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Letters: Balancing demand with airport expansion plans


Heathrow Airport, aerial view of central terminal area, showing Terminal 2 the proposed site for the Heathrow East development, 12 May 2008, Image ref. CHE04984d. TRACKAIR

Last week it was announced that a further five years of consultation was required before design work could start for the A14 widening in Cambridgeshire. This road is a heavily used link between the M11 and the A1(M) especially by lorries travelling between eastern ports and the north of England.

On this basis, does anyone really believe that a third runway can be completed at Heathrow in less than 10 years, especially when all the additional infrastructure requirements listed out in Henri Pageot’s excellent letter (NCE 13 September) have to be included? Similarly with “Boris Island”.

It is not so much building the airport that is the problem but the extensive new road and rail connections to serve it, with their inevitable environmental impacts that will create opposition and consequent delays.

It seems inevitable that greater use of the existing airport facilities around London will therefore have to be made with possible additional runways and improved rail links for the immediate future.

But why is everyone assuming that air traffic will continue to increase? The present phenomenon is a feature of additional demand, primarily from China. But this traffic can be accommodated by using fewer, larger aeroplanes which are gradually replacing smaller aircraft on long-haul routes.

Due to their greater fuel efficiency, this trend is sure to continue. Other concerns such as the increasing cost of fuel, airport taxes and volcanic eruptions could suppress future passenger demand significantly.

The most efficient way to deal with the airport congestion in the UK will be the early completion of High Speed 2. Experience from Taiwan with its 340km High Speed line, which opened in 2007, has already shown the way forward.

By this year, all local air services from Taipei to towns along the route of the railway, including the large city of Kaoshiung, had ceased operation. Based on a similar distance from London, all flights as far as Newcastle could be closed after HS2 commences operation.

  • Michael Baxter (M),

Antony Oliver says “the economic need to boost [airport] capacity is not in question” (NCE 13 September). That is a pity because it should be.

Britain does not need to expand airport capacity.

Less than 30% of flights through Heathrow are connected with business: the great majority are for holiday or socialreasons.

No doubt people will fly more if extra capacity is provided but that does not demonstrate need. We should remind ourselves of the legal commitment made by the UK government to reduce our carbon emissions by 80% by 2050.

Any airport expansion of whatever form is clearly going to have the opposite effect. Aeroplanes may become more efficient but there is a limit to the efficiency of a jet engine.

Alternative fuels may be developed but these will be at the expense of producing food or at huge environmental costs.

We should learn to accept that using precious fossil fuel for flying will have to be reserved for the most important needs.

Let’s get over this childish obsession with having the biggest airport in the world and think about living in a more sustainable way.

  • Martin Mansell (M),

The article on airport capacity (NCE 13 September) gave a strong sense of déjà vu. As a member of the then transportation committee of the ICE in the 1970s I was present at a number of debates and presentations.

I clearly recall the view expressed “that government would not proceed with the Maplin option and the default third London Airport would be Stansted”. Stansted at this time was a lightly used charter airfield but blessed with a long runway and expansion space.

And so it came to pass. Lost in the process was the opportunity to advance and truly deliver the whole east London/Thames Estuary regeneration 20 years earlier than the piecemeal projects that followed.

Again we are in the position where government is better at rejecting ideas than making firm decisions. Regional airports will be rejected by the market save for a few more flights via Manchester.

The delivery of a Thames airport will raise its own political opponents and require lengthy preliminary investigations even to get to a decision point, itself a further tool for procrastination.

What we will get will be Stansted round two, the least politically risky decision. A bigger terminal, rail upgrades and a second runway if we are lucky.

  • Andrew Holmes (M),

In response to Antony Oliver’s editorial (NCE 13 September), yes, it is universally agreed that there is an economic need to boost airport capacity.

However, and most importantly, the current challenge is not where to build (as you put it), but rather what to build.

We have to discuss what kind of capacity is needed. I am dismayed again that some engineers really do not get it. We are running out of stuff all around us and must take great care in how we spend and use it.

The future, of course, must be a steady-state economy not a cancerous debt system run by businesses too big to fail. And I would have hoped that NCE and the ICE recognised that by now.
Instead you are chasing runaway climate change. What will our children think of us? Time’s running out.

  • Katja Leyendecker,

Severn barrage barriers

So the Crossrail tunnel spoil is going to be used to create a 670ha area of wetlands for a bird sanctuary on Wallasea Island in the Thames Estuary (NCE 13 September).

The Severn Barrage project is criticised for threatening 145ha of protected wetland.
Well, that’s got the environmental mitigation re-provisioning sorted out - the migrating birds can hopefully manage the 200-odd miles as the goose flies - now let’s sort out the other barriers to the barrage.

Otherwise the global warming induced rising sea levels will finish off all the habitats anyway.

  • William Harrison (M), 43 Carver Road, London SE24 9LS

Origins of the species

Whilst I agree heartily with the sentiment of Bruce Denness’ letter, I must correct the derivation of the word “engineer” (NCE 13 September).

The word engineer is derived from the Latin roots ingeniare (“to contrive, devise”) and ingenium (“cleverness”).

An “engine” was and still is an ingenious invention, but it is merely a result of an engineer’s applied ingenuity, and little to do with the derivation of this unprotected title.

That said, chartered engineer, incorporated engineer and engineering technician are professional titles fully protected under law by means of the Engineering Council’s Royal Charter and Bye-laws.

Just over half of the ICE membership holds one of these professional titles and sadly our membership is a drop in the ocean in terms of “civil engineers” in the UK and worldwide. Is this therefore the root of the problem?

  • Walter Scott, (M),

What’s in a name?

It was good to see emphasis placed on the very positive comments by Jane Wernick in your report (NCE last week).

However, it must be said that the characterisation of architectural design as “an individual pursuit best undertaken on an airline napkin… based on faith and intuition” is a very crude expression of old prejudices which must surely have been intended as a caricature.

The description of engineering design as “a strongly iterative and collaborative process” which “starts with rigorous analysis” with “many possible design solutions” would be recognised as describing their own profession by the vast majority of architects.

Good architectural design and good engineering design have a very great deal in common, and indeed are often the same process.

  • Paul McCombie (F), deputy head of department, Department of Architecture

and Civil Engineering, University of Bath, Bath BA2 7AY

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