18 October 2012

Heathrow closure: 2/2 - it will not happen

If the points mentioned in the previous blog are not sufficient to convince anybody about the reasons for keeping Heathrow open,then there are still many more to discuss to clarify the future of the airport.

In the Mayor of London´s Transport Strategy report of June 2010, it states on page 242 
 "The international connectivity that aviation provides is crucial to the competitiveness of London´s economy in this era of globalisation. Therefore, strict limits on aviation growth in the London area are not tenable, nor would be effective with demand shifting to competing aviation hubs."

So, the Mayor, Boris Johnson, recognises the need for new runways. Actually, no; the reality of the situation is much more cynical. He does want a new hub airport in the Thames Estuary but not at the existing London airports.
The answer why is quite clear.

1 - Votes. His present constituency is Greater London, and not wider - roughly that area which is encompassed within the orbital motorway round London (M25) . The City and Heathrow airports are inside that ring while Gatwick, Stansted and Luton are outside. To propose any of those three airports to be designated a hub (as opposed to Heathrow) he could be clearly accused of "passing the buck" - especially as two of them form part of  "the Conservative Party" heartlands. By, firstly, proposing a new hub in the Thames Estuary, and later unashamedly supporting any other person or group (such as  Foster and Partners and  Gensler architects) who propose any alternative in the Estuary he is seen as grasping at straws.
 Despite the extremely strong arguments against any estuary airport Mayor Boris perceives himself as the politician who solves two problems (a) providing the needed expansion of runway capacity in the South East of England and (b) reducing the pollution (noise and fumes) levels in the capital so as to achieve the targets(not already met) to the satisfaction of Brussels. Achieving that, the voters of London might well thank him for it, but those affected (not his constituents/voters) by any new airport most certainly would not. The air traffic controllers  as well as the councils of Medway and the county of Kent have already come out against such an Estuary airport.This is not for the general good as he pretends but pure, egoistical, cynical politicking - nothing else.

2 - As was mentioned in the previous paragraph, as well as the previous blog, the British government is charged with reducing air pollution - whatever the cause. The London Assembly, under the Mayor, has to put this into practice. As you can see on the same page 242  of the strategy report, the effect of aviation pollution is not large compared to other forms of road transport, with both taxis and cars (separately) having greater emissions of CO2. In the previous blog you saw that 22% of emissions are attributable to transport of which 14% corresponds to rail, 72% to cars, buses and goods vehicles etc. while 14% corresponds to aviation (all ground and air usage up to 1000 meters) - this means 3.1% of all air pollution in/over London (so much!!). "Passing the buck" to another airport by closing Heathrow easily facilitates the problem of reduction of air pollution for Mayor Boris, though this, as shown, is only a minor part of the problem. Of course this is plain (pun intended) hypocrisy.

Thus the Mayor´s high profile media campaigns have to be seen in their true light. Remember that at the present time he is seen as a strong candidate to take over the Conservative leadership from David Cameron if/when the latter slips up. Thus Boris needs successes in his pocket.

Whatever the politics of the question concerning airport expansion some people work at trying to find solutions which can square the circle.

One such solution to the question of airport capacity and its associated problems was a 70 page document published 5th October 2012 by Policy Exchange called "Bigger and Quieter: the right answer for aviation"(written by Tim Leunig of Centre Forum).

This envisages the present northern and southern Heathrow runways being extended about three kilometers westwards over the M25 and the reservoirs there. They would have parallel runways 380 meters apart to the south and another 380 meters apart to the north. The distance between the inner southern and northern runways would have to be 1035 meters at least. That would make a four runway layout. The southern runways would operate independently from the northern ones (as at present) but dependent on each other similarly to a mixed-mode operation. The aircraft taking off from the inner runway would thus have to wait for the incoming aircraft to land on the outer runway before moving. This makes for a higher potential usage than mixed-mode on the present two runways, but is still very similar. The estimation is for a capacity rise from the actual 480,000 movements to about 850,000 movements per year with an increase in annual passenger capacity from the actual 70 million to 121 million.The estimated cost is much less than any green field(or water) site as much of the infrastructure is already in place.

The document goes into a lot of detail. It talks about passenger entry/exit, transfer between terminals and about layout to simplify ground movements for aircraft thus saving on ground distance to be covered and so kerosene to be burned. The principal argument to move the runways westwards is to increase the approach heights over west London. With a steeper landing inclination (and on take off) at 5.5º, instead of the present 3º it would mean that over Richmond planes would be approaching at 1400meters rather than the 800 meters now, thus reducing the noise effect. The aircraft types are looked at, in addition to the present restrictions, with the eventual aim of prohibiting certain older, noisier and greater fuel guzzlers.

A Thames Estuary hub is rejected, as is a third runway at Heathrow and expansion of Gatwick and Stansted airports. However, the document does state that if its Heathrow proposals are rejected then Luton would be a viable alternative as a four runway airport. (this is an idea which this blogger proposed on 5th July 2010 - "Luton - The Next Best Bet ?")

This blogger finds the document to be one of the best on the subject of airport expansion in the South East of England and should be read by everyone who claims to know the solution to Heathrow and greater capacity. However,as is to be expected, I do not agree with some points. Those criticisms relating to Luton airport, few to be sure, can be dealt with at another time.

The proposal to extend the runways 3 kilometers west of the present Heathrow layout is radical. It does not take into account the effect on Old Windsor, Windsor itself, Datchet and other settlements.
Even if that is the price to pay, the runways do not need to be extended three kilometers. If you extended them westwards(the northern runway 800 meters while the southern even up to 1.5 kilometers) to the M25 you could help alleviate the noise problem over west London. Planes would just have to land further down the (longer) runway. The noise problem could thus be alleviated to a real extent without affecting large numbers or costing extensive amounts of money.
This proposal  would involve just the expropriation of a couple of dozen properties at Stanwell Moor for the southern runway but none for the northern. The present southern and northern runways extended westwards as indicated could well be enough for noise reduction.

The proposed additional two runways would be helpful, of course, but would only provide part of the answer, expensive to deliver and affect larger numbers of people / properties. What the writer in the report, Tim Leunig, has not mentioned is that with his proposal the two southern and two northern runways would be operating as two mini airports, independently, in their own right. There would be no alternation between the northern and the southern runways for landings and take-offs thus making them work all day. At present there is an agreement about alternating usage on each runway, which is a modification of the previous Cranford Agreement, so as to give residents in the area east of the airport (principally) relief from aircraft noise. The net effect is to double the bother to residents. Thus this blogger rejects the proposal of double runways.

The idea of a third runway(R3) could be beneficial to the residents affected at the moment by not changing these agreements of runway alternation. It would affect a different group  of residents in the area but not as much if this blogger´s proposals were taken into account. See the blog "Heathrow´s 3rd runway - how to focus" of 23rd February 2012. The ideas there expressed were to make R3 an independent operation so not interrupting operations on the two main runways and being limited to smaller, thus quieter, aircraft. In fact if propeller driven aircraft were used (an impossibility now on the main runways) there would be no noticeable effect outside the airport boundary on take-offs and landings. The idea is feasible and viable, but also beneficial to local residents as the irritants would be minimal.

The placement of R3 has to be chosen carefully so as to cause minimal effect on the present occupants of the area and the residents affected by operations. If R3 were pushed up to as near as possible to the M4 as legalities(both present and foreseeable), possible M4 widening,  and practicalities permit, as well as being started nearer the M25 at its western end, then even a lot of the demolition of properties would not be necessary. This might mean the runway would have to be about 250 meters south of the M4 at its nearest point. If that were done, even with a 3km. runway (to serve all emergency eventualities, for the whole airport as mentioned in previous blogs on the subject), then Harlington would not need any properties to be expropriated. Harmondsworth need not be affected to a great extent. Sipson would still be affected but to a lesser degree than the present plans. R3 would operate in mixed-mode fashion (alternating landings and take-offs on the same runway).

With R3 being built (terminal 6) T6 is needed with its satellites.  That way you provide the extra terminal capacity without altering the present plans for T1 and T2. It also means that aircraft using R3 would use their own terminal and would not have to cross/interfere with the northern (main) runway to reach other terminals. R3 would be far enough north of the present northern runway to be able to operate independently from it. The effect on Harmondsworth could be much less dramatic, meaning a lower number of expropriations. What must not be forgotten is that some properties along the A4 would have to make way for taxiways to connect the main part of the airport to T6 and R3, though not all have to be houses and hotels some would be carparks.

The government is pressing ahead with plans to connect Heathrow to HS2 - the high speed rail line from Central London to Birmingham and eventually northwards. Nothing is being said at the moment but they are convinced that the connection is needed. The proponents of the idea see it as the solution to the problems, at Heathrow, of ever increasing overcrowding both in the terminals and on the runways so reducing the need for airport expansion.

The idea for the HS2 and other rail connections to Heathrow are based on two assumptions. One is that passengers will transfer from domestic flights to rail thus eliminating the need for domestic flights - this is completely erroneous. That has not been the case anywhere. Some passengers always find it more convenient to connect to a flight to their home airport from where it is easier and quicker to get home.

What the politicians do not mention is, if it works as envisaged, rail would funnel more and more passengers on to flights at Heathrow. The passengers would find Heathrow more attractive instead of them using connecting flights through other European hubs.

The result of this would be twofold if the idea works. There would be fewer connecting flights from regional airports, to other (principally) European airports thus reducing the activity at these airports.The government plan(or intention) is to increase the connections from regional airports to the rest of the British Isles and mainland Europe - this is quite the opposite.The other result would be more passengers being channelled through Heathrow. This would provoke the need for greater capacity at LHR, not less. This is quite the opposite to the intended effect.

The other assumption is with regard to HS2 itself. Is it going to be built? Will the High Speed rail line be built through the airport, or next to it? Now there is talk of changing the route to go through LHR (instead of as a spur from the new main line as is the present proposal). Even if the spur or direct connection to HS2 are not built, will government decide to connect the newly electrified Great Western Main Line (GWML) to the airport? This latter option has already been taken on board with the proposed connection from Reading to Heathrow ("Government backs £500m Heathrow-South West rail link" -  Rail.co 13 July 2012) That means the government is already supporting the airport for the future.

With such an investment government will not then close Heathrow within 15-20 years, at least. The bigger question is if government coughs up the money for the HS2 connection, either as a spur or as a stop on the direct line. If the decision is positive then Heathrow´s future  -  and expansion (meaning Runway 3 and Terminal 6) - is assured. And that is what will happen.

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