putting themselves in a position where they could threaten the capital’s position within the world’s global elite.

That is why the Mayor has once again urged the Government to develop a credible long-term aviation policy with a plan to protect London’s global reputation as an economic powerhouse, by planning to increase aviation capacity in the southeast.

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, said: “This great country of ours risks becoming an aviation backwater unless we find a location to provide the extra runways that are so desperately needed. Without those runways we will lose business to our European competitors and we risk relegation from economic powerhouse to merely a bit part player in the global economy.”

He continues, backing his Thames Estuary island concept: “We cannot go on as we are and I respectfully urge the Government to make it a priority to consider plans to build a full service, round the clock, multiple runway hub airport of the type that so many of our neighbours already boast.”

The aviation sector plays a vital role in the UK and London economy and employs hundreds of thousands of people, including 130,000 at London’s main airports alone. The UK depends on London in particular as its economic motor and that role is only possible because of the highly productive, export oriented and aviation intensive nature of the Capital’s economy. London’s continued success will greatly depend on the continuing presence of a competitive hub airport.

The UK is already facing tougher global competition for resources and markets and needs to rise to the challenge by forging new trading relationships in emerging economies such as China. While Heathrow performs well in serving established routes, such as those between London and major US cities, it is not able to respond to these new opportunities as well as rival Continental hub airports because of restrictions on capacity.

While Frankfurt, Paris Charles de Gaulle and Amsterdam Schiphol offer approximately 17,500, 15,000 and 11,000 seats a week to mainland Chinese airports respectively, Heathrow only offers 9,000. These figures reflect the greater ease with which airlines based at these Continental hubs can offer new routes and capture lucrative new business than those based at Heathrow.

The consequence of this is that the UK’s competitors are stealing a lead in new markets. That is backed by figures showing that while there were 1m visitors from China to France in 2009, the UK only managed to attract 89,000 visitors from mainland China (and a further 143,000 from Hong Kong). The average spend of Chinese visitors to the UK was £1300. But if the UK attracted the same number of Chinese visitors as France an additional £1bn in tourist revenue could potentially be generated.

The present Goverment, and LB Hillingdon, remain opposed to additional runway capacity or extended hours of operation at Heathrow, and while ideas such as “Heathwick” might use up space at under-capacity airports reachable from Heathrow, they will not provide a long-term solution should aviation demand continue to grow.

It seems a consensus is emerging that additional runways are needed, the question is where to put them.

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