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Hurting Heathrow

London Heathrow still reigns as the busiest airport in Europe, but airlines and airport operators there warn that without expansion plans in place, Heathrow could lose its status as the preeminent European hub in the next 15 years, the Telegraph reports.

With just two runways, industry professionals predict, many airlines would likely abandon London for fast-growing airports like Frankfurt or Amsterdam, leaving Heathrow a mere “branch line” on the vast tree of European air travel.

Cameron’s government, though, seems content to ignore the demands for the addition of a third runway, stunting the growth of traffic and discouraging airlines based in Heathrow from expanding to more destinations.

Willie Walsh, chief executive of IAG, the BA parent, is lending his support to the campaign. He said: “I have seen no evidence of the Government appreciating the importance of aviation to Britain.”

“The rest of the world is securing infrastructure to ensure they can grow their economic while Britain has done the opposite. We need action by the Government and I’ve seen none. I fear for the future.”

Air travel to and from Heathrow (and to a lesser extent Gatwick, Stansted and Luton) is one of the best things London has going, and it’s perplexing to see the government opposed to any long term plans to ensure it does not outgrow its facilities and lose traffic to nearby alternatives. Just one additional runway can drastically increase Heathrow’s capacity and make it an attractive place to connect smaller routes to the already well-established main lines that flow through every day. London’s economic success relies in no small part upon Heathrow’s air traffic success. For centuries London was a crossroads of world travel, culture and business because of the determination of its merchants and politicians to keep the port working and the seas free.

London’s rivals like Frankfort and Paris are pressing their governments to use their weight in the EU to strip London of its position at the center of European — and therefore to a large extent of world financial leadership. It’s a shame that NIMBY activists at home are collaborating de facto with Britain’s rivals abroad to turn London from a bustling hub into one of Europe’s many genteeling declining post-imperial capitals: the Vienna or the Venice of the west.

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  • Kris

    I’m so worried about the baggage-retrieval system they’ve got at Heathrow.

    “Air travel to and from Heathrow … is one of the best things London has going”

    Anyone care to point me to studies indicating that a major hub airport provides significant economic benefits?

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    I am reminded of the High Speed Rail project in China that was unneeded, unwanted, and unaffordable for the Chinese people, but provided the politicians with opportunities for graft and corruption on a gargantuan scale. I think the British Government has been wisely trying to cut spending, and has made the decision to live with the infrastructure they already have, and not waste money on a runway there isn’t any immediate economic need for. Britain’s geographical location practically guarantees them the North American air traffic.

  • ddh

    Frankfort, Kentucky, is a rival to London? Who knew? That is, unless you meant Frankfurt am Main in Germany.

    Spell check strikes again.

  • Andrew Allison

    I beg to differ. What the blog fails to recognize is that London’s satellite airports, including the one omitted from consideration (City) are providing much more cost-effective capacity. Thiefrow has been a continuously-under-construction horror for half a century. More of the same is the very last thing which London needs. The article also fails to mention that it’s faster and much more comfortable and convenient to get from London to Paris or Brussels by train than by air. This was an uncharacteristically superficial blog.

  • john haskell

    I think you missed an edit. Sentence reading “London’s economic success relies in no small part upon Heathrow’s air traffic success” should read “London’s economic success came about in spite of Heathrow.”

    English speaking countries have bad airports, that just how we roll. You’ve been to JFK or LaGuardia at some point, I’m sure, so you know what I’m talking about.

    Also, adding a quote from Willie Walsh is about as persuasive as a drop-out leaflet in a magazine is persuasive in making you want to subscribe to the magazine.

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