A delay in decision over whether Gatwick or Heathrow are expanded could cost the economy billions

Editor’s Blog Posted 21/12/13
Davies Commission final report due after May 2015 has stalled the process, which requires major urgent focus

It has been immensely fascinating to see the reaction to the Davies Commission report on the future of aviation expansion in the South East.

For many observers, myself included, what emerged more than anything was the fact that it is patently clear that we are now nearing full capacity with our air travel.

Recent serious delays at Heathrow have underlined the situation that the site (which is operating at 98 capacity) is physically straining to keep up with demand.

Gatwick is also under considerable pressure as the busiest single runway airport in the world. But which should be given the go ahead if only one runway is on the cards by 2030 as Howard Davies has indicated?

Both have a very strong business case, with thousands of jobs potentially created if either site is expanded. The considerable concern from Heathrow in particular is that the longer we delay a decision, the more our economy stands to lose – and we are not talking small change here, with billions potentially at stake in air traffic choosing other centres in Amsterdam, Germany or elsewhere around the world if Britain is not seen as providing a hub transport solution.

It seems like an inordinately long period of time to now have to wait for a final verdict on this – until after the next general election, which could in reality be settled far more swiftly if politics were not such a huge factor in settling the outcome of this crucial issue.

But the Conservative Party’s 2010 pledge - or more specifically David Cameron’s, not to consider expanding Heathrow appears to have been forgotten about (with two of the three shortlisted options featuring further runways there), so there is decided unease within the PM’s ranks.

This has been complicated even further by London Mayor Boris Johnson’s determination to wade into the argument with suggesting another option of a brand new airport off the coast of Kent- which faces considerable opposition from residents who rightly point out that the county has nowhere near the surrounding road and rail infrastructure to cope with a new multi-billion site.

Clearly, there are equally vocal voices of opposition from those living near Heathrow and Gatwick and are unhappy at the prospect of greater traffic and potential environmental impact of expanded airways services at those locations.

One solution is to make greater use of smaller airports including Manston and Lydd in Kent, plus other locations such as Stansted- but the Davies Commission appears not to have entertained any of these options at all, which to many, seems understandably short-sighted.

There are indeed environmental factors to contemplate, which the aviation industry is attempting to react to in building quieter planes, though advancements in aviation fuel have some way to go in becoming greener.

Will we ever arrive at a decision that satisfies everyone? It’s highly unlikely, but what is for certain, the longer that a stalemate situation exists (we have not built a new airport here in more than 50 years), the more we risk harming the nation’s economy in the long term.

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