Friday 29 June 2012


There has been pretty much one topic on everyone’s lips in the industry this week and that is the argument for a third runway at Heathrow Airport. Why? Because the UK government is due to unveil a consultation document on its new airports strategy in the next few weeks. Note: the consultation document isn’t about Heathrow and its third runway. In fact, expansion at Heathrow isn’t even included as one of the options on the table. And yet, it would appear, all roads (or should that be runways) keep leading back to Heathrow.

There’s no doubting that Heathrow is a problem that needs fixing. It’s currently operating at a perilous 99 per cent capacity. Some have suggested introducing mixed mode flying (ie using its two runways for inbound and outbound flights) to increase this capacity by 15 per cent and another 10 million passengers per year.

But, in my opinion, Heathrow is a bit of red herring in this whole debate. We need to stop talking about it and get back to the real issue: how is aviation going to grow over the next 20, 30 years and how are we going to build an infrastructure fit for purpose to continue supporting the growth of UK Plc?

In the short term, the answer is not Heathrow. Or Marsden. Or Boris Island. Let’s open our eyes and look to other airports in the South East, airports with capacity: Luton, Stansted, Gatwick.

Gatwick, for one, is currently operating at around 80 per cent capacity on its single runway. It’s projected to grow to 40 million passengers by 2020 with that one runway (it’s currently at just under 34 million). It’s connected to London for business better than any other airport, with train links to Victoria, London Bridge, City Link and Kings Cross. And it’s currently investing around £20 million per month into new passenger facilities as part of a six year £1.2 billion programme due for completion around 2014/2015. This investment and infrastructure make Gatwick a great option for business travellers.

But I’m not here to champion Gatwick over Heathrow, or Stansted over Boris Island. I’m here to champion common sense and to say let’s park Heathrow for now and start thinking long term for the good of this industry. 

Posted by David Chapple - talk to him on Twitter @btshowlondon or 

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