Third Heathrow runway won’t solve problem, say engineers

Arguments over a third runway at Heathrow are distracting from the long-term debate over Britain’s aviation future, engineers will tell the government today.

In response to the government’s draft Aviation Policy Framework consultation, the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) argues that the debate shouldn’t be whether to build a third Heathrow runway or a new hub airport, but whether a fourth runway is possible.

Together with the Chartered Institution of Highways and Transportation (CIHT), the ICE is calling for the independent commission addressing the future of UK aviation, led by Sir Howard Davies, to favour a twin-track approach to aviation capacity.

This would help to relieve capacity restraints in the short term while maintaining the UK’s Europe-leading position in the long term.

‘To maintain its global economic competitiveness, the UK needs a hub with more than three runways and rapid access to Central London,’ said Alex Lake of the ICE’s aviation expert panel.

‘If we decide Heathrow can’t or shouldn’t be expanded to this size we will need to develop a new hub facility elsewhere in South East England. This will naturally take time, so the Davies Commission must press on with evaluating all available long-term options now.

‘This however, does not remove the need for action over the next 5-10 years to keep the UK in the game in the short term. The Commission must therefore simultaneously conduct a thorough review of all the short term options.’

The consultation response states that the UK’s approach should also acknowledge the crucial role regional airports play through connecting flights to the national hub and ensure their ability to fulfil this role isn’t undermined by lack of access to landing slots at Heathrow.

The institutions are also warning that expanding Heathrow or building a new hub airport will never become a reality if investors do not believe the UK has an aviation strategy that can survive a change of government.

They argue that the solution is a statutory body similar to the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) to implement the Davies Commission’s recommendations.

Sue Percy, CIHT chief executive, said: ‘The creation of an Independent Commission to examine future capacity needs and how they could be met is welcome, but its final report will not be published until after the 2015 General Election, potentially causing yet more delay and indecision and damaging the UK’s credibility as a location for private investment in aviation infrastructure.

‘The Commission’s interim report in 2013 must indicate a clear direction of travel and come 2015, Government should make an unambiguous decision that has cross party consensus and can be driven forward.’

The ICE’s Alex Lake added: ‘When it comes to the UK’s airport infrastructure needs, there are some tough political and public choices, but the UK’s reputation is on the line. We must establish an agreed, coherent strategy that reflects our future capacity needs and sets out how they could realistically be met over both the short and long term.

‘The transport and engineering profession stands ready to contribute expertise gained on recent large scale projects – not least the Olympics – and ensure the Commission receives robust advice on the challenges and deliverability of all the solutions on the table.’