Time to focus on London’s air freight needs

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The decision to reject the Boris Island airport proposal has put the focus back on the need expand London’s air freight capacity. The Freight Transport Association has said it will now submit more evidence to the commission on the need to expand London as an air freight hub.

The inner Thames estuary airport became known as Boris Island after London Mayor Boris Johnson who championed the scheme.  The big advantage of such a scheme is that aircraft would no longer need to fly low over central London –  a major source of nuisance to residents on the western side of the city.

However, commission chair Sir Howard Davies said: “There are serious doubts about the delivery and operation of a very large hub airport in the estuary. The economic disruption would be huge and there are environmental hurdles which it may prove impossible, or very time-consuming to surmount. Even the least ambitious version of the scheme would cost £70 to £90 billion with much greater public expenditure involved than in other options – probably some £30 to £60 billion in total.”

The commission is looking at options for new airport capacity by 2030.There are now three proposals on the commission’s shortlist – two for expansion at Heathrow and one for expansion at Gatwick. The commission plans to  publish an  appraisal for public consultation in the autumn.

The Freight Transport Association said it welcomed recognition in the commission’s estuary decision “that Heathrow is the country’s largest belly-hold freight airport while Stansted provides substantial dedicated freight services and these factors have been crucial in London retaining its status in as the world’s largest aviation market providing essential connectivity to the UK’s main overseas markets”.

Chris Welsh, FTA’s director – global and European policy, said: “FTA is planning to submit further detailed information to the up-coming Airport Commission consultations on the importance of the London hub for UK connectivity for our nation’s importers and exporters”.

* The Confederation of British Industry has just produced a report highlighting the importance of  having a single UK hub with spare capacity to add new routes.

Building on 2013 findings that demonstrate that eight new routes to emerging markets alone would generate as much as £1bn a year in trade, the report highlights that by drawing on both transfer passengers and local populations, hub airports are best placed to act as a catalyst for these new routes.

Research by Steer Davies Gleave, for the CBI, shows that from a sample of 15 emerging markets, hub airports serve on average nearly three times as many destinations as point-to-point airports (27 to 8 destinations), while also delivering almost twice as many flights on the routes that are served – 1.5 daily flights from hubs on average, compared to 0.8 from point-to-point.

With the UK’s hub capacity at Heathrow already full, the UK is falling behind on direct flights to emerging markets.

Katja Hall, CBI deputy director-general, said: “First and foremost, UK business wants action. There can be no more excuses – we need to see the Airports Commission deliver a strong case for new capacity and a clear schedule for delivery, and politicians to commit to spades in the ground by the end of the next Parliament.

“With Heathrow full and the UK slipping behind in the race for new connectivity, it is essential that the Airports Commission delivers a solution that addresses the ticking time bomb of our lack of spare hub capacity.”

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