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Tuesday 22 November 2011

Oo-Er Readers, Free Airport Publicity!

The campaign by occasional London mayor – and regular collector of “chicken feed” from the Maily Telegraph – Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson to have a new airport built somewhere out in the Thames estuary is gaining speed, and unlike the HS2 project, Astroturf lobby groups like the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA) are nowhere to be seen, despite the £50 billion price tag.

This raising of the idea’s profile has been achieved almost exclusively by the very paper that hands Bozza a quarter of a million notes a year for a column a week of poorly researched pontificating, with three pieces on the project yesterday alone. One even included a video of Bozza not mentioning price-tags, the SS Richard Montgomery, or the property developers slavering in the background.

Because Bozza’s phrase “the prize would be immense” does not just refer to what is nowadays called the “Thames Gateway” area. Were he to get his way, his all-new airport would have enough capacity to allow Heathrow to be closed. And Heathrow is a mightily big site. It’s connected to the M4 and the Tube. And you could plonk one hell of a lot of real estate on it.

And it isn’t the only “let’s move the airport out of town” idea being floated across Europe’s capital cities: although the economic downturn has stalled the idea, the move to build a new airport for Lisbon out to the east of the city, while abandoning Portela de Sacavém – which will soon have a Metro link – means the developers will be queuing up there too, if a little later than planned.

This kind of idea generates wins for almost everyone bar the long suffering traveller: a new build airport means more space, its isolation means premium fare rail and coach links (the coach operators hated it when the DLR got to London City Airport), and there could even be a toll road deal in it for some lucky developer. Oh, and nice steady high fare taxi rides.

How might that work? Well, consider the city of Milan, which has two airports, Linate (7km from the city centre) and Malpensa (40km to the north west). You can get out to Linate on a city bus and the fare is the same as for any other local journey, €1.50. The Malpensa express rail link will set you back €11, while that operator’s normal tariff for a 40km journey is just €3.75, or €5.60 first class. Ker-ching!

Which airport do most carriers use (including EasyJet)? Why, Malpensa, of course. There’s lots of room for everyone ... to make money. Bozza can look at the example of Milan and dream of helping his pals to fill their boots. There is, though, that price tag to get over, and with clearing the Richard Montgomery thrown in, it could cost a lot more than £50 billion. Yikes readers!

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