London Assembly Says U.K. Airport Capacity Enough If Better Used

Britain has enough airport capacity to cope with its needs if it is utilized properly, the London Assembly Transport Committee said in a report published today.

Heathrow, which uses 99 percent of its runway capacity, could serve 20 million more passengers every year without the need for a new runway if bigger airplanes are used, the cross-party panel said in its submission to an independent inquiry into airport capacity.

“The Airports Commission must examine whether better use of existing airport capacity could be an intelligent, cost-effective alternative to building new airports or runways,” Transport Committee Chairwoman Caroline Pidgeon said in an e-mailed statement. “Currently London sees 130 million passengers traveling through our airports each year. The challenge for the government and decision-makers is to find the best way to support the U.K.’s economy globally while ensuring Londoners are not adversely affected by worsening noise and air pollution.”

The Airports Commission was set up by Prime Minister David Cameron to delay a decision on Heathrow expansion until after the 2015 general election. Led by Howard Davies, a former chairman of the Financial Services Authority, the panel will produce an interim report later this year. It should consider the effect better transportation to airports could have on attracting passengers away from Heathrow, according to the Transport Committee.

The excess capacity at London’s other airports means new runways are not needed, it said. In the summer of 2012, 12 percent of runway slots at Gatwick were not used, 47 percent at Stansted and 51 percent at Luton.

Stansted Scope

Stansted told the committee it could attract 1.5 million more passengers a year if the train journey to central London was cut to 30 minutes from the current 45.

The Transport Committee also raised concerns about London Mayor Boris Johnson’s proposal for a new hub airport in the Thames estuary to the east of London. The economic impact of the resulting closure of Heathrow, an increase in airplanes flying over central London and how the 80 billion-pound ($124 billion) cost would be met would need to be considered by the Airport Commission alongside the dangers of birdstrike from thousands of migratory birds in the estuary, it said.

“If the Airports Commission finds that there is a need to increase airport capacity, it should rule out the expansion of Heathrow airport,” it said. “It should also make clear in its interim report its criteria for shortlisting any other options, which should cover cost and funding; how the option would meet local demand for air travel; the effects on Heathrow; airspace implications; and the potential environmental impacts.”

‘Not Certain’

The development of routes from London to emerging markets is influenced by the location of each of its airports and this should be investigated by the review into airport capacity, according to the report. The committee is “not certain” that demand for air travel will increase as much as previously predicted and said London’s airports may not reach capacity until 2040 rather than 2030.

“Each airport in London, including Heathrow, serves a geographically distinct local market and it is this market which is a major influence on where airlines fly to,” the committee said.

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