Whisper it! Heathrow 3rd runway is losing the support of business

Blog by John Stewart

There have been persistent whispers that the two big business organizations, the CBI and London First, are losing their enthusiasm for a third runway

 This may be heresy.  But it simply may not matter what the Davies Commission, set up last year by the Government to look at future airport capacity, says about a third runway at Heathrow.  The tide may already have turned against the controversial project.

I was a speaker at a major aviation conference last week organized by the prestigious Westminster Energy, Environment & Transport Forum:http://www.westminsterforumprojects.co.uk/forums/index.php?fid=westminster_energy_environment_and_transport_forum.  When the chair asked who supported a third runway, only a very few of the 250 people present raised their hand.  This from an audience predominately drawn from the aviation industry and business.

Caste you mind back ten years, to 2003, the year the Labour Government published its Air Transport White Paper.  Business and industry overwhelmingly supported a third runway and fully expected it would be built.  Even three years ago, when the current Government dropped plans for a third runway two days after taking power, many in the business community saw this as a temporary aberration.  Normal service would soon be restored.

Now, however, a very different attitude is emerging.  Much of business and certainly most of the aviation industry still want airport expansion but they are moving away from support for a third runway.  Business people tend to be realists.  Many now believe that, in the real world, a third runway will not happen.

There are signs business now appreciates the 3rd runway cannot be the quick, relatively cheap solution it is looking for.  It would not be ready before 2025.

 Figures like the former Conservative transport minister, Steve Norris, have long recognized that a third runway is politically untenable.  British Airway’s boss Willie Walsh is planning his business on the assumption it will not happen.  All political parties are opposed to it.  As is the Mayor of London.  But, recently, there have been persistent whispers that the two big business organizations, the CBI (Confederation of British Industry) andLondonFirst, are losing their enthusiasm for a third runway.  Their public position is still to support it.  In private, doubts are emerging.

There are signs that business now appreciates a third runway cannot be the quick, relatively cheap solution it is looking for.  Even if a new government gave it permission after the 2015 General Election it would be over a decade after that before it would be up and running.  And that assumes the opposition wouldn’t kill it off a second time:http://www.hacan.org.uk/resources/reports/how.the.heathrow.campaign.was.won.pdf.

The diverse ownership of the aviation industry now gives business choices it didn’t have a decade ago.  It has begun shopping around for the best deal.

 Business is also aware that the aviation industry is very different from 2003.  Then BAA owned the three London Airports.  Today, both Stansted and Gatwick have new owners.  Gatwick is making a very public case for a second runway.  The Mayor of London is backing Stansted.  Business has now got choices it didn’t have a decade ago.  It has begun shopping around to look for the best deal.

 

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