London Heathrow’s next challenge

The UK government is under increasing pressure to solve London’s  airport capacity crisis as senior conservatives this week urged prime minister David Cameron to allow building a third runway at London Heathrow Airport (LHR). They, together with business leaders, fear LHR will be overtaken by airports such as Schiphol, Frankfurt and Paris Charles de Gaulle as prime European hubs if no expansion is allowed.

For years, LHR, the UK’s primary hub airport, has been heavily slot-constrained and operates at more than 99% capacity. The Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties, which formed a coalition government in 2010, overturned plans by the previous Labor administration favoring the creation of a third runway at LHR.

According to recent UK newspaper reports, senior conservatives are urging ministers to consider all options, including expansion at LHR, in a forthcoming—and twice-postponed—government review of airport capacity.

Transport Secretary Justine Greening, whose southwest London constituency is affected by noise from aircraft using LHR, opposed this option on a BBC radio broadcast this week. However, Greening could lose her post in an imminent government reshuffle.

In a BBC interview, Greening hinted strongly that a long-term solution was needed to solve the capacity crisis. This would favor a new airport in the Thames Estuary, east of London.

That option is heavily backed by influential London mayor Boris Johnson. The main problem is cost—estimated at some £40 billion ($60 billion), for the airport and a vast new road and rail infrastructure to carry passengers to the relatively remote site.

The cash-strapped British government is unlikely to afford such a sum for the foreseeable future. This would mean looking to the private sector to finance the project. If construction of the third runway does not get approved, however, then alternatives will be discussed.

Credit: ATW Online
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