David Clarke embarks on a flight of fantasy that could so easily become reality as the Great Airport Debate continues
Recent events have demonstrated that we live in a world where the unlikely becomes the likely – so imagine this as a scenario:
The government finally announces its deliberations on the Airports Commission recommendation for expanding aviation capacity. Heathrow, it says, is to be expanded with a new North West runway.
The first phase of HS2 high speed rail linking London to Birmingham with its direct link to Birmingham International Airport, is opened. It is now just as quick for Londoners to get to Birmingham Airport as it is for them to travel to Heathrow.
Heathrow’s new North West runway is opened. Airline operators start pulling their long haul flights from Birmingham – preferring instead to use the increased capacity at Heathrow.
Birmingham is left without long haul flights.
This is not some work of fiction. It is a highly probable scenario if the Government opts for a new third runway at Heathrow. Heathrow you see, is readily accessible from Birmingham and the Midlands and that could sound the death knell for long haul flights from Birmingham – despite Birmingham’s recently increased capacity.
This crystal ball gazing is based on my interpretation of a recent briefing by Paul Kehoe, Chief Executive Officer at Birmingham International Airport. Allowing a third runway at Heathrow will reinforce its dominance and centralise air traffic on the West of London meaning businesses around the country will be forced to fly from and commute through London rather than fly directly from their closest airport.
In what seems an unlikely alliance, Birmingham Airport is supporting Gatwick in its plans for expansion – because that is the best decision to enable Birmingham Airport to continue to grow and “fire the Midlands engine”.
And the arguments for Gatwick seem as logical and irrefutable as those for Heathrow appear unaffordable and impossible.
Expansion of Gatwick would help deliver the additional airport capacity needed in the South East, whilst allowing regional airports such as Birmingham to continue to establish the direct international connections that businesses in the regions require. And never has that been more important than as we go through a period of uncertain economic conditions.
As Paul Kehoe said, we want to fly both short and long haul direct from our airport of choice. Birmingham has the capability and capacity to handle both but it is our very proximity to London that means that if the third runway is constructed at Heathrow, Birmingham will be at a disadvantage when it comes to fighting on the long haul stage.
The risk to Birmingham – and that means us in business – is clear. If Heathrow gets its third runway, then the development of new long haul routes from Birmingham will almost certainly suffer. Even worse, existing long haul routes could be pulled.
The case seems very clear. Whether it will seem quite as clear when the Government finally announces a decision is dependent on a lot of factors – but logic may not be one of them. (And this doesn’t even factor in the issue of when the long-overdue announcement is made and indeed, who the Prime Minister might be when it is.)