London airports to get new runways

 - January 29, 2007, 10:31 AM

The British government has cleared the way for new runways to be built at London Heathrow and Stansted Airports. In a long-awaited white paper released on December 15, transport secretary Alistair Darling provisionally approved the construction of a second runway at Stansted Airport in the 2011 to 2012 time frame and the addition of a fourth Heathrow runway in the 2015 to 2020 period.

The Labour administration has also backed the case for additional new runways at Birmingham International Airport in central England and at either Edinburgh or Glasgow Airports in Scotland. Runway extensions are to be permitted at Liverpool, Cardiff, Derry and Bristol Airports.

At the same time, plans for completely new airport developments at Cliffe in southeast England and at Coventry in the Midlands region have been rejected.

However, new or enlarged terminal developments have been provisionally approved for the airports at Manchester, Liverpool, Cardiff, Bristol, Aberdeen, Dundee, Glasgow, Prestwick, Leeds Bradford, Bournemouth and Tees-side. Heathrow might also get a sixth terminal, even after the protracted row over planning permission for the fifth terminal that is now being built.

Darling insisted that the proposed new runway at Heathrow will receive final approval only if private-sector airport operator BAA can meet as yet unspecified “tough new environmental restrictions” relating to nitrous oxide engine emissions and the noise footprint around the airport. He indicated that if these goals are not met, then the government might instead approve the construction of a second runway at London Gatwick Airport after 2019, when a legally binding commitment not to pursue this development expires.

In a bid to appease critics in the environmental lobby, the UK government has said that it will push for the introduction of new sliding-scale financial penalties on operators of noisier and more polluting aircraft, as well as an emissions-trading system that would essentially allow carriers to buy and sell engine emissions quotas. However, as with long-standing proposals to tax commercial aviation fuel, Darling said that any new environmental restrictions would have to be agreed multilaterally with other countries. Environmentalists and local opponents of the various airport developments dismissed these concessions and immediately promised to block the plans with protracted legal challenges.

For the most part, the UK business aviation community will not be greatly affected by the runway developments. Since the abolition of ad hoc slots at Heathrow Airport in 1999, it has been almost impossible to operate business aircraft into London’s main gateway and since the airlines will swallow up any available extra capacity this situation is not expected to change. However, the additional runway at Stansted could provide some relief from the threat of corporate operators being squeezed out of this airport by the growing volume of flights operated by low-cost airlines.

The European Regions Airline Association said it welcomed the go-ahead for regional airport developments. However, it said that the addition of a new runway at Heathrow should not be deferred until 2015 and condemned the government for not clearing the way for another runway at Gatwick.