Archive for November 2011

A London Airport Solution?

I wonder if we will ever get one. Recent discussions gyrate rather like a manic tango. You know how it goes, striding forward only to come to a dramatic halt, a frenzied shake of the head, and then lunging back again.

Everyone with a brain in their head knows a solution has to be found. In truth many also realise that it is nearly already too late to stop the UK slipping down the major trading nations success chart. One thing for certain is the UK should be ashamed of its current airport infrastructure and the inefficiency, inconvenience and downright embarrassment of it all.

Can you honestly see it happening anywhere else in world? I can’t. Even in the most heavily populated countries they still prioritise and act on making sure their airport infrastructure is prepared for the future. Some simply take the flack and build more runways at existing airports whilst some construct huge islands with fast city links. What do we do? We find solutions, discuss them, semi-commit and then back off for socio, environmental and/or political reasons.

Of course solving our air infrastructure crisis (yes it is one) will upset someone be they people, birds, voles or snails, that’s obvious. And of course it will take time which we are just about run out of but goodness me it has to happen. We all know that don’t we. Or there is the other option and that is give up our place as a major global, political and trading nation. Do we want to give that up and resign ourselves to being a second world nation?

So what are the options available to us? There won’t be any more new ones cropping up so, if we do anything it will be one of the following:

Island in the estuary. Great idea and it has been done before in places like Hong Kong. Remember them? They had this overcrowded airport in the city (sounds familiar?) so they started from scratch far enough away to get the lowest resistance and then built a superb city link by road and rail. It cost them mega money but hey it provided jobs, appeased the majority and ensures they have few problems in future.

Expand one of the existing London airports. I guess it would work…in the short term. But look at the charade that was the last attempt to put that much needed extra runway at Heathrow. What a waste of time and money that was. A ‘no brainer’ that turned out to be nothing of the sort. We can be so darn democratic in this country that we stifle the life out of ourselves.

The third option is the one I favour. Why? Because I think it is the only one that could possibly drag itself through the mire of politics and protest. This solution is to turn the airports of Heathrow, Stanstead and Gatwick into one mega hub. I have been advocating this for years but let me remind you.

The key fact that will never change under the current structure is that the vast majority of people want to fly out of Heathrow. This is because of its proximity to London, its interlining capability and its catchment area. Gatwick and worse Stanstead will never match it, unless they link up to form one big seamless interlinking airport. This would need superfast links from each location and its terminals to the other parts of the hub.

Is such a solution practical and what good would it do? Yes, I think it could work. I am not an engineer but looking at what has been done with superfast rail links and channel tunnel connections to London I think it can. What it will allow is the efficient usage of existing runway space plus a spreading of the Heathrow load across a bigger base. The customer will be able to transfer airports as though they were moving from one terminal to another. With minimal hassle and maximum speed. In effect each of the three airports become a ‘terminal’ of the new ‘Super Airport’.

I put this forward again as a compromise not a solution. The solution is obvious and would involve building an airport in the Thames Estuary. The compromise solves a short/medium term problem but will ultimately require new runways being built. Although we could do nothing I suppose. Or is that really an option?

Think I am nuts? Well tell me why and I will publish it. Same goes if you agree.