I’ve always been a firm supporter of Heathrow’s expansion. As an amateur pilot myself (I have a LAPL), I’ve followed the topic intently for many years. It’s taken over two decades between Heathrow first declaring that they need to expand, to this approval. This is less of a political attack, and more of a reflective point on the way we do things in the UK…
Ministers described the backing for a new runway as a “historic moment” for the UK, and I’m inclined to agree. We’ve needed some good news for a while, and Chris Grayling, has delivered. The decision to renationalise the East Coast Mainline was the correct one (our article on that can be found here), as is this.
Why Heathrow Expansion?
Industry, including aviation, is growing. More people are going on holiday than ever before. International trade is on the rise. The need to export cargo by air has never been greater. The latest figures from this time last year, show that the UK’s aviation industry is now worth £52bn in our overall GDP, 960,000 jobs, and £8.7 billion in tax revenue. 3.4% of the UK’s growing economy comes from aviation, with airports being the largest single contributor from the industry.
So fundamentally, to hold back our aviation industry with a lack of runways, holds back our economy. The amount our aviation industry grows is limited by infrastructure (runways), and this in turn limits the size of our economy.
The current situation
Heathrow is currently operating at 99% of capacity, thereby increasing delay times when flights are disrupted, and risks losing destinations to other competing European airports like Amsterdam Schiphol and Paris Charles de Gaulle. If an airport is operating at maximum capacity, it can no longer give landing slots to airlines that want to land in the UK, and help grow our economy. Again, very basic economics. The more ‘aircraft movements’ in a country, the more it grows, as researched by KfW, a German bank, in a recent study.
There is a global race to secure routes to emerging economies in Asia and South America. Britain needs to compete with other large international airports to secure these routes, and with Heathrow operating at full capacity, it can’t do that. Amsterdam Schiphol is operating at 62% capacity, allowing airlines to start new routes; there is no limit to the amount of growth from aviation Holland can have. Paris Charles de Gaulle is operating at 71% capacity. No other airport in Europe in under as much strain as Heathrow is.
There are more UK airports served by Amsterdam than by Heathrow. From Amsterdam, you can fly to 24 UK destinations. From Heathrow, you can only fly to 7 UK destinations. Let that sink in.
In 2014, £101 billion worth of goods travelled via Heathrow, more than the sea ports of Felixstowe and Southampton combined. 33% of UK long haul export goods travelled through Heathrow in 2014, compared to 0.25% through Gatwick. 120 of the UK’s top 300 most profitable companies are based within 15 miles of Heathrow.
The biggest problem Heathrow seems to have experienced in the past decade or so is what Geographers would call nimbyism, or, ‘not in my back yard…..ism‘. By comparison, and to clarify, I am not condoning the Chinese system, but when China wants to build a new railway, or airport, those who live in the way are given compensation, and told they have 6 months to leave. Of course, deeply unfair for those people, but having said that, it means China ‘gets stuff done’.
Heathrow faces two problems. Nimbysim as mentioned above, and environmentalists. For those environmentalists out there let me explain something to you. Aviation isn’t going away. You can campaign. But it will not go away. Planes will merely get more efficient. Expanding Heathrow future proofs it for the type of aircraft you so crave: ultra fuel efficient ones.
In the past decade, the advancements in aviation fuel efficicieny have been staggering. So staggering in fact, I’m surprised the media don’t cover it.
If we take transatlantic flights as an example. 20 years ago, this was operated by the Boeing 767, which had a fuel burn per 100km per passenger of 3.34l. We know have the Boeing 737MAX, which has a figure of 2.13l. When you scale that up to the number of passengers it carries, and the distance, that is a vast increase in fuel saving.
We need an economy that doesn’t have a ceiling, above which we cannot grow. Like it or not, the region that right now has
- The fastest GDP growth
- The fast wage growth
is Asia, in particular the Far East. We currently export more to Belgium (a country who’s wages basically have’t risen in 10 years), than we do to China. The one thing that might save us from Brexit is trading with the roughly 6.7bn people who live outside the EU. Simple geography is we need planes and ships to do so, instead of the lorries we use to trade with the EU. I hate to use a Tory phrase, but to make the best of Brexit, and to ‘build a Britain fit for the future’, Heathrow must expand. So Labour, I suggest you back it.