RunwaysUK conference discusses London Heathrow expansion

The RunwaysUK conference in London has provided a forum for aviation industry leaders to discuss the options for the expansion of London Heathrow airport and increased capacity in the south east of the UK.

The Airports Commission, led by Sir Howard Davies, has short-listed three options for runway expansion, which include additional runways being built at Heathrow and Gatwick. Sir Howard delivered the conference’s keynote speech, and said that the interim report published in December has been ‘fairly well received’.

Virgin Atlantic chief executive, Craig Kreeger, has extended his support to the proposal for expansion, saying that is what ‘customers prefer’.

Kreeger said: ‘I do not like one or the other. It is not me who is voting, it is the customers. But they want to go to Heathrow. When we moved routes to Heathrow it was better, as customers prefer Heathrow.’

Virgin Atlantic has been gaining approximately one new slot per year at Heathrow, but Gatwick is well run and was a ‘very important’ airport for the carrier, Kreeger added.

Rafael Schwatzman, regional VP president Europe for the International Air Transport Association (IATA), also seemed to back the Heathrow expansion. Many businesses are located in the nearby Thames Valley and there was a strong case to develop the hub so the UK can compete in the 21st century, he said.

At the conference, Sir Howard launched the appraisal framework that explains in detail how the commission expects scheme design for additional airport capacity to be developed, and how the schemes will be appraised, which is part of an open consultation running until February 28.

Sir Howard said that the three options will now be developed and appraised and the commission will also now research the radical Estuary Airport proposal, by carrying out four projects into the viability.

In the autumn the commission will decide whether to add the plan for a new 110 million passenger airport in the Isle of Grain, in Kent, to the short-list.

In the meantime, the government will comment on the three options outlined by the commission in March, with a final recommendation expected after next year’s General Election.