The Secretary of State for Transport, Rt Hon Justine Greening MP, visited Birmingham Airport today to learn more about the huge capacity that is available immediately, and how Birmingham Airport can take pressure off creaking South East airports.
The debate about recently-launched plans for a “Boris Island” has ignited a fierce debate about Britain’s aviation strategy and events of the weekend have heightened worries about the resilience of the UK’s airport infrastructure.
This is a debate worth having. The crisis of Britain’s airports threatens to derail economic growth. We cannot place all of our eggs in one basket.
Whatever the merits of an Estuary Airport, two important questions remain unanswered by London’s Mayor.
Firstly, there is a question of timing. Department for Transport projections, announced in December 2011, forecast that the number of passengers using the UK's airports could reach 540 million a year by 2040, ahead of the 2008 figure of 372 million. With the best will in the world, it hardly seems possible that an Estuary Airport could be built within twenty years. So how is Boris going to fill the gap in the meantime?
Birmingham’s nine million passengers could be doubled today, on existing infrastructure. Its approved ‘Master Plan’ sees over 27 million using the Airport by 2030, and this could increase to over 35 million. Boris will need this capacity to fill the gap.
Second, there is the question of location. Whilst a high-speed rail link would do much to link an Estuary Airport to other parts of Britain, it is critical that Britain maintains airport capacity near its manufacturing base to create swift, affordable links with our export and import partners.
Mayor Boris should accept that it is no longer desirable for millions of passengers from the North and the Midlands to clog London’s overwhelmed airports, particularly those travelling to destinations well-served by airports like Birmingham.
He should also support the possibility that some London-based passengers would be better off travelling to Birmingham Airport. After all, with a one-hour journey-time from Euston, travelling from central London to a plane at Birmingham Airport is often quicker than the complicated trip to a Heathrow boarding gate. Particularly if you consider the crowded check-in queues and long slog to many gates at Heathrow.
CEO of Birmingham Airport, Paul Kehoe, said, “We were delighted to host the Secretary of State’s ‘fact finding’ visit. Birmingham is a hidden gem and really is the missing part in the aviation capacity jigsaw.
“Boris is right to ask how Britain’s airports can meet growing demand, and to think in ambitious terms about the answer. Because, as he rightly acknowledges, the answer is not a third runway at Heathrow. Everyone accepts that option is now closed.
“Our message to Boris is simple. Britain’s long-term aviation problem requires courageous thinking. But make best use of underused assets, rather than simply adding to the imbalance that has taken place.
“And our message to Justine Greening, the Transport Secretary, is that the forthcoming Aviation White paper must recognise the opportunity to distribute aviation in a way that economically benefits the whole UK – not just the South East!"