12 December 2022, etc.venues Monument, London
Business Travel Show Europe, presented by The BTN
21 November, London Hilton Metropole
The consultation period on airports was supposed to close for submissions on Saturday with the White Paper published next April. This government of indecision has now delayed the whole process because of what is likely to be known as ”The Gatwick Factor” (see UK Airport Expansion below). That Mr Blair”s Cabinet has postponed any verdict has come as no surprise. What we were waiting for was an excuse. Now they have found it following Terminal Five, Wembley Stadium, The Dome and the national athletics track at Pickets Lock, all judgments that took for ever and were probably wrong. Meantime even Helsinki gets another runway, Paris another airport, and Frankfurt more investment.
Perhaps not all is lost. Everyone accepts we have to look after the environment and too many runways is not the answer either. Even Ryanair”s Michael O”Leary has said that the dramatic growth cannot be sustained. In the 1920s railway passenger numbers stagnated. Supply had met demand. It could happen in the air transport industry too.
But let us consider another option that has hardly raised its head in the long debate. What about trying to increase the passenger load per aircraft. Hardly any more fuel, virtually no extra noise, and far more economic in terms of airline operation. Birmingham Airport averaged 69 passengers per flight last year, Stansted 90 and Heathrow, what is in effect is paltry 140.
The new Airbus A380 can carry 550 passengers, a current Boeing 747 400, and even the ”milk run” Boeing 737-300, 150 air travellers. If Birmingham gained more Dash 300 size aircraft it could double its passenger traffic without a single extra movement. Likewise, Luton and Stansted. Runway capacity would be no problem and the airport would not only save money but make more money. Heathrow too. With aircraft matched to size and frequency 100m passengers would be child”s play. No extra movements and no extra noise. T5 is on its way and hopefully T3 will be pulled down and rebuilt. The anti-airplane movement could pack up and go home and continue taking their cheap flights from alternative centres. Perhaps the only fly in the ointment is British Airways, who under the previous management took the strange decision to swop its 180-seat Boeing 757 fleet for 130-seat Airbus machines. Written down aircraft for brand new ones and a significant reduction in passengers per movement. The present incumbents have never explained the rationale or logic of the policy.
Alistair Darling, Transport Secretary, has given us a six month breather. Let us hope that during that time some real common sense will prevail. It might be a blessing in disguise.