The United Kingdom needs a world class hub airport

gary mason, editor, airport focusAirport Focus Editor Gary Mason on this month’s news

Who will the delayed decision on runway expansion in the UK south east damage the most? Heathrow Airport, certainly.

Two weeks ago I listened to the chief executive John Holland-Kaye tell an audience of airport operators that he was “80 per cent” sure that the government would give him the green light on December 11. John got it wrong but at the same event there were signs that Heathrow’s charm offensive was being undermined by one or two key stakeholders.

Willie Walsh who heads up the airport’s flagship carrier said that the UK hub was over charging carriers to fly from there and more tellingly, that the figures for building the third runway quoted in the Davies Commission’s report were so grossly over-inflated that, at that price, they condemned the project to dead duck status.

On the day of the announced delay Walsh continued his attack saying that Heathrow was in danger of becoming a “gold plated” piece of overpriced infrastructure with passengers having to pay double what they are charged now to use the airport. In an interview with the same newspaper he even hinted he may move BA to Dublin or Madrid.

Of course it is not over yet for Heathrow by any means but the airport’s case for expansion is arguably more damaged now than at any stage in the process.

Who else is tarnished by the decision not to make a decision? Sir Howard Davies and his commission, for one. Having spent months and millions sifting through almost every scrap of paper and argument that has ever been put forward on UK airport capacity, this independent inquiry’s work may yet join the list of other reports gathering dust in an archive headed “no action recommended.”

As business leaders and other aviation stakeholders have said this week while tearing their hair out: What was the point of setting up a long winded independent inquiry if you do not act on its findings?

But the biggest loser in all of this is UK aviation policy. Because we still don’t have one. Full stop. The aviation minister has wandered around in the last months mumbling about aircraft noise and people being woken up by the first flight into Heathrow just before dawn. Well minister, that’s London for you. Those of us who live here know all about noise and police helicopters hovering low over our back gardens, congested roads and congestion charging, over-priced and overcrowded commuter trains and ridiculous house prices. But thank goodness for London because without it how would the United Kingdom pay its way in the world? The city is a world class destination that is a hub for business, finance, the arts, culture and much more. That is why it needs a world class hub airport. Currently it doesn’t have one.

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