Decision on UK airport capacity expansion draws close

With a decision due on the future of UK airport capacity over the coming weeks, Heathrow and Gatwick airports have begun to ramp up their campaigns to convince politicians to back their proposals and airfreight is playing a central role in the debate.
In July, the Airports Commission finally published its long-awaited recommendation on where and how the UK should develop its airport capacity.
It considered three schemes for expansion: a new 3,500 m runway at Heathrow, an extension of the existing northern runway at Heathrow, or a new runway at Gatwick Airport.
In the end it backed the controversial plans for a third runway at Heathrow. Almost immediately the political debate over whether the government should follow through with the commission’s recommendation began, with senior politicians speaking out against the Heathrow plan.
Shortly after the announcement was made, UK prime minister David Cameron said a decision would be made by the end of the year.
With that time drawing near, both Gatwick and Heathrow have stepped up their PR campaigns with cargo at the centre of the debate.
In early November, Heathrow announced it would invest £180m to “revolutionise” the UK hub’s airfreight facilities, including a new pharma storage area, in order to double freight volumes within 15 years to 3m tonnes.
It will also develop better infrastructure to reduce congestion and smoother processes, all enabling freight to flow better through the airport and halving process time from 8-9 hours, to four hours.
In addition, freight forwarders using Heathrow will benefit from air to air transit – a facility located on the airfield which will enable smoother handling of transit cargo that arrives by air and is due to fly out by air. This will shorten connection times from a current average of 6+ hours.
The airport intends to become 100% e-freight ready – working with businesses, airlines, IATA, Customs and the UK Department for Transport to "fully implement e-freight at Heathrow". And there will also be a new truck parking facility.
But within a month of the plans being announced, Gatwick hit back, pointing out the extra trucks on the road would increase pollution.
“With no plans to transport freight by rail, the airport’s plans can only be delivered by introducing 850 additional heavy vehicles to local roads each morning peak hour by 2030 – according to Airports Commission figures,” Gatwick said.
On October 30 it took nitrogen dioxide (NO2) readings in the Heathrow area and found they reached 102.51 micrograms (per cubic meter of air).
“The annual legal limit is 40 micrograms,” said Gatwick “Air quality remains an impediment to the expansion of Heathrow, as it was in 2003 and again in 2010.
“The Airports Commission did not properly analyse the impact additional freight would have on air quality around Heathrow adding to the catalogue of flaws in its final report.”
Gatwick added that it currently operates “well within EU air quality limits” and, while expansion would potentially deliver a tenfold increase in freight capacity, this can be done “without breaching the legal air quality limits that the Heathrow area continually breaches today”.
It said breaking up Heathrow’s “monopoly” would also offer UK exporters “real competition for the first time – lowering costs while minimising the impact on the environment”.
Heathrow though insists it will conform to European air quality limits. This will achieved by offering improved rail transport to passengers and possibly the introduction of an airport congestion charge.

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