When politics shouldn’t come into it. Heathrow’s third runway – By Alex Stockler

30 May

Heathrow is London’s enfant terrible. Delays, crowds, queues, and cancellations are all daily features of the centre of UK, and some say world aviation.  Almost all of the problems that Heathrow faces could be solved by one thing, building a third runway.  However, there is one slight problem. No party wants to be the one to finally give the idea a green light; it would be political suicide. Why? Primarily NIMBY syndrome, and also a fair whack of environmentalism. Yet, I’ll bet anything that all politicians (except perhaps the green party) want to do it.

Politicians have good reason to have a secret desire for the third runway. In order to have a successful economy in today’s globalized society, you have to have good air links to trading partners. Take China for example. The airports in Frankfurt, Amsterdam and Paris have anywhere between 10 and 20 more weekly flights to China than Heathrow and what is happening? Those countries are getting increased business from the far East. But it isn’t just China; Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia to name just a few. The economic loss we are experiencing by not having these air links can be valued not in the millions of pounds, as many anti-Heathrow nuts would have you believe, but in the billions, in addition to the drop in world’s opinion of us as a trading power.

“Surely, if there was such a need for flights to these places, the airlines would fly there!” I hear you yell. While this argument may seem valid, the airlines cannot. In order to fly to or from any airport, an airline has to purchase a landing and take off ‘slot. Heathrow simply does not have any of those spots left. The airport needs to keep some free spots to allow for delays. Currently  it operates at over 99% capacity. This is the reason why it takes Heathrow so long to recover after a major weather episode (such as dense fog);there simply is no wiggle room.

As they are so rare, the slots are highly prized by airlines and can be traded for millions of pounds. The chairman of BAA recently sited that a pair cost £25m. So rare are these slots that British Airways’ parent company, IAG, recently purchased an entire airline in order to acquire their slots at Heathrow. Yet Amsterdam, Paris and Frankfurt all have excess capacity (primarily developed through building new runways) and are attracting flights to the growing economies.

None of the alternatives suggested are particularly viable. Expanding the existing airports won’t be the same unless Heathrow were to close completely. Airlines all like being at the same airport as their partners and as Heathrow is the most important airport in London, that is where they want to congregate. As long as Heathrow remains open, that is where the air traffic will want to go.

I’m a big fan of Boris Johnson, but building a new airport is just stupid. Not only will it cost a significant amount more than building a third runway, but the environmental impact will be huge, particularly if it is built in the Thames estuary. You think the NIMBY effect is large now? Just wait until the people of Kent have their say…

Overall, yes, there are significant arguments against a third runway at Heathrow that one can get very caught up in. Sometimes you just have to shake your head, give yourself a slap and realize that without it, our economy will only suffer and none of the alternatives will provide as cost effective a solution as a runway would. The fact that this has become a political issue is no big surprise (as it is a fairly easy way to court votes). But sometimes, an issue has to be apolitical. In a time where the economy is so stretched, anything that is beneficial should become apolitical, particularly if it is of long term benefit. The third runway debate should be an open and shut case.


One Response to “When politics shouldn’t come into it. Heathrow’s third runway – By Alex Stockler”

  1. The International Political Forum May 30, 2012 at 5:25 pm #

    Check out the debate that is happening on Reddit!


    Do you agree? Feel free to post comments in the thread section on the website!

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