Expensive and ineffective: Boris Johnson’s island airport (even Tories think so)

John Stewart of AirportWatch explains why even other Tories, from Gideon Osborne down, are privately briefing against Boris Island: it’s a ridiculous idea.

John Stewart is the chair of AirportWatch

Boris Johnson’s persistent lobbying for an off-shore airport seems to be causing confusion within Conservative circles. In both yesterday’s Sunday Times, and in Friday’s FT, there were prominent articles claiming that the chancellor George Osborne, the transport secretary Justine Greening and the prime minister’s influential strategic adviser, Steve Hilton, were warming to the idea of an estuary airport.

In today’s Times (£) the government seems to be fighting back.

The paper reports that:

Officials have privately slapped down Boris Johnson’s campaign for a four-runway airport to the east of London

“Ministers are thought to be dubious.”

The carefully-placed article, exclusive to the Times, looks like an attempt to distance the government from the mayor’s speech to the Institute of Directors today which his aides have been using as proof that the idea of an estuary airport is gaining traction.

The mixed messages are symptomatic of the confusion within the aviation industry and business more generally as to the best way forward now that Heathrow expansion is off the agenda. The announcement earlier this month by shadow transport secretary Maria Eagle that Labour no longer supported a third runway has probably killed off any plans to expand Heathrow for good.

The flurry of lobbying by the aviation industry in the early autumn calling for new runways in the South East was seen as coded support for a third runway at Heathrow. With that option now closed off, the industry is not clear what it should unite behind.

Many in the industry and the wider business community have real doubts about an estuary airport.  ‘Aviation Services and the City’, a report published in January, commissioned by the City of London Corporation from consultants York Aviation found that for most city firms an estuary airport was unrealistic and on the wrong side of London.

There is also real doubt amongst the business community whether, at £50 million plus, it will ever see the light of day. And certainly not in the near future.

Business also recognises there would be the problem of what to do about Heathrow. The market does not exist for two hub airports in the South East. A four runway hub airport in the Estuary would almost certainly require the closure of Heathrow. At least 74,000 jobs would be lost. West London has become too dependent on the airport but the reality is Heathrow is too big to fail.

Boris, the extrovert showman, is skilled at giving the impression that business is clamouring for a new airport.  However, there is no evidence that, in these recessionary times, airport expansion is top of the business agenda.

The evidence which does exist shows that what business and industry does want is frequent services to the world’s key business destinations. Those are already provided by Heathrow which has more than double the number of flights to the major business centres than its two nearest rivals, Frankfurt and Charles de Gaulle, put together.

Moreover, with a third runway off the agenda at Heathrow, the airlines are being forced to take a long, hard look at how to use the landing slots on the existing runways most profitably.

It will mean replacing short-haul leisure flights with long-haul flights to the key business destinations in the emerging markets of Asia, Africa and South America. It is the reason why British Airways recently took over BMI. It wanted to use BMI’s Heathrow slots to serve more inter-continental destinations.

If no further runways are built in the South East, market mechanisms will come into play.  They will ensure that Heathrow becomes predominately a business airport.  That perhaps doesn’t match the glamour of a floating airport in the estuary, promoted by a mayor seeking re-election and designed by a famous architect.

But is probably the more business-like way to proceed.

See also:

Greening orders no opt-out for clothes-penetrating scannersAlex Hern, November 21st 2011

Aviation industry turn on Greening over her opposition to third runwayJohn Stewart, October 17th 2011

The challenges facing new transport secretary Justine GreeningRichard Hebditch, October 17th 2011

How will Labour react to news BA have given up on third runway?John Stewart, June 22nd 2011

Boris’s airport arguments don’t stand up to scrutinyJohn Stewart, March 18th 2011

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16 Responses to “Expensive and ineffective: Boris Johnson’s island airport (even Tories think so)”

  1. Lee Jasper

    Expensive and ineffective: Boris Johnson’s island airport (even Tories think so): http://t.co/29ny2wTl by @AirportWatch’s John Stewart

  2. Joss Garman

    Indefatigable campaigner John Stewart has interesting post @leftfootfwd looking at fantasy #BorisIsland #airport plan http://t.co/uJ7rodzK

  3. Ian

    Expensive and ineffective: Boris Johnson’s island airport (even Tories think so): http://t.co/29ny2wTl by @AirportWatch’s John Stewart

  4. Political Planet

    Expensive and ineffective: Boris Johnson’s island airport (even Tories think so): John Stewart of AirportWatch e… http://t.co/I9teuIvk

  5. Boris Watch

    Expensive and ineffective: Boris Johnson’s island airport (even Tories think so): http://t.co/29ny2wTl by @AirportWatch’s John Stewart

  6. Tristan Osborne

    RT @leftfootfwd: Expensive and ineffective: Boris Johnson’s island airport. View from the Left. http://t.co/gI9Dq5Ol

  7. Adam Coffman

    Indefatigable campaigner John Stewart has interesting post @leftfootfwd looking at fantasy #BorisIsland #airport plan http://t.co/uJ7rodzK

  8. DGillon

    A letter in this week’s Flight International points out the Isle of Grain plan has the wrong alignment – 60 degrees off the prevailing winds, and the runways are so close together they’ll probably have to be used alternately. As a local aerospace engineer in need of a job it should be something I can support, but there’s simply no getting around the same fact that killed off this idea just a few years ago. They’re proposing to put an international airport on a major migratory wetland, do we really want an airport nicknamed ‘Bird Strike Central’? (And then there’s the 1400 tons of unstable explosives just offshore in the wreck of the SS Richard Montgomery)

  9. Alex Braithwaite

    RT @leftfootfwd: Expensive and ineffective: Boris Johnson’s island airport (even Tories think so) http://t.co/9PoTlrgT

  10. Kamaljeet Jandu

    Expensive and ineffective: Boris Johnson’s island airport (even Tories think so): http://t.co/29ny2wTl by @AirportWatch’s John Stewart

  11. Mr. Sensible

    Labour should have said that about Heathrow ages ago.

    Come back Ken… Type your comment here.

  12. Rochester/Strood CLP

    Expensive and ineffective: Boris Johnson’s island airport (even Tories think so): http://t.co/29ny2wTl by @AirportWatch’s John Stewart

  13. Scott Redding

    Expensive and ineffective: Boris Johnson’s island airport (even Tories think so): http://t.co/29ny2wTl by @AirportWatch’s John Stewart

  14. North Kent Marshes

    RT @leftfootfwd: Justine Greening is ignoring the facts on airport expansion: http://t.co/dRLxX0DY Expensive and ineffective: Boris airport

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