| by Victor Cherubim

( October 6, 2914, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) Heathrow is one of the world’s busiest airports handling as many as 70 million passengers a year. More than a third, we are told, transfer to other flights making it a major hub airport. “With over 480,000 flights per year it operates at 98 % capacity and its future is being debated now. It has been virtually full for at least a decade, say experts, so why the urgency now? The Airports Commission is due to make a recommendation to the Government in the summer of 2015. There is need for one additional runway in South East England or as seriously considered, a new Hub Airport.

According to the airport’s largest user airline, International Airlines Group, owner of British Airways, Heathrow’s expansion is a “lost cause,” despite a cross party pledge to make a quick decision on new runways in the next parliament.

The considered options

1. A third runway at Heathrow.
2. Lengthening of existing runway at Heathrow
3. A second runway at Gatwick
4. Boris Island now being mooted as Foster Island Hub on Isle of Grain, Thames.

Businesses call on London’s Mayor to reverse his call to shut Heathrow. But at a recent interview on radio referring to the future of Heathrow, the Mayor described it as “as a dead duck” and said he will “fight to my dying breath” to stop growth there.

Many referred to the devastation to jobs and businesses that would be caused by the closure of Heathrow airport and the potential drop in house prices across the Thames Valley region. “With 1 in 20 jobs in the region depending on Heathrow and 202 of the top 300 international companies situated within a 25 mile radius, there is an unshakable bond between the economic well-being of Thames Valley communities and the health of UK’s only airport hub.

For and against Heathrow

To balance the debate British Governments of various complexions have thought long and hard about the future of Heathrow. There has been a compelling case for growth at Heathrow.

Heathrow employs 76,500 people with a further 38,000 jobs that depend on the airport.
A recent report covering the Thames Valley shows that 230,000 additional jobs rely on a successful Heathrow.

The benefits are huge with not only new jobs being created and £100 billion added to the UK economy.

Should the airport close, a move being supported not only by Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, but so strongly and strangely by Heathrow’s Local Council, the Borough of Hillingdon, the threat to Heathrow’s future won’t go away.

The arguments against Heathrow

There are only 6 hub airports worldwide that have regular direct connections to more than 50 longhaul destinations.

Heathrow Airport Authority whilst disagreeing with the Mayor’s plan on Boris Island, has however shared his view that the UK needs a successful hub airport to compete worldwide. Everybody agrees Gatwick does not have the same international attraction.

Other international hub airports such as Frankfurt, Paris and Amsterdam have space capacity and have been able to provide more services to an increasing range of “fast growing “growth markets in Brazil, China, India and especially South America.

There is the continuing consultation of Heathrow’s proposal for a new runway to the northwest of the airport, as well as a proposal to double the length of the existing northern runway. The gnawing issue on everybody’s mind appears to be whether the Government has the political will to develop a third runway at Heathrow or opt for more houses instead.

Politics versus economics or Homes v Runways?

Hillingdon Borough Council – the council that covers Heathrow – have made it very clear that they think there are far better uses for the land at Heathrow than for an airport. At a Council meeting earlier this year, Councillors voted down a proposal to protect the 114,000 jobs provided by the airport and instead supported Council Leader’s plan of a “Hillingdon without Heathrow”. The Council has decided to work with other local authorities who oppose growth at the airport – including the adjoining Boroughs of Richmond and Hammersmith,

Land at Heathrow represents a “remarkable opportunity for future housing redevelopment and this vision has the support of Mayor, Boris Johnson, who prefers the airport closed and replaced by a new London Borough of 250,000 homes at a cost to taxpayers of £15 billion. Boris sees no future for Heathrow – “he believes its transport links make it an ideal location to develop thousands of new homes and businesses in the heart of London’s affluent western suburbs”.

Boris states: “Ambitious cities all over the world are already stealing a march on us and putting themselves in a position to eat London’s breakfast, lunch and dinner by constructing mega airports away from their major centres of population in areas where they have been able to build airports with 4 runways or more”. Foster Island on the inner estuary of the Thames is now his preferred option, which he says is able to handle 180 million passengers a year.” The Prime Minister,however, is silent

Who will win the day and how will it affect Sri Lankan Airlines is your guess?