Debate heats up over future of London airports

Marion Dakers
THE FUTURE of London’s airport capacity will move back into the spotlight this week as Heathrow prepares to make a fresh push to build a third runway, and Boris Johnson moves to distance himself from plans to build an airport in the Thames Estuary.

Heathrow is expected to tell the government’s aviation commission that it needs to expand to compete with other European hubs.

The busiest airport in Europe, which sees 70m passengers a year travel through its halls, was blocked from going ahead with a new runway when the coalition came to power in 2010.

But the airport hopes the Davies Commission, which is looking at long-term options for air travel in Britain, will recommend expansion at the site.

The airport’s submission will pledge to hold off on a fourth runway until at least 2040, according to the Sunday Telegraph. Heathrow said in March that growing demand for air travel warrants a third runway immediately, but that the case for a fourth is less clear.

The airport, owned by Spanish conglomerate Ferrovial, is also expected to dismiss mixed mode – the practice of using existing runways for simultaneous take-offs and landings in order to cram in more flights per day. Department for Transport figures show there will be 11m a year of unmet passenger demand at Heathrow by 2020.

Meanwhile Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, is expected to pull back from plans to build an airport in the Thames Estuary – the so-called Boris Island – in favour of a site on the nearby Isle of Grain, in north Kent.

Johnson will today set out his three preferred options for a new hub in the east of London ahead of a full submission to the Davies Commission later in the week. The Commission, tasked by the government with examining the future of British air travel last year, will make preliminary findings this year and a final recommendation in 2015.

It held its first public hearings last week, in which Heathrow boss Colin Matthews warned the UK could lose its status as a major European hub if his airport was not allowed to expand.