13 January 2012

How to turn to our advantage the five present London airports.

Whether you consider the building of a new airport in the Thames estuary a folly or not does not answer the question about how the existing London airports - Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Luton and City would function. If an Estuary airport were ever built these airports will not close - or at most City will have to close (together with Southend) as mentioned in the previous blog of 31/12/11. The need for new runways in the South East is apparent and will remain so whether or not a new airport is built. In fact the call for new runways is ceaseless as illustrated in this article in ABTN (10 January 2012). Therefore, what is needed is to use the assets we have.

London has a large number of airports in comparison to other cities or countries. Amsterdam has Schiphol while the others of note are Rotterdam and Eindhoven. Paris has Charles-de-Gaulle but still uses Orly while Beauvais is some distance away from Paris. New York has JFK and La Guardia together with Newark in New Jersey. Tokyo has Haneda and Narita.  New York and Tokyo together with London are known as the three busiest airport systems in the world with over 100 million passengers per annum. The list goes on but none has as many airports as London (to our knowledge). This, however, can be to our advantage - five airports instead of one massive one.

Why so many?
The role of each of the five airports is different. This is important to note as they are used both as international airports as well as local regional airports..

Heathrow is the International hub for London and Great Britain because it has grown into that role. Everybody (the airlines) wants to fly into it. It had the most international connections of any airport in the world so any connecting passengers wanted to fly into Heathrow. Now, because Heathrow is effectively full, that is not so true since Frankfurt, Paris and Amsterdam have caught up. The others now offer more international connections - but not necessarily with as many seats (per week) on offer. But even that could change.Traffic (2010 in each case) 65.9 million passengers per annum (ppa)(thanks to the UK Civil Aviation Authority - CAA).

City is the businessman´s airport. Principally for people working in the City of London financial district together with Docklands this airport is the most convenient for the most important domestic and European business destinations as well as some leisure(snow and sand) destinations. It also offers two flights daily to New York JFK(except Saturdays). Traffic 2.8 million ppa.

Gatwick was the original airport for charter flights but its role has changed and is still changing. There are still a lot of charter flights and holiday flights in general. Both British Airways and Virgin Atlantic use the airport for their leisure destinations. However, now the new owners are trying to attract more airlines to longer distance destinations such as Vietnam(Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh), China(Hong Kong and Beijing) and Korea. This is part of a strategy to increase the offers for businessmen. The biggest operator at the airport, Easyjet, has many business destinations not just leisure ones. Other big "low cost carrier" airlines are Ryanair and Norwegian.  Traffic 31.4 million ppa.

Stansted also has Easyjet as a large operator at the airport. The Irish airline Ryanair has its largest London base at the airport while other "low cost carrier" (LCC )airlines use it. It serves Europe, some of North Africa and the Canary Islands. Traffic 18.6 million ppa.

Luton is the smallest of the airports but also deals with several LCC airlines including Easyjet (it has its headquarters here), Ryanair, and Wizz. Traffic 8.7 million ppa.

That makes for a grand total of 127.35 million passengers to/from the London airports in 2010. This is down 9% from 2007 when numbers peaked at 139.95 million  LHR 68 million ppa.  LCY 2.9 million ppa.  LGW 35.2 million ppa.  STN  23.8 million ppa.  LTN 9.9 million ppa.

Here it can be seen that BA(as well as from LCY) and Virgin Atlantic operate into/from two large airports while Easyjet and Ryanair operate into /from the three largest airports excluding Heathrow. In fact Easyjet has just made Southend a base to add to its capacity in the South East.The reason for this is that they consider these airports as local as well as being London airports.The catchment area is well within the reach of their customers. Such is the case that EL AL (the Israeli airline) flies from Luton as well as from Heathrow so that it can catch its clientele from north London. Other big operators at the airports are Thomson, Monarch and Thomas Cook.
But what about present capacity?
BAA reported on 12th January 2012 that Heathrow in 2011 operated at 99.2%  of its 480,000 annual flight movements given capacity. If its movements` limitations were modified it could accomodate more flights but not too many. The solution at present is to increase the size of aircraft used so each would carry more passengers. This would not be to the satisfaction of the residents under the flight paths.  

CTY is limited by agreements over movements at the weekends so that residents are not disturbed on Saturday afternoons and Sundays. Its estimated capacity is 5 million ppa. but this depends on aircraft movements.

LGW from a one runway airport is estimated to be operating at 95% capacity. STN is permitted to operate at 264.000 flights per annum and is estimated to have a capacity of 35 million ppa. but is close to capacity at the busiest times  - early and mid morning with late afternoon. LTN has an estimated capacity of 10 million ppa. but this could be increased with better facilities.

This data is thanks to the document prepared by the Greater London Authority "A New Airport For London" January 2011
What is the answer?
Obviously the assets must be sweated but that is only a short term solution and the airport slots  are not necessarily available at the times needed. 

This blogger has proposed freeing up the airports from limitations to decide if they want to increase the numbers of runways or not.That way Heathrow could have three runways while Gatwick, Stansted and Luton would have to argue their cases to provide a second (or more) runway according to needs and market demands - paid for by the interested parties and not the taxpayer.That would increase capacity greatly, even doubling the present capacity, more than enough to satisfy demand through the 21st Century.

The London airports have been badly served by public transport for a long time. Gatwick was the first to have a direct connection to London Victoria  rail station but it took Heathrow until December 1977 till it got its UNDERGROUND connection. Now we have the Heathrow Express non-stop into Paddington. Stansted has the Stansted Express into the airport from Liverpool Street station. Luton has rail services from St. Pancras to Luton Airport Parkway(from where a bus connection is needed to the airport) while City airport is served by DLR services to a adjacent station.

However, the thoughts have always focused on connections to Central London. The error of this is shown to be blatant whenever somebody wishes to travel anywhere else than Central London.

There are still (frequent) bus services from Heathrow to Reading, Guildford and Gatwick. Airtrack was proposed to connect Terminal 5 with Reading, Guildford and Waterloo with dedicated rail services but was later dropped. Now two ideas have emerged to connect Heathrow  T5 with Reading (via the GWML) and Gatwick (a new fast line) called Heathwick (an awful name) Neither is connected to the other, they are badly thought out but at least they are a step in the right direction.

The Gatwick Express now starts ( at least for rush hour journeys) from Brighton so also serves the south coast area. Now and in the future there will be ever more Thameslink services from the south coast through Gatwick and Central London to Luton and Bedford (as well as elsewhere). There are no plans to alter the rail services to Stansted airport.

Crossrail will be a new line through Central London (West to East). One branch will enter Heathrow to replace the Heathrow Connect services which will continue out to City airport and on to Abbey Wood.

The problem is that the services on offer and planned are no way sufficient to take advantage of the airports and the potential they hold. You have to be able to connect from one airport to another while being able to connect to other lines, meaning sources of custom. All this would facilitate usage of the transport systems while not clogging up the centre of London.Let us look at what can be done to connect the airports better.

With Crossrail City airport will be connected to Central London with fast services and out to Paddington and Heathrow. A one stop change at Farringdon will enable connections to Thameslink services to  Luton and Gatwick airports, and onwards. What is needed (already taken into consideration but not affected) is the extension from Abbey Wood to Ebbsfleet. That way Eurostar European services can be connected to as well as Southeastern´s fast services to the Kent coast.

As already said the Gatwick Express runs from Brighton through Gatwick to Victoria. Thameslink services run from Brighton through Gatwick to London Bridge, St.Pancras (Eurostar) /Kings Cross(ECML) and on to Luton and Bedford. Here if a connection were built from Luton Parkway through the airport to Stevenage, then a service could run along the MML from St.Pancras to Luton Parkway and Luton airport(with a stop at West Hampstead to connect to the Underground system) and return along the ECML to Stevenage and Kings Cross(stopping at Finsbury Park for the Underground) (and vice versa). Connectivity outside London is then served better. The point of departure could be the said London termini but also even further south (Gatwick or Brighton)

The best possibilities for improvement are on the Heathrow, Central London  Stansted axis. At the moment the Heathrow Express is owned and run by BAA. It goes from T5 to the Central Area (T1 and T3) at Heathrow and on to Paddington non-stop. If a third runway were built then a new station could be built(without any problem and little disruption) at Terminal 6 (to serve the third runway) on the way to Paddington.
The Stansted Express forms part of the East Anglia franchise running from the airport to Liverpool St. station with a stop at Tottenham Hale to connect to the Underground system.

To combine the two services to make it a Heathrow - Stansted Express is totally logical as each runs 4 services per hour.
The problems lies in the fact that there are three companies involved, BAA, National Express East Anglia and Crossrail.  However, that should not be an insuperable obstacle if the three are flexible and the government is prepared to bang some heads together when necessary. If the H- S Express were set up then the running pattern could be the same from Heathrow to Paddington(non-stop), then picking up /setting down passengers in Central London, connecting to Thameslink (for Gatwick and Luton) at Farringdon then on to Liverpool St., out to Stratford (for Eurostar and Underground) and non-stop to Stansted. (of course all the central London stops connect with the Underground). This would then be a truely connecting service from end to end with everything in between.

It does not stop there, however. As already mentioned ideas have been floated about a connection to the GWML and on to Reading from Heathrow. A seperate idea was a new fast line from Heathrow to Gatwick. The bad thing was the ideas were not thought through. Both ideas are good in isolation but extremely better if combined. 
This blogger´s thoughts on these ideas were expounded in two bloggs in October 2011. 
"Reading - Heathrow Rail Connection" 6 October  and
"Heathrow - Gatwick Rail link" 11 October  as well as previously
 "Luton - the Next Best Bet?" 5 July 2010  and  
"Fast Trax 2 - The case for a southern high speed alternative (SHSL)" 24 February 2010 

The important thing to remember is that direct services can be offered from the airports (a)if there are excellent connections to the rail network  and (b)if there is demand . It should be said that road connections are not  considered since there is excessive road traffic on the roads and the emphasis should be on transfering traffic on to public transport.

The rail connections to public transport must be  (a) to the final destination of London (b) to other transport interchanges to facilitate easy movement to the outskirts of the capital without clogging Central London,(c) to other destinations outside the capital which can be through connections or direct services, and (d) the ability to interchange from one airport(easily, and quickly) to another to facilitate the needs of transfer passengers. A one stop or one change system of rail transport can make London´s airport system much more attractive to domestic and foreign passengers alike. This would then mean greater usage of the system(each airport having two runways or more according to demand).

The demand for such connections is of supreme importance to make them viable alternatives. It should be remembered that as stated in the report from HSR2 Ltd..(High Speed Rail London to the West Midlands and Beyond HS2) Demand Model Analysis. "Our model suggests a station at Heathrow would deliver the greatest demand for access to Heathrow, with around 2,000 passengers per day using HS2 to access the airport for international flights. This means that even a station at Heathrow which is deliberately modelled to maximise the attractiveness for airport passengers would represent less than 2% of the traffic on HS2". This report was to the Department for Transport. Both under the Labour government and later with the coalition government the reports were that any HS2 spur to Heathrow was not justified by numbers. However, this changes when the connectivity is amplified to include more than one airport, or simplify connections to the rail system. But any connection does not necessarily mean to HS2 as we have stated earlier.

Is it not more attractive to have train services (a)Eurostar from Heathrow , through Gatwick and Ashford to Brussels and Amsterdam or Cologne, or to Lille and Paris (b) Cross Country trains from Gatwick, through Heathrow to Reading and then westwards to Wales or northwards to Birmingham? Would these services not dampen down demand for domestic and near-Europe air services? After all that is the objective of the "Green" lobby. In the end you have to spend in order to save.

Use the airports. Expand them which would far less disruptive than other plans. Think of them as local as well as national assets. Make them work together by connecting them.
GBP50 billion can go a lot much further in improving the infrastructure for a greater number of people over greater areas of the country, than just a"white elephant" standing in the mists of the Thames Estuary buzzed and bespotted by seagulls and wild geese. 

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