Heathrow to hand third runway plan to Davies Commission

Heathrow to hand third runway plan to Davies Commission

Heathrow Airport will reveal details of its plan for a third runway later.

The airport will submit its proposal to the Davies Commission, set up by the government to look at raising capacity.

Heathrow chief executive Colin Matthews has already told the commission the UK is at risk of "dropping out of the premier league" of airport hubs.

But environmentalists criticised the plan - and London Mayor Boris Johnson said thinking Heathrow could be the major hub London needed was "crackers".

Just a year ago government officials said the idea of a third runway was "dead and buried", but it is now "very much back on the table", said BBC transport correspondent Richard Westcott

'Four-runway solution'
Heathrow managers are keen to make it happen despite opposition, and competition from Mr Johnson's plans for major airport expansion east or north-east of London.

"If the UK does not want to be left behind by its foreign rivals, it must have the connectivity to compete and trade on the world stage," Mr Matthews said.

"That connectivity can only come from a single hub airport in the right place for taxpayers, passengers and business.

"Only Heathrow can meet all these demands."

David Learmount, of aviation experts Flightglobal, said expanding Heathrow was the "most disastrous" option in terms of air pollution and noise, but it was the best short-term solution.

He said the best long-term options were large hub airports at Gatwick or Stansted, while the Thames Estuary plan could also work but would "take ages" to build.

"The ultimate solution is a four-runway airport that has 24-hour operation, which Heathrow doesn't have," he said.

A hub airport is one used by many passengers for connections to other airports, and Mr Learmount said the UK economy would be "harmed dramatically" if Heathrow expansion were blocked and no replacement hub built.

All airports must submit their plans to the commission by 19 July.

On Monday London Mayor Mr Johnson published details of three possible replacement hubs - an artificial island in the Thames Estuary (dubbed "Boris Island"), a major expansion at Stansted, or an airport at the Isle of Grain in north Kent.

"Ambitious cities all over the world are already stealing a march on us and putting themselves in a position to eat London's breakfast, lunch and dinner by constructing mega airports," he said.

"Those cities have moved heaven and earth to locate their airports away from their major centres of population, in areas where they have been able to build airports with four runways or more."

He added: "Anyone who believes there would be the space to do that at Heathrow, which already blights the lives of hundreds of thousands of Londoners, is quite simply crackers."

'No runways needed'
But Nic Ferriday, of Airport Watch, which opposes airport expansion that might harm the environment, said claims that the UK needs a bigger airport hub "have become a mantra for vested interests based on hype".

"There is currently no shortage of runway capacity in south-east England and more 'interchange' capacity, which is what hubs airports facilitate, has no appreciable economic benefit to the UK," he said.

Friends of the Earth head of campaigns Andrew Pendleton added: "The region doesn't need more airport capacity; London already has more flights to the world's top business centres than any of its European competitors."

The Davies Commission, chaired by Sir Howard Davies, was set up last year to examine "the need for additional UK airport capacity and recommend to government how this can be met in the short, medium and long term".

It is expected to recommend options by the end of this year, but will not submit its final report until summer 2015 - after the next general election.