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Monday 11 June 2012

Boris And A Heathrow U-Turn

While more mud is being slung at the HS2 project, and discussion on aviation is distracted by the Standard talking up the prospects of Boris Island, nobody seems to have noticed that expansion at Heathrow, especially the dreaded Third Runway, is creeping back onto the agenda as lobbyists for BAA, and BA parent company IAG, continue to beaver away behind the scenes.

Heathrow? Cripes chaps, I've been rumbled!

And, while occasional London Mayor Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson has been keeping an unusually low profile on the issue, it seems that he too is on board with the idea, bringing him into alignment with George Osborne and probably Young Dave, once the latter has made his jolly good mind up. Perhaps those displaced will not be particularly interested in voting Tory.

The early signs of revival in options at Heathrow came in March as the Independent picked up on moves to co-opt RAF Northolt into the airport complex: although it is six miles distant, the runway orientation is not too dissimilar to Heathrow. At present, there is only 5,500 feet of usable threshold, but lengthening it would be nothing like as destructive as the proposed Third Runway.

All that would be needed would be a rail link or other rapid transit connection, and some flights could move to Northolt, whose future as an RAF station is at present under review. There has also been thought given in the past to constructing one or two new runways on the site with the exact same orientation as the pair at Heathrow, which might also be put back on the table.

This would not be as operationally desirable as actually having the extra capacity on the Heathrow site, but it could deliver a lot more slots with far less protest, though whether Tory MPs like Zak Goldsmith and Justine Greening would find it acceptable after campaigning against Heathrow expansion is debateable. But it might be preferable to the lobbying for the nuclear option.

This is typified by the Sunday Telegraph’s Kamal Ahmed, who argues that if Osborne is really “pro-business”, then he has to go for the Third Runway, “or at least expanding capacity in the south-east”, which is an interesting form of words, given the Indy’s story. The Tel has also given space to BAA’s CEO, who by the most fortunate of coincidences wants to expand his own largest airport.

Finally has come the news from the deeply subversive Guardian that “The government will not block BAA from submitting proposals for a third Heathrow runway in a forthcoming revamp of policy on aviation hubs”. It’s looking more and more like it could be a “Third Runway” frightener for the locals followed by a Northolt fallback if the RAF can be persuaded to vacate it.

And what of Boris Island? That was possibly just to make folks look the other way.


Tom said...

Northolt isn't *that* suitable, as the runway is at an angle to the Heathrow east-west line and thus the approach paths would cross over, limiting capacity and causing ATC issues. Also it's extremely hard to extend the relatively short runway there to make use by even boring standard 737s and A320s which would be needed for any viable third runway (as a rule I use Southend's extended runway as the benchmark for 'usable small airport', which is 6089 ft). Try adding 600ft plus modern standard overrun areas at each end and you'll see what you hit.

So really the only Northolt option would be to remove the existing runway in favour of a new east-west strip, which could be 6000 feet plus easily. Unfortunately this has a problem with high ground to the west around the Hillingdon/Piccadilly Line area. Also, unlike LHR, both the west and east approaches are over housing. It's not a great solution, if truth be told.

Alex Macfie said...

The best way to free up airport capacity, at least temporarily, would be to make greater use of the Channel Tunnel, which as I have pointed out before is running seriously, nay scandalously, below capacity. By using this spare capacity we could get practically all short-haul air passenger traffic from southeast England to mainland western Europe onto trains, thus freeing up air slots for long-haul flights. All on existing infrastructure. It could happen if only there were the political will to make it happen.

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