Professor Michael Luger, Director of MBS’ Centre for Infrastructure Development comments on a new campaign launched today, entitled Let Britain Fly. The business-led campaign calls for more runways and marks a shift from previous debate, which has been more influenced by airports and lobby groups.
As a “million mile” traveller I have lots of opportunities to compare notes with other business people about the quality of the air travel experience in the UK. The most common complaint is about the inadequacy of Heathrow and the growing dysfunction of London as an air hub. That is not surprising given the lack of any spare capacity at LHR and the poor connections among the five London-area airports. That is driving business people away from London to other more air-traveller friendly cities, and is discouraging business from locating headquarters in the southeast.
This problem is widely recognised. There is no consensus, however, about what to do about it. Options range from adding runways to Heathrow and/or Gatwick and Stanstead, to transferring more international flights to Birmingham and Manchester, to removing most international flights from existing London airports in favour of a new mega-facility in the Thames estuary. And if we add runways to existing airports there are a variety of options for their location and number, all with different environmental implications.
The Government appointed an independent commission, chaired by Sir Howard Davies, to mediate among these different alternatives and propose what to do. Comments by the chair suggest that the interim report due soon will recognize the need for new runway capacity, but already pundits are expecting a lack of consensus about whatever the findings are. In short, we are suffering again that British disease known as “analysis paralysis”.
The thrust behind the “Let Britain Fly” initiative is to move from paralysis to action by forging consensus around the one big picture fact: that however achieved, we must build more runways in London. It is a positive move by key business groups to move the debate away from “if” to “how”. It may not sound like much, but it could end up giving the decision process the kick start it needs.