Delays to a decision over capacity expansion in the UK are harming the country's economy, writes Steven Thompson.
This week Boris Johnson – the often controversial, and always outspoken Mayor of London – renewed his drive for a new four-runway hub in the UK.
In a speech to business leaders at City Hall, Johnson said Government delays in making any firm decision were setting the UK on a course for “economic catastrophe”.
The solution to the UK’s, and more specifically, London’s capacity issues, is seen, in many quarters, as a straight choice between a third runway at London Heathrow, or a new airport in the Thames Estuary – dubbed “Boris Island” because of the London Mayor’s support for the project.
Despite the Mayor’s obvious preference for a new airport, Johnson said London Stansted remained an option for expansion, but ruled out Gatwick, Luton, and Birmingham, because of land constraints.
The Conservative-led UK Government has now sidestepped the whole issue, setting up an independent inquiry, led by Sir Howard Davies, to report back to Westminster by 2015.
The results of this consultation will inform any future Government decision, conveniently meaning all political parties can sit on the fence and avoid losing any votes in the next General Election, which takes place before the final report is published.
Labour and the Conservatives have both said they will await the final report, meaning it will not become an election issue. The Liberal Democrats, the junior party of the Coalition Government, remain opposed to Heathrow expansion, and this could be important, given that they could conceivably remain part of the Government in coalition with either party – most likely Labour – after the next election.
However, 2015 is not quick enough for Johnson, whose own investigations, into discovering what he called “a credible solution”, will now commence at pace.
He told his audience at City Hall that a new 180 million passenger a year hub airport would cost in the region of €100 billion and could be delivered using private finance.
He said this could be completed in an only slightly longer timeframe – around two to four years longer – than a third runway at Heathrow, which he claimed would only be ready by 2026-28.
Johnson’s opinions on a third runway at Heathrow versus a new airport all together can be debated until the cows come home – but what cannot be argued about are his views on the Government delays. He is 100% correct.
All too often, delays of one sort or another – be it delays on the tarmac or delays over infrastructure – cost the industry dear.
But the delay here is frustrating for everyone involved, because the decision is out of the industry’s hands, and all the while, Britain is losing vital business to the rest of Europe.
UK Plc must already contend with the damaging message that Europe is in economic meltdown – but capacity woes are sending out additional signals that the country is closed for business.
The sooner a decision is made, the better. If the London Mayor can force the issue – whether or not that is for his own political gain – then this can only be a good thing for the aviation industry in Great Britain.
Written by @SteveThompsonAM