The battle for Heathrow Runway 3 is not yet won
02 / 07 / 2015
Freight industry and business leaders welcomed the Airports Commission’s recommendation to build a third runway at Heathrow, but warned that there was still a long way to go before the plan becomes a reality.
The British International Freight Association (BIFA) backed its call to push ahead with the expansion of aviation capacity.
Director general, Robert Keen, said: "Over the past decades, successive UK governments have shown a singular lack of vision in the face of a massive surge in air transport and consequent pressure on existing airport infrastructure in the south east.”
"BIFA’s hope is that the recommendation delivered in today’s report moves things forward in regard to getting started on an expansion of UK aviation hub capacity.
"It is now time for everyone, including politicians of all parties, to pull together in the national interest and support the bold plans to expand and improve airport infrastructure at Heathrow in order to maintain the UK’s position as Europe’s most important aviation hub. We trust that today’s report will finally lead to some action."
The Commission’s recommendations are in no way binding on the Government and the third runway could face some tough political opposition, including many leading lights in the current Conservative government.
In an interview with Air Cargo News, Keen added: “We are very encouraged by the report. It is beautifully researched and came to the only logical conclusion.”
One proviso in the Commission’s recommendations is a ban on night flights, but Keen pointed out that there are already many restrictions on these and that a slight adjustment to schedules would not significantly affect Heathrow’s almost exclusively passenger bellyhold traffic.
Building of the third runway to the north of the existing pair should not directly impinge directly on existing cargo activity at Heathrow, which is concentrated to the south and west of the airport area, Keen pointed out.
BIFA has also taken a strong interest in plans to rebuild Heathrow’s existing cargo area. “The terminal was built in the 1960s, and was badly designed anyway,” said Keen.
However, much cargo activity such as pallet preparation, has tended to move off-airport in any case to locations such as Dnata City, he pointed out.
At the Freight Transport Association, director of global and European policy, Chris Welsh said: “It is reassuring that Sir Howard has reviewed all the evidence and concluded that a third runway at Heathrow is the best option, ensuring the UK remains competitive in the global air freight market.”
He told Air Cargo News: “The Commission didn’t go for the soft option.” He added: “The Davies Report is the most comprehensive analysis of any air transport system in the world. “This is an evidence-based approach and anyone making a decision other than the recommendations would clearly be making a suboptimal one.
“If a Prime Minister and Cabinet decided to do something else, they would be showing their personal prejudices,” Welsh said.
He played down suggestions that Heathrow’s third runway could run into serious political opposition.
“The previous coalition government (which included the Conservative party, now in sole power following the recent general election) actually commissioned the report and David Cameron has done what he should have done, whatever his own personal views are. And he did select a person of substance to write it – Sir Howard Davies is a former governor of the Bank of England, after all,” Welsh commented.
Airfreight had been central to the report’s conclusions, he added, in no small part due to FTA and other industry groups’ lobbying efforts.
FTA had published its own ‘Sky High Value’ report on airport capacity in the south east and commissioned a further by York Aviation, both of which confirmed Heathrow as a vital hub for air cargo and underlined that a failure to invest in new runway capacity would result in UK exporters and importers losing competitive edge to continental competitors and services transferring to European airports.
This, and other lobbying, had helped the Commission make up its mind; in its earlier interim report, it had appeared “somewhat equivocal” on the hub concept and appeared to be considering the development of airports other than Heathrow, said Chris Welsh.
He agreed that the existing Heathrow cargo area needed rebuilding and reconfiguring, regardless of the eventual decision on the new runway; in fact, Chris Welsh is a member of the stakeholder group that is reviewing the airport’s cargo needs.
“It’s encouraging that Heathrow has appointed a director of freight who has senior board backing, and freight is getting a louder voice both at the airport and among the airlines.
“But the Horseshoe Road area (Heathrow’s original core cargo area) hasn’t changed at all in 15 years and irrespective of the runway decision, there needs to be a major reinvestment.”
In an earlier interview with ACN’s sister title, Freighters World, Heathrow’s recently appointed head of cargo, Nick Platts, said that a new runway would require the airport’s existing cargo capacity to be substantially beefed up – but cargo volumes are on the increase anyway with new higher bellyhold capacity A350 and 777X passenger aircraft. Platts said he was anxious to improve ton the current 8-9 hour dwell time for cargo passing through Heathrow.
Other industry groups were, predictably, enthusiastic about the Commission’s recommendations.
The Baltic Air Charter Association said it “wholeheartedly supports” its findings and called for construction to go ahead as soon as possible, with any objections dealt with quickly and resolved within a time limit of three months.
BACA pointed out that the UK is lagging in the race to expand its airports; many hubs on the Continent already have three, four or even five runways.
The Institute of Directors (IoD) said there was “a clear business case for a new runway, with only 3% of our members believing that our current airport infrastructure is sufficient to ensure the UK’s long-term economic growth. Access to markets overseas is absolutely vital for firms to trade.”
Director general, Simon Walker, said: “This is the issue that has been kicked down the road time and again, but there can now be no further delay from politicians.
“Sir Howard has left the government with no excuse to put off this vital decision again, and if ministers do not proceed with all possible speed it will send a clear signal that the UK is not interested in being a modern, outward-looking, trading nation.”
Chief executive of the Board of Airline Representatives, Dale Keller, echoed calls for the momentum generated by the report to be maintained.
He said: “The Government now needs to evaluate the independent findings of the Airports Commission and to expediently act upon their recommendations.
“Now is the time for everyone, including politicians of all parties, to pull together in the national interest and support the bold plans to expand and improve airport infrastructure at Heathrow in order to maintain the UK’s position as Europe’s most important aviation hub.”
And John Cridland, director general of the employers’ organisation, CBI, said: “Now that Sir Howard’s Commission has made its recommendation, the Government must commit to the decision now, and get diggers in the ground at Heathrow swiftly by 2020.
“Growing airport capacity in the South East is absolutely critical to the whole of the UK’s economic future – it simply isn’t an optional ‘nice to do’.
“Each day the Government delays taking the decision, the UK loses out as our competitors reap the rewards and strengthen their trade links.
“Creating new routes to emerging markets will open doors to trade, boosting growth, creating jobs and driving investment right across the country. Our research shows that eight new daily routes alone could boost exports by up to £1 billion a year.”