Transport minister Theresa Villiers this week repeated that the government would not approve plans for new runways at London airports Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted because of the unacceptable level of environmental damage.
From now on, regional airports will be where aviation growth will take place, she said.
“A key part of our approach to aviation is to seek to create the right conditions for regional airports to flourish.
“I believe that they also have the potential to help relieve over-crowding in the south east.”
This view collides with that of Johnson, who on 18 January, said that “we need to start planning for a brand new airport that can help meet the ever increasing demand for aviation and act as a hub, particularly to the rest of the UK”.
Johnson was speaking at the launch of A new airport for London, the case for new capacity produced by Transport for London deputy chairman Daniel Moylan. It says demand in London is set to grow from 140M passengers per year in 2010 to 400M by 2050.
Villiers said that the Heathrow third runway proposal was rejected because it would have caused an unacceptable level of environmental damage.
However, Moylan’s report argues that an additional 85M passengers per annum could be accommodated in London’s airports within the environmental targets set by government. The targets are for an 80% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. This is equivalent to a new airport even larger than Heathrow, which served 65.9M passengers in 2009.
Moylan’s report calls for the case for a new airport in the Thames Estuary to be examined.
The plans for an airport using reclaimed land in the Thames Estuary have been called Boris Island after the Mayor’s support for the scheme.
It has been dubbed “Fantasy Island by critics, and Mott MacDonald director of aviation strategy Lawrie Price has said “there’s a whole range of problems with it”. He argues that it would be in the wrong place as studies show that most demand for the capital’s air travel comes from populations north and west of London.
Paris, Amsterdam and Frankfurt all have four or more runways. It’s not just that we need additional runways, it’s where they are.
Colin Buchanan director of economics John Sirau
Moylan also says that environmental constraints must be considered alongside wider economic benefits – a view shared by Colin Buchanan director of economics John Siraut, who has examined the economic impact of hub airports for the British Chambers of Commerce.
There is a continuing necessity for a London hub airport, Siraut says. This might necessitate more than one new runway in the south east.
“If you look at who we are competing against, Paris, Amsterdam and Frankfurt all have four or more runways. It’s not just that we need additional runways, it’s where they are.
“We see from these countries there are benefits of having these runways in one location with significant benefits of having a hub,” he adds.
Details of the government’s aviation policy will be outlined next month, when the Department for Transport will publish a scoping document for consultation. Villiers says this will outline the “strategic questions on the way forward for aviation”.
Aviation consultants are doubtful of the benefits of the government’s current policy, which relies on regional airports can provide the solution to south east airport capacity.
Price says that “the idea the regions can substitute for London is not possible” because they serve distinct markets.
Management consultant Optimum senior consultant Mike Noakes, a former general manager of rail at BAA, has examined the options within the government’s policy, from “squeezing the lemons” – getting the last drops of capacity from existing airports in the London area – to the government’s regional airports policy.
He says that the development of what he calls the “south east tadpole airports” – Manston and Lydd in Kent, Shoreham in Sussex, Farnborough and Southampton in Hampshire, and Bournemouth and Southend – alongside regional airports could create a network where air transport is brought closer to where people live.
This would, though, require a complex and dramatic move of selected long haul flights out to the regions, such as daily New York, Dubai, Singapore and Atlanta services from places like Bristol, Birmingham, Manchester and Scotland.
Noakes adds: “It’s not clear that this strategy is working in any other developed countries.”
The Moylan report agreed with the government in one respect, stating that “Heathrow is not the answer”.
However, Price warns against trying to move too many flights from Heathrow, noting that this has been tried before with no success, including air traffic restriction rules introduced in 1986 to divide traffic between airports serving the same catchment area. Despite this, Heathrow has continued to grow, and is now operating at 99% capacity. “It’s a result of the market, and it’s very difficult to buck.”