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Space odyssey


Runway capacity in the South East is expected to reach saturation in five years. In the late 1960s the then government faced the same dilemma and set up a commission to recommend a site for London's Third Airport.

After a recommendation for a site at Cublington, Buckinghamshire, was abandoned, the government chose Maplin Sands in Essex. A motorway and high speed railway were to connect Maplin to London and my then employer was commissioned to find a route.

We did not have the benefit of GIS, but we produced colour coded maps of areas deemed too environmentally sensitive and the route options avoided these. There was of course an outcry not just from Essex, but also and more ominously from the Ministry of Defence which would lose a key testing range.

Within a couple of years an incoming government found it convenient to abandon Maplin and to go for Stansted which had always seemed a more sensible option. The arrival of the jumbo jet also staved off the capacity crisis - until today, it would appear.

The problem with capacity that surely militates against small regional airports is the huge dominance of London as a UK destination and the attraction of Heathrow as an international transit hub.

Sooner or later a government will have to grasp the nettle of an extra runway at one of the three large London airports, or accept that the UK's position as the pre-eminent international air hub will be lost to France, Holland or Germany.

Keith Montague (F)

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