Other Options Are All Better Than An Estuary Airport

The Mayor of London calls a third runway at Heathrow “simply mad” but the only truly mad option in this debate is the Mayor’s own pie in the sky proposal for a Thames Estuary Airport.  By pushing that, as his alternative to Heathrow expansion, Boris played into the hands of the vested interests of BA and BAA and a richly resourced lobbying campaign for Heathrow expansion.

I am delighted that we have held off the prospect of consultation on options including an estuary airport yet excluding Heathrow. I warned the Prime Minister that such a consultation could be overturned by the courts, as I helped overturn the Labour government’s 2003 consultation including ‘Cliffe’ airport yet excluding Gatwick. Justine Greening as Transport Secretary was understandably concerned to protect her constituents in Putney under the Heathrow flight-path, but the new transport team can fairly assess all options on their merits.

The reality is that adding a runway to an airport, such as Heathrow, with existing infrastructure will always be incomparably easier, faster and cheaper than building a new airport, and it is ridiculous for Boris to suggest otherwise. Indeed, the ‘research’ which he commissioned, concluding that a new airport in the Thames Estuary would take only two year longer to build than a third runway at Heathrow, was so manifestly absurd that it was not taken seriously.  Foster+ Partners’ claim that a new airport could be built in the estuary for £23 billion is similarly incredible, even before you consider they want airlines using Heathrow to pay for it, and that infrastructure for the airport is on top, and they want taxpayers to pay for that!

If the Mayor of London is serious about stopping Heathrow expansion, he needs to get back in the debate, drop his pie in the sky estuary airport proposals, and look at other serious options for increasing aviation capacity for the South-East of England, such as:

Birmingham could take 25 million more passengers, even without a second runway for which they are safeguarding land. Their existing runway is currently being extended to take the largest fully-laden jets to allow a large range of services to Asia and the Americas. The airport is in the middle of the national motorway network and is easily reached by train from Kent on HS1 and then via Euston, as a delegation from Medway and Kent councils discovered when we visited last week. When HS2 is built, Birmingham Airport will be only just over half an hour from Heathrow, 40 minutes from Euston and 57 minutes from Ebbsfleet.

Stansted could take 17 million more passengers (and took 6 million more than now in 2007) but is held back by poor transport connections. For £3-4 billion (rather than £50-80 billion for an estuary airport) we could build a Crossrail spur from Stratford to Stansted allowing transfer from the airport to the City in 23 minutes, and to the West End or Ebbsfleet in half an hour. The Coalition could agree this rail investment now, leaving any decisions to build second of third runways, for which there would be plenty of space, until existing capacity is properly used.

Gatwick has a real window of opportunity now to come off the fence and push for a second runway, which their planning agreement could allow from 2019. Gatwick could then be set free from price controls to compete with Heathrow and really build its business following recent success in attracting Asian airlines. We should also improve train links from Kent as well as London to Gatwick as the best option for supporting Kent travellers and our local economy.



Filed under boris johnson, conservatives, david cameron, economy, estuary airport, Heathrow, justine greening, Lord Foster, mark reckless, medway, medway council, No Estuary Airport, rochester and strood, Thames Hub, theresa villiers, transport

7 responses to “Other Options Are All Better Than An Estuary Airport

  1. barry luxton

    take Heathrow expansion out of the equasion. It’s already running at full capacity. It’s a nightmare to get to, It’s over crowded, far too close to conjested london to expand, full stop. Sick of hearing about the pie in the sky estuary airport. It’s brilliant, top marks to Boris for his vision.With much needed lower thames crossing, both road and rail, it will open out the south east and move us away from the carpark known as the m25. Bring it on. As regards to the existing airprts, no no no, A brand new hub airport is needed, not a bolt on, sticking plaster. And as for Cameron delaying today, please, i thought the conservatives were the party for forward thinking and inovation. It appears that his hands are sevearly tied and has lost the drive to turn the uk into a place that can again be prosperous and exciting for the over seas visitors and companies. Unfortunatly the conservative party are becoming too liberal and labourized and boring.

    • Susan Graham

      Thoroughly disagree with this and other pro estuary airport responses. Air Traffic control – with no axe to grind – has advised that an estuary airport is a non starter. It would interfere with Schippol air traffic control, require the closing of all other London airports, including Heathrow with the loss of the billions already invested there, and have planes backing up over the centre of London. The noise and pollution over London would be worse than a third runway. There are also problems of bird strike, fog four times the level of Heathrow, explosive debris in the estuary and exhorbitant cost. It’s ludicrous. Expand Heathrow and be done with it.

      • barry luxton

        ohh dear, your argument suffered a blow today with the news: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-19934804
        In addition your argument re traffic control is very weak to say the least, of course they can find room at your heathrow idea but not within the estuary, please explain why? And as for fog on the estuary, perlease, having spen 40 years boat fishing, the only time that sea mists appear is when there are no prevailing westerlies and the sea is dead flat calm on an autum day when there is moisture that cannot be blown away, a rare occurance indeed. What do you popose for the extra travellers to reach heathrow, busses? trains? road? Well done Daniel, forward thinking is the way forward as opposed to the labour,liberal doldrums that the conservatives appear to be adopting.

  2. Daniel Edwards

    Gatwick’s ability to attract Asian airlines (Hong Kong Airlines’ route is doing so badly that they’re discontinuing it, same with Lufthansa to Frankfurt this winter) has come about because they couldn’t get slots at Heathrow. Every US airline has moved from Gatwick to Heathrow since Openskies, except for one daily US Airways flight for which they cannot secure a Heathrow slot.

    Boris’ location is slightly absurd, but the thinking isn’t. The south-east needs a hub airport, not further expansion of point-to-point airports. Heathrow is the UK’s only hub airport – the reason Birmingham and Stansted can take more passengers is because the demand isn’t there to fill the aircraft. Heathrow is full and passenger load factors on Heathrow flights are very high.

    Mark Reckless and other Tory MPs could learn from speaking to those in the industry instead of thinking that they know best. Clearly, they do not.

    • Frank Withers

      A new hub airport is the adopted mantra of the day and is a concept firmly embedded in the 1970’s. By the time a new hub with it’s additional infrastructure requirements were constructed (2030?) it would just be regarded as wasteful white elephant project that big governments are so good at proposing. What does not seem to have been discussed openly is the future direction of aviation technology and it’s influence on airline operations.The single largest major driving factor in airline operation is economics (with safety) and for today’s 1st tier operators this is paramount. Air transport manufactures work closely with the operators to produce the air vehicles that are needed to meet future requirements which means that constant innovation is being aggressively pursued at every level and as this works through to the airline operations front then modes of flight planning will change.
      The Aircraft vehicle – consists of airframe, engines and avionics in which tremendous advances have and will be made into the future. Frames are lighter (composites), engines are ever more efficient and avionics have developed advanced ‘Fly by Wire’, safety and navigational systems (spacial awareness). We should not also forget the improved maintenance aspects leading to less frequent scheduled maintenance activity and greater vehicle availability.
      Air and Ground Traffic control – Introduction of the ‘Free Flight Programme’ for ATC and the increasing use of aircraft mounted ‘Visual Guidance Systems’ for low visibility flying and landing together with providing ground traffic aids.
      So the changing technology is a dynamic in the the overall operating equation and will have a significant impact on operations during any period needed to build new take off and landing capacity. To those that doubt that these will not happen quickly I would say that upgrades to existing equipments will happen if they improve overall running costs (spend to save). Another augment sometimes used is that aircraft are expensive and so an operator will keep it for life that again is yesterday’s thinking as most tier one operators sell and lease back their fleet (I own a miniscule part of an A380 bought and leased back by such an airline) so movement of aircraft through the food chain will increase in future and tier one operators will maintain lower average age fleets. I should also mention that aircraft engines are increasingly supplied on ‘Power By The Hour’ arrangements to operators where the investment cost is spread over the period of use.
      Having been a frequent flyer prior to retirement I can tell you that most hub airports are places to avoid (LHR, LAX, CHI, DWC to name but a handful) if you can get a point to point then that’s the way to go. Of course the hub and spoke operation will not disappear but will decrease in importance over time to be supplanted by more point to point operation of these lighter more economical aircraft taking advantage of the new ATC advances to improve operating costs. It is my belief that we have enough hub and spoke capability for the future with existing or modifiable airports and that increased utilization factors at other geographical locations will support more efficient point to point operation.

  3. Andy

    Interesting that, as yet, none of the parties involved have approached NATS, the organisation responsible for designing the airspace around any new airport or runway. In reality Boris Island would be similar to building a new Waterloo or Clapham Junction half a mile away from the existing station. This notion of moving flights to under capacity airports would be like telling a rail passenger that Birmingham is full, so we’ll drop you off in Liverpool and you can make your own way.

    Critical infrastructure questions such as the SE airports problem are just too crucial to become a political football which gets kicked further into the long grass by consultations, reviews, thinking periods… Whatever… It needs a strong government to make a decision which won’t please everybody. This is the reality of government I’m afraid. Someone will have to make a decision, and regardless of what it it, it will lose votes from one side or the other.

  4. Hi Mark,

    I agree with your comments about the Thames Estuary Airport proposal by Boris. The whole thing is ludicrous and would be a blight on our area; the damage to the local eco system and wildlife would be immense. It is also likely to impact on communities on the Belgium and Netherlands as the aircraft would be descending earlier than they currently do for both Heathrow and Stansted.

    There is lots of room for regional expansion and we should also not forget Manston as a way to regenerate that deprived area of Kent.

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