U.K.’s McLoughlin Won’t Rule Out Expansion at London’s Heathrow

U.K. Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said he hasn’t ruled out expanding London’s Heathrow Airport, days before a panel is due to make its recommendations on how to ease regional congestion.

“If we’re going to compete in the global race, if we’re going to have the right long-term future for the U.K., we must make sure this country isn’t left behind,” McLoughlin said in an interview on the BBC’s “Andrew Marr Show” yesterday. “There are lots of different options available for us.”

With Heathrow, Europe’s busiest airport, and Gatwick close to full, lawmakers are under pressure to add more runways in the southeast, the most densely populated part of Britain. London Mayor Boris Johnson has pledged to block expansion at Heathrow in favor of a new base in the Thames estuary to avoid blighting homes in the capital. In its last manifesto, Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative party ruled out expanding Heathrow before the next election.

When asked whether the best option would be to add a third runway at Heathrow, McLoughlin said while the government would keep its pledge to not expand the London hub before May 2015, no option has been ruled out.

“What we said at the last general election is that we would not build a third runway this Parliament,” he said. “We will stick by our manifesto commitment.”

The government-appointed Airport Commission will release its initial recommendations for airport expansion this week before a final report in 2015. Commission Chairman Howard Davies has said the U.K. needs more runway capacity in the southeast as expanding regional airports and boosting the average load factor of planes arriving at London’s existing bases won’t be enough.

“One of the things that will be clear when we’ve seen the report from Howard Davies is that it’s not an immediate problem,” McLoughlin said. “It is something that we’ve got to get right, we’ve got the time to get it right.”