Neither men nor mice need a bigger Heathrow


11:48 am - August 28th 2012

by Dave Osler    


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Let’s not be hypocritical here; like most Londoners who go on holiday, take weekend breaks, and travel for work, I use Heathrow several times a year. But not when I can possibly avoid it, though.

I vastly prefer Eurostar for meetings in Brussels and Paris, and as I live only a bus ride from Euston, it works out quicker to catch the train to Edinburgh or Glasgow.

When I need to visit Rotterdam, London City comes in handy. If I have to pay for a flight from my own pocket, I normally end up with one of the cheaper carriers operating out of Luton or Gatwick, anyway.

But for intercontinental routes, there is often no realistic alternative to a 30-mile taxi schlepp across the capital in the early hours of the morning, in order to arrive – bleary-eyed and the mandatory two hours ahead of departure – at LHR.

Passenger facilities rarely extend to the provision of somewhere comfortable to sit. Frequently I find myself propping up the bar or buying stuff I don’t need in some of the numerous ‘tax free’ retail outlets, largely out of sheer boredom.

So, as you can probably gather, I am not a fan. The logic of the proposition that making Heathrow any bigger will in any way make it better – or, in the jargon, ‘enhance passenger experience’ – is beyond me. BAA is patently incapable of ensuring the smooth running of the five terminals that are there now.

The mounting clamour for the government to overturn a Conservative election manifesto pledge and the Coalition agreement in order to give the go-ahead for a sixth terminal and a third runway strikes me as completely misguided.

In particular, it is strange for a former environment minister to frame the proposal to David Cameron in terms of an explicit ‘man or mouse’ challenge to his Thatcherite machismo. This looks suspiciously like special pleading on behalf of the aviation industry.

If there is any evidence that existence of direct flights to provincial China will give British business travellers any advantage that they cannot gain by flying from another hub airport elsewhere in Europe, I have yet to see it. If that adds a few hours to travel time, so be it.

And whatever prejudices we lefties may harbour towards the residents of Surrey, the claim that the whole of the county could be covered in runways without increasing emissions by a single kilogram is patently ‘stay off the crack pipe’ stuff.

Then there is the question of the quality of life for those that live in the area, which suffers enormously from the constant noise, even as things stand now.

The truth is that, rather than facilitating ever growing numbers of flights – and a third runway at Heathrow will boost capacity by 222,0000 flights a year, according to the last estimates I saw – we need to be looking at ways of reducing the demand for air travel altogether.

Some of the means that this could be achieved – ranging from promotion of videoconferencing to the construction of high speed rail routes – are relatively painless.

Others, such as George Monbiot’s call for a ration on entitlement to flights, will no doubt hurt if implemented, although that does not mean they should not be seriously discussed.

But to avoid the necessity altogether is grave political cowardice.

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About the author
Dave Osler is a regular contributor. He is a British journalist and author, ex-punk and ex-Trot. Also at: Dave's Part
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Reader comments


“If there is any evidence that existence of direct flights to provincial China will give British business travellers any advantage that they cannot gain by flying from another hub airport elsewhere in Europe, I have yet to see it. If that adds a few hours to travel time, so be it.”

But the issue is not just about “British business travellers”, it’s about international executive business travellers, whose choices will determine whether a whole range of businesses will remain in the UK.

If (say) travelling from your Rio HQ to your London HQ involves a delay of x hours while you transfer to Schipol for your onward flight to your Chongking HQ, then (all other things being equal), you’ll consider moving your European HQ to Amsterdam….

2. margin4error

I have to come out and say I’m in favour of expanding Heathrow.

This is partly because one way or another we are going to end up building more airport capacity – and heaven knows expanding an existing airport with infrastructure already in place is a better environmental and financial option than building a brand new one in a river estuary with no links or connections attached.

Of course the UK could reduce air trafic demand dramatically. We could move away from a hub airport to lots of little regional airports like Stansted and Brimingham and Manchester and so on – and all just fly to Paris or some where else for connections for intercontinental flights.

Trouble is – along with just moving the polution – it hurts business.

Hubs are important because major long distance carriers like an airport with lots of connections – since that boosts ticket demand. That in turn makes a city with a hub airport a good place to headquarter your international business. Why be based in Manchester and fly to Hong Kong via Belgium, when you could be based in London and just fly to Hong Kong direct?

Lose those flights and there’s plenty of baggage handlers and other airport staff whose quality of life might not be as improved as the various blind nimbys who moved to west london once upon a time and then didn’t like the noise of a capital city. (And lets not get into the hypocricy of prefering City Airport to Heathrow while worrying about the standard of living of fewer people directly in the noisy flight path of the larger airport and saying nothing equivelent about their more numerous east-london counterparts).

In the end – London and the UK need a hub airport. I’d be happy to see a new one emerge in Manchester or Birmingham – rather than see Heathrow expand and concentrate economic competitiveness in the South East. But we are pretty uncompetitive for infrastructure as it is – and Heathrow is unambiguously the quickest and cheapest option for expanding hub capacity.

Well said M4E, you put it all far better than I did.

If Heathrow’s lack of capacity is the reason we’re not flying to China and India why has Walsh’s airline launch, this year, a new Heathrow route to Leeds, just two hours away by train?

If Chinese routes are needed then let the train take the strain for internal travel and cut out the short haul flights. Until we start using our airport capacity efficiently there is simply no excuse for airport expansion.

“If Heathrow’s lack of capacity is the reason we’re not flying to China and India why has Walsh’s airline launch, this year, a new Heathrow route to Leeds, just two hours away by train?”

The only policy justification for continuing to allow short haul flights from Heathrow is when those flights are mostly feeder services reinforcing Heathrow’s standing as an international hub.

6. margin4error

Spot on Bob.

Those flights from Leeds to London could just as easily go to, and employ people in, Brussels or France.

Planes are uselss compared to trains for short intercity journeys because they are not direct to the destination. They go to an airport and you then have to get to your destination, having had to get to the first airport from your starting point. But with connecting flights your destination is the airport – so the advantage is reveresed, with trains being useless and planes being direct.

If there has to be an expansion then Heathrow is a far better option than Boris Island. I tend to agree with Dave’s sentiments in the OP but with M4E’s pragmatic view if there is a need for expansion.

So, it appears, apart from bashing the oiks this government has no real policies and simply gives in to special pleadings from when the pressure gets too high. Where does that leave manifesto undertakings and the greenest government ever?

8. margin4error

Cherub

For what it is worth – when this government came in – word went round to lobbyists everywhere to drop the sustainability talk and focus on other things when making a case for something as this government just isn’t interested.

So while the “greenest ever government” stuff was the public line – within politics there was never even a pretence. Jobs and growth were the only things that would get a minister’s ears to prick up (not hard to understand under the circumstances) – though as yet they are struggling with that a little too.

“If Heathrow’s lack of capacity is the reason we’re not flying to China and India why has Walsh’s airline launch, this year, a new Heathrow route to Leeds, just two hours away by train?”

Apart from the point of having short-haul flights in order to feed intercontinental flights, you should realize that the planes used for flying to China are rather different from those used for flying to Leeds. Thus, the size of the slot allocated may also be quite different – simply for technical reasons. I don’t know any specifics, but I expect that a 747 taking off leaves a considerably longer wake turbulence where you cannot send another plane than, say, A319.

The slot allocation procedure itself is rather well regulated:
http://europa.eu/legislation_summaries/transport/air_transport/l24085_en.htm

TONE:
Really? The lack of a direct flight to Chongqing (which I suspect there isn’t a lack of) is so crucial that *loads* of businesses will move their entire operations to Amsterdam? Especially given that Schiphol, or indeed the entirety of Western Europe, hasn’t yet found space for a flight there either.

It’s bizarre that this is considered so important anyway, when you consider how minor a business cost it is – how many people from any business fly regularly between international head offices? Probably just the very top people, directors, CEOs etc; is their irritation at changing planes really enough to spend many, many millions moving their entire operations to a country which probably speaks a different language? Maybe they are so egocentric that it is, but it hardly speaks volumes for their objective decision making if so.

margin4error:
“Trouble is … it hurts business.”
And (sorry for the sarcasm, but…) catastrophic climate change, of course, would be absolutely marvellous for business.

And yes, if you’re a pessimistic pragmatist, or perhaps just not too bothered about the little people, and you think climate change is something which is just doomed to happen no matter what (or alternatively is a conspiracy by an evil clique of boffin scientists who want to stop people using planes for unknown but obviously nefarious and self-serving reasons), expanding Heathrow to three or even four, five runways is a no-brainer. The market has spoken, and it says the benefits outweigh the costs. Hounslow and Bedfont’s communities have been evaluated for their immediate market value. They have been found lacking in high calibre high net worth individuals.

Hey, this increased noise and pollution could even be an advantage; I mean, the market can never make a bad move. It’ll be a really great place to shove the new slums which will house our desperate but highly profitable low wage workers in the shiny new libertarian world where “benefit-dependency” has been eradicated (actually they’re already appearing, check out Channel 4’s investigation of the illegal backyard shacks in Southall). The incentive to escape the noise by becoming wealthy will make them work harder! They will create new markets in cheap noise insulation technologies, like styrofoam earplugs!

jungle @ 10:

“The lack of a direct flight to Chongqing (which I suspect there isn’t a lack of) is so crucial that *loads* of businesses will move their entire operations to Amsterdam?”

Not what I said. I said ” all other things being equal”. It’s a factor, and one that could tip the balance.

‘London has poor infra-structure, appalling weather, with obese, under-educated and sub-literate people, and is on an off-shore island; and now we have to transfer to Paris/Amsterdam to get our onward flights…Look, it’s time to re-locate our HQ…’

” Others, such as George Monbiot’s call for a ration on entitlement to flights, will no doubt hurt if implemented, although that does not mean they should not be seriously discussed. ”

Wow, de facto exit visas. Have they not been tried somewhere before? I suppose the securocrats will like them as it will be another excuse to demand to ze your papers.

Using continental hubs such as Schiphol rather than London is already happening. I travel a lot to Vancouver and there are no winter Vancouver flights from Scotland. It is just as easy to fly to Amsterdam for a connection as it is to fly to London. Their securocrats being politer is an added bonus.

@10: “is their irritation at changing planes really enough to spend many, many millions moving their entire operations to a country which probably speaks a different language?”

Can’t say, but you should take into account that businesses change all the time. Some of them grow, some of them shrink. Decisions to open new locations and close old ones are made accordingly all the time. The connections to a location is one factor that has significance in these decisions.

(Here I’m writing against my best interests – where I live is an alternative transfer hub for flights to Asia, and the worse you have in Heathrow, the more relative advantage my home region has.)

The idea that flights from Leeds and Manchester to LHR are for transporting Northerners to London is ridiculous. The train is far faster, and you can work far more effectively on it. However, if you’re trying to get to Chonquing via LHR from Leeds, the train is utterly useless: either you’ve got an hour’s cab ride at £100 with all your luggage, 90 mins on the Tube, or two changes to reach the Heathrow Express. Hence, direct flights are essential to give provincial cities competitive journey opportunities.

Yes, this reflects the halfwitted approach to public transport integration of two generations of planners at LHR. And yes, it’s something that could be reversed by a sensibly planned HS2. But right now, there is a clear need for transfer flights from northern cities to LHR despite the fact that flying from those cities to London itself is irrelevant.

15. margin4error

Jungle

To take a quote – cut out the bit in which I point out the pollution just moves – and then criticise my assertion for ignoring climate change – is ludircous, decietful and really really stupid given that the original comment remains for all to see.

Well done – you have raised the bar for moronic posts.

Let’s remember that London already has as many runways as Paris and Amsterdam combined.

This third runway at Heathrow campaign is a self-serving one by BA who mostly operate out of Heathrow and BAA who own it.

Any lack of capacity at Heathrow could easilly be taken up at the other airports, but BA and BAA won’t say this because it will cut into their profits

(One thing to add – is someone really suggesting Paris as a competitor to Heathrow? LHR is notorious for congestion and unreasonable waiting times when doing transfers, but CDG is equally notorious for losing your luggage and going on strike whenever the price of tomatos has either gone up or down. If I need to consider a hub, it’s Schiphol, Frankfurt, or even Copenhagen.)

Any lack of capacity at Heathrow could easilly be taken up at the other airports, but BA and BAA won’t say this because it will cut into their profits

Well, no, because the *whole sodding point of LHR* is to allow transfers. Which can’t sensibly be done between multiple sites.

The best capacity improvement solution to LHR would be to boot out all the non-hub, non-alliance carriers to Stansted, and give the slots to Star and OneWorld carriers who actually use LHR for transfers.

However, that would provoke a diplomatic incident, since the non-hub, non-alliance carriers tend to be developing countries’ vanity projects. At the very least, it would require them to be paid vast amounts of compo.

19. margin4error

john b

also – a lot of the “transfer” flights are actually served by all those non-transfer flights as people get off those flights and transfer to the long distance flights run by star and oneworld.

20. Planeshift

Isn’t another solution to have a more logical approach to locating hubs. So for flights to China and South Asia you use heathrow, the americas you use gatwick, and the short haul holiday types you use standstead/luton. Then run internal connecting flights to each of these (except standstead) from the regional airports – which can also take additional flights to europe for the holiday market to relieve standstead.

Combine this with more investment in railways and connections between airports, and a focused effort in increasing long haul flights from Manchester and whichever airport in Scotland can handle it.

I totally agree with the author – I actually now avoid heathrow and Gatwick like the plague. I will fly from City or get the Eurostar and fly from Schipol.

LHR and GAT are not nice places – adding extra runways will not make them more attractive to the traveller.

People need to start thinking beyond their own self interest and convenience for holidays.

22. margin4error

Planeshift

There is a domestic and an international problem with such a plan, sadly.

The internal one is that you risk killing business for regional airports. Robin Hood may have enough demand for a scheduled conntecting flight to Heathrow on the back of people connecting to fly east and west – but not enough to have a scheduled flight to just Gatwick for people connecting to fly west and just heathrow for people connecting to fly east. That means Robin Hood airport will then have fewer internal flights – and thus fewer workers – and also less appeal to business setting up or growing there. (Companies that grow in the area might relocate to London to be able to get those flights they need).

On the international there is also a problem. People flying from Delhi to New York need to change some where, or re-fuel somewhere. If they can change at schipol and just use schipol to do it – they will. If they can change at london by going to heathrow and then catching a cab or train to gatwick – they won’t. That means fueling work and baggage handling and so on being done by workers in another country instead of in Britain, which is not great for our economy.

The two combined also both have the consequence of fewer international flights for London itself – since demand for a lot of long distance flights is built through transfers – and since both the domestic and international consequences of such a plan would see fewer people flying to London to connect to somewhere else (perhaps all going toi schipol instead) – we may see demand for flights from London to certain destinations fall below the threshold that carriers are willing to schedule at – and so even Londoners then start having to fly to schipol to get connecting flights – which becomes much worse for London’s business health, and for the environment. (two flights are generally more polluting than flying direct).

that trend across regional airports would have a knock on effect for Gatwick (in this scenario)

“London already has as many runways as Paris and Amsterdam combined.”

And if they were all at the same airport, instead of being scattered across southern England, there would be no problem.

As it is Charles de Gaulle airport, for example, has twice as many runways as Heathrow. Schipol has three times as many.

24. Alex Macfie

Planes still run between London airports and mainland European destination that, with the Channel Tunnel, are now easily accessible by rail. Yet the Channle Tunnel is running at about 57% capacity. Clearly best use is currently not being made of this infrastructure for passenger rail. Before thinking about expanding London airports, we should consider how best to get all these short-haul passengers onto rail. It should be made easier and cheaper to run new train services through the CT, by relaxing the safety regulations for what is, after all, just another rail tunnel; the airport-style check-in should be abolished, with border controls being done on board as used to happen in mainland Europe before Schengen; international trains running in the UK should be able to carry domestic passengers in order to make it more viable for operators to serve UK destinations other than central London.

Dave, not only does LHR need a third runway, it needs to revert to its original number of runways – 6.

Travel to Paris and Brussels via the Eurostar is fine – and, in fact, are better options. Travel anywhere else in the world, whether it be Johannesburg, Tokyo, Frankfurt, Toronto or Melbourne requires one to use LHR. However, with LHR at almost full capacity (and therefore unable to offer more flight options) consumer choice is being limited – in a big way.

In the interest of consumer choice, the number of runways must be increased and, I would go further to add that LHR should remain operational 24-hrs a day.

Reducing aviation demand achieves nothing limit consumer choice and is, in a manner of speaking, a rather arrogant way of limiting the possibilities of international discovery for those who, perhaps, have not had the opportunity previously.

Rather than limiting the international experiences and consumer choice, we ought to be celebrating that, were I want to, I can be in Tokyo by this time tomorrow.

26. Alex Macfie

@25: London to Frankfurt is perfectly feasible by train (it would take from about 5¾ hours, changing at Brussels). For the other destintations you mention, of course you are right that one would need to fly. But by getting more short-haul passengers onto rail, one can free up slots for the long-haul destinations.

@26: I’m sorry but I find 5.75 hours to get from LON to FRA unacceptable.

I am going to FRA next week and am flying from LHR. The total flying time is a mere 1h35m. There simply is no comparison.

@26: 5.75-hours to get from LON to FRA is simply unacceptable.

I’m travelling to FRA next week and am flying from LHR. The total flying time is a mere 1h35min. There is simply no comparison.

29. Alex Macfie

@27: Your journey time for London to Frankfurt would be more like 4 hours when taking into account transfer and check-in times. It’s still quicker than the train, but the difference is not that great. The biggest disincentive to train travel for a journey like London to Frankfurt is probably the poor ticket and timetabling integration (for a journey that necessarily involves at least two operators), leading to high fares and a complicated booking process.

The flight and train times for that journey are similar to those for travelling from London to Scotland. Many people (muself included) still prefer to use the train for this, with the longer journey time, and that is with the later check-in time for a domestic flight.

@22 that seems logical. So is it more the case that we need one airport with enough capacity to deal with all international flights?

Would it then be a feasible solution to say expand LHR as necessary, but then reduce the international flights at gatwick and elsewhere – transfering the service to LHR. So what we then have is essentially a centralised airport that operates as the hub, and all other airports then operate as regional airports running flights to LHR plus the holiday market. (with the obvious exceptions that gatwick and standstead are clearly not going to run internal flights to LHR)

According to this news report, Alistair Darling is on the side of the angels:

Oxford Economics, a consultancy commissioned by BAA, calculates the UK’s GDP would be £4.5bn less per year by 2021 as the country would not be as attractive to inward investors because of Heathrow’s capacity constraints. National income would be £3.6bn less because of reduced tourism and £410m less due to diminished trade with emerging markets.

The overall £8.5bn figure – equivalent to 0.5 per cent of national income – would support 141,400 jobs, the study estimated.
http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/f7b934a8-66b4-11e1-863c-00144feabdc0.html#axzz25DejV3tW

32. margin4error

Planeshift

That’s about the size of it. As I say, it isn’t about lack of capacity – it is about lack of capacity at a single hub airport. If we doubled runway capacity at heathrow, long distants flights could prooliferate there and would not be needed at other airports like gatwick.

So you could indeed see heathrow grow and gatwick shrink – at least in regards to intercontinental flying. Short haul flights for holidays and such like are effectively a completely different market, as evidenced by the success of airports like Luton.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Jason Brickley

    Neither men nor mice need a bigger Heathrow http://t.co/iT5Tpi7h

  2. CAROLE JONES

    @libcon Neither men nor mice need a bigger Heathrow http://t.co/EgPrrZdw <<< Agreed. Only pillocks need this peni… erm… runway extension

  3. leftlinks

    Liberal Conspiracy – Neither men nor mice need a bigger Heathrow http://t.co/VCWr0KyX

  4. maureen keane

    Neither men nor mice need a bigger Heathrow | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/GDoYVgNf via @libcon

  5. Jim Jepps

    Neither men nor mice need a bigger Heathrow | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/Melz5XV0 via @libcon

  6. Tim Yeo thinks David Cameron has a tiny cock « Representing the Mambo

    […] another good take on the third runway dilemma can be found at Liberal Conspiracy, penned by the peerless Dave Osler. Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like […]

  7. BevR

    Neither men nor mice need a bigger Heathrow | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/vAkNJMtq via @libcon





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