The CEO of London Heathrow has told MPs he will consider a proposal to add not just a third but also a fourth runway to the west London gateway as part of a future UK aviation policy.
Asked during a House of Commons Transport Committee meeting today (December 3) whether he supported the conclusions of a report by the Policy Exchange think tank that adding two new runways at Heathrow was the best option to allow it compete with European rivals, Colin Matthews said: “We will take a look at it, I was surprised by it, we will take a look at it.”
He added “We are taking a look at all the options, including a Thames Estuary Airport, but we have not worked on a four runway solution so far.”
In the report published in October, the Policy Exchange said an expanded Heathrow presented the best option to ensure more airport capacity in the south east while an expanded Gatwick, Stansted or building a new Thames Estuary airport were not practical.
The Heathrow boss told MPs that having a hub was essential to allow the UK to compete with other airports for long-haul routes as it allowed airlines to feed enough traffic into long distance services which would be unsustainable if based purely on origin and destination markets.
Matthews said that since 2003, Amsterdam Schiphol and Paris CDG airports had between them added 1,500 more flights to mainland China, while it had taken eight years to secure slots for one China Southern service to Guangzhou from Heathrow.
“There are 75 long-haul connections from Heathrow that can not be served from airports elsewhere in the UK,” Matthews said.
However, Stewart Wingate, CEO of Gatwick, refuted that argument, pointing out that Gatwick had secured new routes to South Korea and Vietnam despite it being a primarily point to point market for airlines.
Wingate also warned that the cost of a Thames Estuary airport, which he estimated at between £50-£80 billion (€60-€100 billion), meant it “was not viable” and a better option would be a level playing field with London’s existing airports free to expand and compete with one another.