Airlines and travel management companies are backing plans for a third runway at Heathrow over London mayor Boris Johnson’s Thames estuary option.
The Board of Airline Representatives (Bar UK) in the UK said Heathrow’s three options for a third runway at the existing London hub made the mayor’s proposals “look totally unaffordable to airlines and passengers”.
The Guild of Travel Management Companies urged the government to approve the expansion of Heathrow to “enable our businesses to directly access emerging markets”.
Heathrow Airport Holdings claimed its three options – for a third runway built either to the north, northwest or southwest of the existing airport – were “quicker and cheaper” than any rival hub option.
A third Heathrow runway – with the westerly suggestions offering “clear advantages” – would deliver extra capacity by 2025-9 and for between £14 billion and £18 billion.
Each option would raise the capacity at Heathrow to 740,000 flights a year from the current limit of 480,000 and cater for 130 million passengers, which would “provide capacity at the UK’s hub airport for the foreseeable future”.
“All three put millions more people within easy reach of the UK’s hub airport than non-Heathrow options and all three protect the thriving businesses and plentiful jobs that surround Heathrow,” it claimed.
Heathrow chief executive Colin Matthews, putting forward the proposals to the Airport Commission, said: “After half a century of vigorous debate but little action, it is clear the UK desperately needs a single hub airport with the capacity to provide the links to emerging economies which can boost UK jobs, GDP and trade.
“It is clear that the best solution for taxpayers, passengers and business is to build on the strength we already have at Heathrow.
“We are showing how that vision can be achieved whilst keeping the impact on local residents to an absolute minimum.”
Bar UK chief executive Dale Keller said: “Boris’s figures of up to £70 billion or more do not stack up well against the Heathrow plans of £14 billion to £18 billion, that can be delivered sooner and at a cost that can potentially be funded primarily by airlines and passengers, not the UK taxpayer.
“We have now seen major proposals from the mayor, Heathrow and Gatwick, in advance of the Airports Commission deadline this Friday.
“A survey of Bar UK airlines revealed that 89.8% favour expansion of Heathrow with only one airline known to support a new airport in the Thames Estuary.
“Airlines are also not rushing en masse to support expansion of Gatwick instead of Heathrow, since 47.83% indicated they are most likely to operate to another international hub or destination if they cannot get slots at Heathrow, thereby putting London’s hub status at risk.”
He added: “This debate is not a battle between Heathrow and the rest of the UK’s airports, but a battle between Heathrow and the other international hubs vying to topple London from its enviable position as the world’s leading aviation hub.
“Bar UK has not seen any proposal so far that can deliver the UK’s hub airport capacity quicker, at the right cost, or in the right place for airlines and their passengers, better than expanding Heathrow.”
GTMC chief executive Paul Wait said a poll of 1,000 frequent business travellers from the south east showed almost 80% backing increased capacity in the region.
When asked to give a single preference for the means of increasing capacity, more than half (51%) said a third runway at Heathrow with only 17% saying a new airport.
“Proximity to the airport of choice, either home or office, was also deemed crucial and not surprisingly Heathrow was the most convenient for the majority of those surveyed,” said Wait.
“The survey also showed that 23% of business travellers cannot reach directly the places they want to do business in,” he added.
“Not only does this mean inefficient switching of planes in rival hubs but also has implications for the economy as a whole – research indicates that businesses trade 20 times more with emerging economies where there is a daily flight, while transport links and ease of access are major factors in foreign companies deciding where to locate their European HQs.
“With these points in mind we welcome Heathrow’s plans to add more capacity to our only hub airport and urge government to give the green light to proposals that will enable our businesses to directly access emerging markets. It is time these self-imposed barriers to trade were removed.”
Gatwick would prefer “a constellation system of three London airports – keeping Heathrow open, whilst building an additional runway at Gatwick, and then perhaps in time a new runway at Stansted”.
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