Monday, September 8, 2014

Freight Associations Support Vote Against London Island Airport Decision

Few Outside Direct Advocacy Groups Support Boris Island Plan
Shipping News Feature

UK – Both the British International Freight Association (BIFA) and the Freight Transport Association (FTA) have welcomed the Airports Commission’s decision not to include the inner Thames estuary (ITE) airport, or as it’s more colloquially known ‘Boris Island’, proposal in its shortlist of options for providing new airport capacity by 2030. The report found that there were some benefits for the island airport but its disadvantages weighed more heavily and that public opinion was not in favour of the ambitious project. In eliminating the proposal, the commission said:

“Surprisingly, in view of [the] promised benefits, the Commission has found in its enquiries that few people outside the direct advocacy groups support the idea. The aviation industry doubts the viability of the plan, local councils are opposed, and business groups are similarly unenthusiastic.

“At the end of this lengthy process, we have concluded that in view of the obstacles to delivery, high costs and uncertain benefits we will not shortlist [this] scheme for further consideration. While we recognise the need for a hub airport, we believe this should be a part of an effective system of competing airports to meet the needs of a widely spread and diverse market like London’s. One or more of those airports will need to grow: we will recommend which of them should expand first in our final report.”

The commission were not convinced that a very large airport in the Thames Estuary was the right answer to London’s and the UK’s connectivity needs, and that the airport would need to be very large to justify the enormous costs involved, both for the airport itself and the surface transport connections to it. The least ambitious version of the scheme would cost £67 to £88 billion for a three runway airport and rising to £97 to more than £120 billion to deliver a four-runway airport with the full surface access infrastructure needed to support unrestricted operations.

When it comes to bettering the UK’s transport infrastructure, the government has a habit of over spending, with HS2 already exceeding initial estimated costs by £87 million with development planned to start in 2017, the new Edinburgh tram line finishing three years late and around £375 million over budget, and plenty of road projects over the years also late and costing more than originally anticipated.

For an airport facing the sea there were also hurdles of an environmental nature to contend with, as managing the risk of birdstrike, particularly outside the airport perimeter, would also be challenging, and risks would be presented to several protected habitats, which would have to be relocated adding more time and money to the mounting costs. These protected habitats are also subject to very high levels of environment protection regulations and, although such a relocation has recently been undertaken apparently successfully at the new deep water port of London Gateway, the airport site would likely prove larger and more difficult in this context.

These disadvantages need to be considered alongside the potential benefits of an ITE airport. The overall noise benefits from closing Heathrow and opening a new airport in the inner Thames Estuary would be substantial. There would be the potential for strongly positive local economic effects as a result of direct, indirect and induced employment generated by a new airport, but conversely, the proposed closure of Heathrow Airport, a tie-in with the plan, would have such a detrimental effect on its surrounding area and economy. Though the sale of Heathrow would fund the ITE Airport but the costs would only be recouped after the now failed proposal would have been completed and even that wouldn’t have covered all the costs, leaving taxpayers to pick up the rather hefty bill.

In welcoming the commission’s decision, the FTA were glad of the recognition 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:

“Air freight accounts for about 40% of UK imports and exports by value and is an essential mode of transport for many industry sectors. [The] FTA would like to emphasise to the Airports Commission that air cargo is crucially important to British businesses as importers and exporters, and is a key enabler for growth and the future success of the UK economy.”

The commission will now continue its appraisal of the 3 shortlisted proposals for additional capacity and will publish the appraisal for public consultation later in the autumn: an additional runway at Gatwick, and additional runway at Heathrow, or an extension to the existing runway at Heathrow to operate as two separate runways. BIFA’s Director General, Robert Keen, commented:

“BIFA’s members hope that [this] decision will allow the commission to focus on the three most appropriate and sustainable solutions in the lead up to its final report in the summer of 2015. In the lead up to that final report, BIFA will continue to submit our thoughts to the Commission relative to the constraints imposed by capacity limitations, UK global connectivity, the importance of air freight and the key facilitative role played by the freight forwarder.

“We can only hope that after the general election in May 2015, the welter of evidence as presented will be such that politicians will give the green light and adopt these recommendations in full and finally get things started on a much overdue expansion of UK aviation hub capacity.”

Photo: Our Thames side office assures us the tide does come in that quickly.