16 January 2009

3rd runway at Heathrow and watch the luddites crow

The announcement by UK Transport Secretary (Minister) Geoff Hoon that the government supports a third runway at London’s Heathrow Airport is bizarre on a couple of levels. Firstly, it is quite bizarre that government should have anything to do with it. Heathrow is privately owned, its owner – BAA – is not seeking taxpayer funds to pay for the runway. If property rights are properly defined it should be a matter of negotiation between BAA and relevant property owners. However, that is by the by – and a symptom of a bigger problem, that the UK is strangled by process and consultation over matters that shouldn’t be the business of those who are not directly affected.

It is luddite Britain on a grand scale, a culture that worships stagnation, that rides on the religious fervour of the eco-evangelists, and is an orgiastic frenzy of “do as we say” crowd, eager to impose their planning fetish on everyone else. It’s frightening, and shows how hard it is to make real progress in the UK, when half the country is obsessed with standing still and telling others what to do.

The logic to a third runway at Heathrow is straightforward. It makes commercial sense, because Heathrow has virtually no spare runway capacity, is the only major hub airport in the UK, has the highest number of international passengers of any airport in the world, and is by far the most preferred airport for business traffic. In short, it is a profitable, highly desirable operation with scope for significant growth. If you've spent half an hour in the air circling in a stack waiting to land at Heathrow (great for the environment that), or on the ground in a take off queue, you might appreciate how constrained Heathrow is, especially since Terminal 5 has relieved the overcrowding at Terminals 1 and 4, and is (finally) a world class airport terminal experience.

Many countries and cities would love to have an infrastructure asset so sought after, profitable and capable of growth as Heathrow. However, no. In the UK, such opportunities are to be stamped on by various crowds. One group I can understand, the NIMBYs who are affected because they live nearby or in the flightpath. They are likely to experience more noise due to more flights, although with a landing and a takeoff on average every 2 minutes from 7am to 11pm, you wonder how they would notice (especially as airliner engine noise has dropped significantly in the last 20 years)/

The rest have jumped on an environmental bandwagon. The idea that if Heathrow gets a third runway it will accelerate climate change, rather than mean transit traffic shifts to airports at Paris, Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Dubai (which of course makes no difference to the environment). All those airports have between three and five runways and plenty of capacity, but apparently it’s ok if continental Europeans or Arabs have airports that can grow, the British want to deny it to themselves. It’s madness, and if Heathrow is constrained it constrains jobs for the airport, but also the three airlines that hub there – BA, BMI and Virgin Atlantic.

Moreso, those opposing it make petty fascist comments like “people should catch trains anyway”, ignoring that less than 5% of trips from Heathrow are those travelling within the UK or to locations in Europe quickly accessible by train. With New York by far the most popular international destination from Heathrow, it is a bit far fetched to imagine how those travellers should go by rail. Oh and Dublin is second, but the luddites probably think a train and a ferry ride is justified.

You see the other line they take is that so many flights aren’t “necessary”, because, of course, they know best for others. How dare people be tourists or business people travelling when they see advantage in doing so, when the armchair planners have decided that there should be no more flying.

One suggestion is that flights should be “redistributed” to Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, presumably because if you can’t change mode, you should change destination. If you live in London and want to fly to New York, why not get a train to Leeds first.

The same people who make these suggestions no doubt come from a range of walks of life. There are the idle rich like Zac Goldsmith, who couldn’t care less if rationing air travel puts up prices so those poorer than he can take holidays less frequently. There are the retired planners and bureaucrats who miss the days of large government bureaucracies planning everything. All in all busybodies who think they know best how to spend other people’s money, use their businesses and how they should move about.

They treat aviation as some sort of bringer of doom and destruction. The same doom merchants who killed success for Concorde by getting the US Federal Government to ban supersonic overflight of the USA, which India followed. If these people were alive a century ago, you can expect them warning that aviation should be banned because planes will occasionally crash on the ground, risking lives.

If the 3rd runway is stopped (and assuming Boris Johnson’s idea of a super airport island built in the Thames Estuary is not commercially viable), then it will increase the reputation of the UK as a community of stagnation worshipping school prefects, that don’t like change, that worship the latest altar of “don’t build anything because it wont be the same when it’s done” and see the jobs, businesses and investment of others as something they have to have some sort of quasi-fascist interest in. Hopefully the Conservative Party opposition is just grandstanding to get elected, as I am sure the public service will see them right, because not growing Heathrow means not growing BA, Virgin Atlantic or BMI, and it increases the costs for freight and passengers not only into London but all of the UK. No other UK airport (besides the small London City), has a smidgeon of the high value premium traffic that Heathrow does – only a coalition of the envirovangelists, luddite left and rich idiots who have no interest in economic growth can halt this.

So next time you see a Tory or Conservative MP, or indeed any self-proclaimed environmentalist at Heathrow catching a flight, you might care to ask them about their hypocrisy, or why they aren’t catching a train to fly out of Amsterdam or Paris instead!



Well said Liberty.
I fully agree with you.
Britain should welcome the economic growth such an airport expansion will bring.
It can ill aford to be turning down the benefits it will bring now.
I am surprised and disgusted at the spineless Tory wimps in opposing the runway, unless they do favour alternatives like a new airport in the Thames esturay or an expansion at Stansted.
I will link to your post in one I have prepared for Sunday, since you have explained far better than I could.

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