Improving rail links to other airports would improve Heathrow facility, London Assembly

The London Assembly has opined that improving rail links, extending the Oyster card ticketing system and cutting fares will help improve the capacity optimisation at London’s major airports.

In a submission to the Airports Commission, chaired by Sir Howard Davies, which is examining Britain’s future airport needs, the assembly said that better rail access to other airports serving the capital can relieve the pressure on airport capacity at Heathrow. Research commissioned by the assembly found that 47 percent of runway slots were available at Stansted, 51 percent at Luton and 12 percent at Gatwick, unlike Heathrow, which is 99 percent full.

However, passengers have not been using other airports, mainly due to perceived problems with the reliability and cost of rail travel, with journeys to all of them dominated by cars and taxis. ‘Luton, Stansted and Gatwick all have spare airport capacity that might prove useful to determining the UK’s future aviation policy,’ said Val Shawcross, the assembly’s transport group chairman. ‘However, transport seems to be a key barrier preventing passengers travelling to alternative airports.’

In a letter to Sir Howard, Mrs. Shawcross said, ‘Gatwick Airport highlighted to us a fall in customers’ satisfaction, with growing complaints about poor accessibility and luggage capacity on the trains.’ There were similar problems with rail connections to Stansted. ‘Network Rail reported that the West Anglia main line is running at full capacity at peak times,’ she said.

A simple way to enhance rail travel to airports is to extend the Oyster card system to Gatwick and Stansted, ensuring that the airports were ‘integrated into the wider transport network,’ Mrs. Shawcross said.

She also stressed the need for ‘the development of a national strategy to realise improvements to surface transport access to all London airports’.

‘Prioritising rail projects that improve access to our major airports, extending Oyster card boundaries and better marketing are just some of the ways that could encourage passengers to use alternative airports,’ she added.

The assembly also urged local airlines to ‘do more to inform their customers about rail travel’ to avoid needless car journeys.

The Airports Commission is examining both the requirements for new hub airport capacity in Britain, and the options for maximising existing capacity. A decision is not expected until 2015, after the next election.