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Runway decision: doors to manual and cross-checked…

Runway decision: doors to manual and cross-checked…

🕔24.Oct 2016

Birmingham’s hopes of securing something from the seemingly never ending process to decide on future aviation capacity for the UK seem to be rising by the day, reports Kevin Johnson

Howard Davies, the chair of the Airports Commission, takes to The Telegraph today on the eve of an expected decision tomorrow.

Forget Gatwick. Expand Heathrow now and Birmingham later runs the headline which tells you almost all you need to know.

Taking a swipe at former PM David Cameron – “the immovable object” – Mr Davies argues the case for Heathrow is even stronger than when his report was published.

The arguments for making a decision now, and for Heathrow, have strengthened in recent months. Overseas, the lack of a decision is seen as a symbol of Britain’s inability to decide on its future as a trading nation. That may well be to overstate the case, but it is the way overseas businesses and governments view it. And the need for a clear strategic direction is more important since the referendum result. The rhetoric about becoming a European Singapore with a “blue water” trading focus seems empty if we cannot connect to the new markets we wish to serve.

He remains unconvinced by Gatwick, or Britain’s ability to attract sun-worshippers.

Gatwick is largely a European short-haul airport. It is also oriented towards outward tourism. About 70 per cent of its tourist passengers are Brits going to the sun. Sadly, relatively few residents of Marbella and Corfu come here for their summer break.

At Heathrow the tourist traffic is largely inbound. With our huge balance of payments deficit we need more high-spending American and Asian tourists to balance the books.

And Heathrow has hugely more air freight, some 150 times as much as Gatwick by value. High-value exports go through the airport and its extensive infrastructure of logistics companies. Replicating that infrastructure around Gatwick would be hugely costly.

There have been suggestions in recent days that both Heathrow and Gatwick will get the nod tomorrow. Mr Davies does not give that outcome much credence.

Indeed some have argued that the government should allow both Heathrow and Gatwick to expand.

That would be a mistake. Allowing two proposals to continue could mean neither is built, as it would be impossible to argue that both runways could be fully used in the next twenty years while meeting our legislated climate change commitments. So the decision could be challenged in the courts.

He now seems to give Birmingham Airport more of a hearing than when the Airports Commission was sitting, which will only be modest relief to Paul Kehoe.

Also, the Airports Commission ran an open competition for the first new runway. The non short-listed airports, notably Birmingham and Stansted, accepted the decision, explicitly on the condition that they would be able to bid again for any second runway. Giving Gatwick the green light now would again risk a challenge, and might well turn out to be the wrong long-term decision.

With HS2 in place, Birmingham might indeed be a more interesting option.

Reports from this morning’s Number 10 lobby briefing say that the decision on expansion at Heathrow or Gatwick will be taken by the Prime Minister and other senior ministers at the airport sub-committee before cabinet tomorrow morning, but there has been no confirmation of the exact timing.

Meanwhile, No 10 did not rule out that it could be announced before the markets opened, because it is so financially sensitive. There will be a statement to the House of Commons at 12.30pm.

Last week, Birmingham Airport celebrated its nineteenth consecutive month of record breaking growth having seen its busiest September on record.

In total 1,207,796 people were recorded travelling through the airport last month, up by 15.8% compared to the same month last year. This means the airport has also recorded its fifth consecutive month this year in which it has handled over a million passengers.

Long haul saw very significant passenger growth rates, up by 21.5%, and short haul grew by 15.1% year-on-year.

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