by John Stewart
On the face of it, it may seem odd to cite the economy as a reason why Heathrow does not need a third runway. After all, many in business back a third runway. And it is the main reason Heathrow Airport gives for promoting one.
Let’s acknowledge up front that a 3rd runway would bring economic benefits. And that it would improve connections for business to key markets in the world’s emerging economies – places like China, India and Brazil.
But that is very different to saying that a 3rd runway is essential to London’s economy. There is clear evidence it is not.
Only today, the influential Forbes international survey named London as the top city in the world for business – without a third runway. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/london-tops-forbes-list-of-the-worlds-most-influential-cities-in-2014-9676264.html It is worth reading what, Joel Kotkin, the author of the Forbes report wrote: “London is not only the historic capital of the English language, which contributes to its status as a powerful media hub and major advertising centre, but it’s also the birthplace of the cultural, legal and business practices that define global capitalism. The city has upward of 3,000 tech startups, as well as Google’s largest office outsideSilicon Valley. Compared to New York, it is also time-zone advantaged for doing business in Asia, and has the second best global air connections of any city after Dubai, with non-stop flights at least three times a week to 89 per cent of global cities outside of its home region of Europe.”
The Forbes survey gives added weight to what a number of commentators have been saying for some time. To meet current growth projections London and the South East may need a new runway by 2030 but it need not be at Heathrow.
The main reason the London economy doesn’t depend on Heathrow expanding is this: more passengers (business people and tourists) terminate in London than in any other city in the world. On the whole, they do not mind which London airport they use.
Heathrow must be looked at in the context of all London’s airports. London has six airports and seven runways. London has more runways than any of its European rivals, except Paris: Paris is served by 3 airports and 8 runways; Amsterdam by 1 airport and 6 runways; Frankfurt by 2 airports and 5 runways; and Madrid by 1 airport and 4 runways.
As the Forbes survey so clearly indicated,London is the hub. The vitality of London is what draws business people and tourists in world-beating numbers. Because London is the magnet, Heathrow does not need to expand as a hub* in order to enable more transfer passengers to provide sufficient numbers of people to fill flights to destinations across the world that would not otherwise be commercially viable.
If airport capacity is provided – at whatever airport – people will flock to the capital in even larger numbers, drawn by the magnetic pull of London. A third runway at Heathrow may boost the coffers of Heathrow Airport’s foreign owners. It is not, though, essential for the health of London economy.
* a hub airport is one where passengers can change planes – for example, because there are few direct flights from Copenhagen to New York, many people from Copenhagen will fly to Heathrow and then transfer on to a New York flight.