After all the farrago a year or two back about London's Heathrow Airport needing a third runway the idea was canned because (a) it was too expensive, (b) there was huge opposition and (c) frankly the business case was fragile.
But the idea has now reared it's head again, in spades! A group of MPs is promoting the idea that Heathrow needs not just a third but also a fourth runway. Moreover they are suggesting that the third runway should be built to the south and west of the airport over the villages of Bedfont and Stanwell thus destroying even more housing than the previously suggested site to the north. (GOK how this would be done as where there isn't housing in the way there are a couple of humongous great reservoirs!)
When are these people going to wake up and realise that there is no necessity, and I suggest no good business case, for expanding London's airports? Just as it has now emerged that there is no persuasive business case for the proposed HS2 rail link.
Yes Heathrow runs close to capacity in terms of flights. But I know from experience many of those flights are far from full. And Heathrow's passenger numbers have been stable at around 66.5M a year (plus/minus 5%) for the last 12 years. (The Olympic blip in volumes excepted; but that is a one-off, hopefully never to be repeated.)
London does not need airport expansion — and that doesn't just mean Heathrow, it means all of them. Indeed I suggest that few places really need airport expansion. There are a number of factors mitigating against the expansion of air travel:
1. Business doesn't need air travel as much as it used to. In the last 10 years I worked I travelled very little despite running teams of geographically spread project managers and technicians on million dollar projects. Unless you need to physically have your hands on something, just about everything can be accomplished by telephone- or video-conferencing, instant messaging and email. Yes it may need some companies to invest in a small bubble of technology, but their savings in travel expense (and remember it isn't just air fares, it's hotels, taxis, car hire, meals, non-productive time ...) will likely pay for that in the first year. By constraining travel my former employer saved many multi-millions of pounds a year just in the UK. This is money industry cannot afford to spend in a recession when there are acceptable alternatives available.
2. Air travel is an environmental cost the planet cannot afford. It is a major polluter which can, and to my mind should, be reduced. And that's aside from the environmental damage which would be caused by any expansion of the huge areas of tarmac.
3. How many people in these constrained times really have the money for significant amounts of (especially long-haul) air travel? Few airlines are managing to make useful profits from air fares. And it is going to get worse as the recession bites harder.
Airport expansion is not the answer. Sound business and financial judgement and management is. Isn't sound and honest judgement what we pay our leaders for?