Shortening the odds on hub capacity

With 15 different plans afloat for expanding airport capacity in the UK, the London Mayor has set out “draft criteria” which he says will sort the wheat from the chaff. Gary Mason reports

london capacityAn interesting political sideshow to the UK aviation capacity expansion “main event” emerged in January when London Mayor Boris Johnson announced his own review to add to the one already announced by his own party in government.

Well, not so much a review as a draft set of criteria which the Mayor believes would provide “the fairest possible evaluation” of the increasing number of plans being proposed to solve aviation capacity in the southeast – there are currently about 15 different ones. The mayor’s office has asked members of the aviation industry and other interested parties to formerly comment on the criteria which he says will be condensed into a shortlist of the best options and then submitted to the Davies Commission.

That six-strong committee, chaired by Sir Howard Davies, is set to produce an interim report to the government by the end of this year to give options for improving existing capacity but the final recommendations will not be know until after the next General Election.

The Mayor’s dialogue is an interesting one given that he has implicitly criticised the remit of the Davies Commission already by describing the pace of progress as “glacial.” And although the Davies Commission has said it is “ruling nothing out” the two reviews appear to be approaching the debate from opposite ends of the argument. Sir Howard’s committee has headlined a number of options including:

• a second runway at Gatwick

• expansion of Stansted

• building a new airport to the west of Heathrow

• a high speed monorail between Gatwick and Heathrow

• using Birmingham as a London airport linked by high speed rail.

The Mayor’s draft criteria meanwhile has specified no particular locations but puts emphasis very firmly on the need for a brand new hub airport. Announcing the review Mr Johnson said: “This country desperately requires a multi runway hub airport of the kind being built in huge numbers around the rest of the world.” Meanwhile his advisor on aviation Daniel Moylan, was even more specific. “There are new airports being built all over the world and a new hub airport in the southeast of England would be the trigger to kickstart the economic growth, new jobs and prosperity we all desire,” he said. “We have got to find the right place to build that airport and the Mayor is strongly in favour of a site to the east of the capital but we will use these criteria to evaluate all of the proposals on the table.”

The detail within the Major’s published criteria also point to some very specific objectives. For example, under airport infrastructure the draft criteria states: Any new runways and terminals should be provided so as to maximise the effective capacity of the infrastructure, supporting global connectivity objectives and meeting demand over the next fifty years. Sufficient resilience should be built into the design; runways should aim to operate at approximately 70 per cent of capacity, in line with IATA guidelines.

The criteria also seems to lean heavily towards 24-hour operations to ensure best use of infrastructure and support economically beneficial flights, particularly early morning longhaul arrivals and flexibility around cargo flights.

On road and rail links the criteria highlights the example of new-build airports such as Hong Kong which “achieve a public transport access mode share in excess of 70 per cent.”

It stresses that connecting new and established high speed rail services to major population centres in continental Europe should also be a priority.

“Providing direct services to major cities in continental Europe, via High Speed One, can further support mode shift to rail as well as maximise the catchment area of an airport. The UK could also benefit from being able to ‘export’ aviation services to passengers travelling between northwest Europe and non-UK destinations,” the guidelines say.

Environmental issues have also been highlighted. It says an increase in aviation capacity should be delivered without an increase in the number of people affected by noise – 55db Lden is the standard EU-wide noise metric used to identify those who suffer from substantial nuisance and health problems.

On emissions the guidelines say it is essential that any increase in aviation capacity is achieved without breaching EU limits for air pollutants such as NOx and particulate matter (PM10).

Any impacts on local wildlife and biodiversity will need to be minimised, with appropriate and effective mitigation measures adopted as required. Unsurprisingly, there is nothing in the guide lines that would lean towards a third runway at Heathrow Airport. At the end of last year Daniel Moylan gave a charismatic speech at a debate staged by the Spectator magazine on Heathrow expansion. He suggested among other things that any new runway would have to be built on the wrong side of a major arterial road – the A4 – so that aircraft would have to find some way of bridging the road.

Venture capitalist Jon Moulton, who has written in these columns before, also spoke at the debate supporting a third runway. He told the audience he had become a reluctant convert to the option which he admitted would have environmental consequences but so too would a new airport built on the Thames Estuary. He said expanding Heathrow was the only viable option.

See viewpoint piece written by Daniel Moylan on page 42 of this issue.

Key points

An independent group of experts appointed to support the Mayor’s programme of work on aviation has already provided their input into drafting of the criteria, which are as follows:

Economic: The primary driver for an increase in aviation capacity is its economic impacts; it is essential that any proposals taken forward support regional and national economic objectives and maximise the economic and social benefits for the UK.

Airport infrastructure: Any new airport facilities should meet the needs of airlines, passengers and freight by enabling an efficient, effective, safe airport operation that is competitive with the best airports in the world.

Airspace: Aviation safety remains paramount. Any increase in aviation capacity must address conflicts with existing airports and comply with current and future airspace regulations, including the continuing ‘Single European Sky’ initiative.

Surface access: These criteria are designed to ensure that an airport has the required access provision: drawing on the widest pool of passengers, staff and freight will be essential to any airport’s success. Sufficient new road and rail capacity is integral to any airport option, and a high public transport access mode share will be key to ensuring sustainable airports. New-build airports such as Hong Kong have achieved a public transport access mode share in excess of 70%.

Environmental: The impacts of aviation on local communities and the natural environment must be minimised if any expansion of aviation is to be sustainable.

Deliverability: Any new aviation capacity must be capable of being delivered. This must take into account likely planning and construction issues and the need to secure funding.

A consultation on the criteria will run until February 8. Once agreed they will be used to form a shortlist of options from the range of proposals already made public.

Peer review for London plan

Transport for London has appointed a Peer Review Group to support the Mayor’s aviation work programme. This group has been asked to provide independent advice and expertise to the Mayor, in a personal capacity. It comprises the following individuals:

• Chris Cain, Principal, Aviation Strategy and Policy Consultancy

• Mike Forster, Director, Forster Associates

• John Green, Managing Director,

Face Group

• Professor Sir Peter Hall, Bartlett Professor of Urban Regeneration and Planning, UCL

• Professor Paul Hooper, Chair of Environmental Management and Sustainability, MMU

• Bridget Rosewell, Senior Partner, Volterra Partners

• Bob Schumacher, Managing Director, UK & Ireland, for United Airlines

• Roy Vandermeer OBE QC, Inspector, Heathrow Terminal 5 Inquiry


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