Airport campaign warning of £45bn cost to UK economy

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No more runway capacity could cost the UK up to £45 billion ($74.4 billion) between 2021 and 2080, the Let Britain Fly, pro-airport campaign group and its industry supporters have warned. 

The £45 billion figure comes from the UK government’s Airport Commission’s own analysis. The Commission is to recommend how UK runway capacity can be expanded after May 2015. At a 2 September Let Britain Fly press event it and its supporters called on politicians to pledge to act on the Commission’s recommendations within a year of the next general election. It is scheduled for May next year. 

Let Britain Fly supporter and chief executive officer of warehouse developer, SEGRO, David Sleath tells Air Cargo Week: “Business is being constrained, politicians need to do something. Forty per cent of exports by value are transported by air; people often forget that Britain does 20 times more trade with countries it has a direct link with. We are losing out to competitors, it is vital for investment to have new runway capacity.”

A study in 2011 by economic consultancy Frontier Economics said the UK could be missing out on as much as £29 billion a year in trade and investment because of lack of connectivity. The Commission says air transport generates £9.8 billion ($16.2 billion) annually and predicts all London airports will be full by the mid-2020s. It also forecasts demand for flights in the UK to grow by more than 50 per cent by 2050. 

The Let Britain Fly pledge aims to put pressure on the leaders of the UK’s political parties to commit to build more runway capacity in their 2015 general election manifestos – policy documents with pledges of planned action for the electorate. The campaign wants to ensure a vote in the UK parliament on airport expansion by 2016 at the latest.

Let Britain Fly director, Gavin Hayes, says: “The Airports Commission says London needs one new runway, if politicians cannot support that, how can we expect them to build one? The time has come for our politicians to commit to something.”

The proposals put forward to the Commission for runway capacity include the Heathrow and Gatwick airports. The proposal for Heathrow Airport is for either a third runway or extending the northern runway. The extended northern runway would  be used as two runways. The Gatwick Airport proposal is for a second runway.

A proposal for a new hub airport in the Thames estuary, dubbed Boris Island because of mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has been rejected. The Airports Commission decided the proposal had substantial disadvantages, which would outweigh potential benefits. It estimates the Thames estuary would cost at least £70 billion. The Let Britain Fly campaign also cited public support for more runways. A July survey by the UK government’s Office of National Statistics showed that 59 per cent of respondents support the construction of new runways.

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