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South East needs four runway airport, says report

Britain will be unable to cope with air traffic volumes in the second half of this century unless it has an airport with four runways, says a report published this week

Britain will be unable to cope with air traffic volumes in the second half of this century unless it has an airport with four runways, says a report published this week.

The report was commissioned by the Independent Transport Commission think tank. It says that a three runway airport is urgently needed but that even this will be congested by 2050.

The Optimal Size of a UK Hub was written by consultant RDC Aviation and its managing director Peter Hind to respond to the interim findings of last year’s report by the Howard Davies-led Airports Commission.

Davies’ government-commissioned report concluded there was need for one additional runway to be operational in the South East by 2030. It shortlisted three options for this - a second landing strip at Gatwick; and two proposals for a third runway at Heathrow.

The Hind report - although not part of the government-commissioned process - favours the Heathrow options, but it did not rule out an entirely new airport to host the three runways.

“We cannot forecast significant changes in the structure of aviation,” says the Hind study.

“To protect and develop the UK’s global ‘direct’ connectivity and to ensure new routes are launched from the UK before our European competitors, the prime need remains to develop our hub capacity.”

“A three-runway hub airport is likely to be sufficient to meet anticipated needs until at least the middle of the century and these three runways need to be at the same physical site - the current Heathrow or a new Isle of Grain airport.”

The report adds that a third runway may not come on stream until 2030, and would become congested just 20 years later.

Ultra-long term view

“Thus, if the Commission wishes to take an ultra-long term view, and one that would offer resilience to the tail-end of the century, it should consider the scope for a fourth runway at the same airport site,” it said.

Logistics firm Federal Express (FedEx) pioneered the network model now used by many airlines, the study found. It said FedEx developed an overnight delivery service in the United States by flying packages in and out of a hub in Memphis.

This model is now used by airlines carrying passengers via hub airports that can handle large volumes of people.

A bigger hub airport would be likely to serve about 250 destinations, says the study. This is up from Heathrow’s current total of 176.

“We do not believe that additional capacity at a hub airport would immediately deliver new routes to an unlimited list of emerging markets, many of which are covered by restrictive air service agreements,” it warns.

“Airlines are more likely to begin filling their network gaps to the developed countries in Europe, North America and the more advanced South East Asia economies.

However, a trickle-down effect would follow, as demand grows and connectivity options increase, leading to a more diverse network of new world destinations coming on-stream at the hub.”

A consultation on the airport capacity increase options shortlisted by the Davies Commission is expected in the autumn.

The Isle of Grain proposal - along with others for a new hub in the Thames Estuary - was omitted from the Commission’s formal shortlist, published in December. The Commission is considering options for adding it in to the process later this year after further study.

“The cost of an Isle of Grain airport [would be] around five times that of the three shortlisted options at up to £112bn,” says the Davies report.

“[An airport in the Thames Estuary] would present major environmental issues, especially around impacts on protected sites.

“The new surface access infrastructure required would be very substantial, with potential cost, deliverability and environmental challenges of its own.” 

  • Don’t miss NCE’s Airport Development, Design and Engineering conference on the 20 and 21 May where you can pinpoint future project opportunities and explore how the next generation of developments will be designed and delivered. See the agenda attached to this story or book your place by calling 020 3033 4273.

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