London assembly says no to airport expansion

The London Assembly, an elected watchdog that oversees the mayor’s policies and decisions, has snubbed demands from a number of the UK aviation industry’s biggest players for expansion of Heathrow airport in order to boost capacity.

In its submission to the government’s independent inquiry into airport capacity, the Assembly substantiated its opinion by suggesting that Heathrow, which currently operates at around 99 percent of its runway capacity, could still process 20 million more passengers per year just by receiving larger aircraft. It also suggests that there is spare capacity at London’s other airports, Gatwick, Stansted and Luton, which should be utilised.

Transport committee chairman, Caroline Pidgeon, said, ‘The Airports Commission must examine whether better use of existing airport capacity could be an intelligent, cost- effective alternative to building new airports or runways. Currently London sees 130 million passengers travelling through our airports each year. The challenge for the government and decision-makers is to find the best way to support the UK’s economy globally, while ensuring Londoners are not adversely affected by worsening noise and air pollution.’

In its report the committee said, ‘If the Airports Commission finds that there is a need to increase airport capacity, it should rule out the expansion of Heathrow airport.’

The committee also cast doubt on previous estimates of the extent to which the demand for air travel will grow in the foreseeable future, saying that it could be 2040 before capacity is reached rather than 2030.

The idea of a complete new aviation hub for London, based in the Thames estuary, was also considered by the commission to be a non-starter. The option, which is being championed by London mayor, Boris Johnson, was challenged for a number of reasons, including its cost, its logistics and the increase in air traffic over central London.