30 November 2022, Virtual
12 December 2022, etc.venues Monument, London
Business Travel Show Europe, presented by The BTN
Lord (Clive) Soley is the former Labour MP for Hammersmith, and now campaign director for Future Heathrow, an alliance of trade unions, business groups, airlines and professional associations which support the airport”s sustainable modernisation.
”It”s another hot summer”s day at Heathrow. As the temperature climbs, so do the numbers packed into the airport. A record August is expected with nearly 6.5m people, mostly on well-earned holidays, tramping through the crowded corridors. Tourism industry leaders are already urging Heathrow”s new owners, Grupo Ferrovial, to improve the airport experience for both UK travellers and visitors from overseas.Bob Cotton, chief executive of the British Hospitality Association, describes the state of our national hub as ”pretty awful and deteriorating”.
What is absolutely clear is Heathrow needs more room to breathe - not just for perspiring travellers, but for aircraft. The biggest cause of passenger complaint is delay ” and the vast majority of flight delays stem from inadequate infrastructure. A congested airfield means extra minutes spent stacking in the air, being held at taxiway points on the ground, or waiting for aircraft stands to clear. Late inbound aircraft result in late outbound aircraft. And when their ”plane finally pushes back, passengers feel their frustration rising again as they begin the long crawl along the taxiways in the queue for a take-off slot. About a third of all Heathrow departures take off more than 15 minutes late. This is the worst record of any airport in the UK, and significantly worse than any other major European hub.
The heart of this problem is lack of runway capacity. All the other main Continental hubs have more than Heathrow”s two runways. Amsterdam has five, Paris Charles de Gaulle four, Madrid four and Frankfurt three (with a fourth on the way). In worldwide terms, Heathrow stumbles on in the lowly two-strip bracket alongside the national hubs of Iran and Brazil. Only Mexico fares worse. This is an alarming position. We cannot hope to maintain London”s status as a world-class business centre, supporting millions of jobs across the country, unless we provide the world-class air links that businesses need in a global economy.
At the heart of any high-quality air network is the hub airport, attracting sufficient transfer passengers to maintain routes that otherwise would be unviable. A genuine worldwide network of routes gives businesses convenient access to markets, suppliers and investors. Shortage of runway capacity results in a shrinking network, as financial pressures force carriers to devote their scarce slots to the most profitable routes. The total of destinations served from Heathrow has fallen by 12% since 1990. Heathrow”s current tally of non-stop routes stands at 180. Amsterdam offers 222, Paris 223 and Frankfurt 262.
Even Munich, Germany”s second hub, has overtaken Heathrow this summer with direct flights to 204 destinations. Unless firm action is taken now to increase runway capacity, the once-undisputed No. 1 airport in Europe will find itself struggling to stay in the top ten. The impact of Heathrow”s decline is felt particularly in the UK regions. The ever-tightening squeeze on slots has resulted in the disappearance of connecting flights to parts of Scotland, the North and the South West, which are desperate for the best possible transport links to attract inward investment. That is why the regional development agencies support Heathrow as the priority for runway development.
I believe Heathrow must be allowed full utilisation of its existing runways, and the addition of a third. According to the Government, a short third runway would deliver a net benefit to the national economy of at least ”8bn a year ” a far higher return than a runway at any other location. Of course, environmental concerns must be addressed. As a long-term west London resident, I am fully aware of the importance of the noise and air quality issues. I am adamant that the Government should stick to its requirement that the noise contour around Heathrow should be no bigger with a third runway than it was in 2002. I am also confident that the forthcoming EU limit on nitrogen dioxide pollution can be satisfied. Most of these emissions around Heathrow are caused by road traffic, not aircraft. As the Department for Transport”s technical report on air quality has shown, NO2 emissions have been falling steadily and are not as serious a problem for airport expansion as was first thought. Some critics say Heathrow should not be allowed to grow because of the potential impact on climate change.
There is no doubt that global warming is a very serious issue. But it demands a response that will reduce total carbon emissions from all industries and all areas of human activity across the world. Aviation”s share of global CO2 is small, and anyone who thinks they can solve global warming just by crippling aviation is deluding themselves. Emissions trading is the best way forward for the industry as a whole, but I believe Heathrow can set an example for airports by reducing ground-level emissions to an absolute minimum. There is much more that can be done to power ground vehicles by alternative fuels and generate electricity for airport buildings from renewable sources. The case for the sustainable expansion of Heathrow is overwhelming. I look to Heathrow”s new owners to show much-needed vigour and commitment in pursuit of the increased runway capacity that is crucial to the airport”s future. Then at last passengers will be able to look forward to the national hub they deserve.”
Editor”s Note: Whilst fundamentally agreeing with Lord Soley it must be emphasised that in spite of its inadequacies Heathrow still easily leads as the world”s busiest international airport, and London, that is City, Gatwick, Luton and Stansted is by a significant amount the hub of the world”s airlines. The A380 is a Heathrow aircraft and more will be operating from LHR in 2009 than the rest of the world put together. Whilst other airports do have more runways these are not necessarily operational at the same time. And when it comes to a loss of destinations, which is worrying, LHR utterly dominates when it comes to frequencies even to opening markets such as China.