Boris and CBI collide over Heathrow

Passions are running high ahead of the Airport Commission's decision on expansion.

by Dave Waller
Last Updated: 03 Nov 2014

The decision regarding the expansion of London's airport capacity is set to remain up in the air till next summer, but Sir Howard Davies, the chairman of the Airports Commission, is due to announce this week whether Boris Johnson's proposal for a four-runway airport in the Thames estuary (now known as Boris Island) gets to keep its seat on the shortlist.

By all accounts Johnson's pet project is about to get pushed out the door without a parachute – and he's launched a suitably feisty bout of air rage before that happens.

You have to give BoJo credit for his dedication to the cause, even if some of his language does resemble that of a bloke chucking his toys out of the pram at 30,000 feet.

Writing in the Telegraph, he described plans for the extra runway as 'desperately short-sighted' and 'barbarically contemptuous of the rights of the population', saying it would put people's health at risk. He said a third runway would be 'a disaster for hundreds of thousands of people living under new flight paths, who currently have no idea of the peril'. 'We need scale and ambition to compete,' he wrote, 'and Heathrow is no answer.'

Indeed, everyone seems agreed on the scale and ambition part of that equation. It's how to get it that has proven divisive. Last week Heathrow's new chief exec John Holland-Kaye wrote an open letter to Johnson asking him to support the campaign to expand his airport should the proposal for Boris Island get jettisoned. Judging from Johnson's comments today, the London mayor would be more likely to get behind the idea of expanding Crossrail so it reached the major hubs of our fair planet instead.

Meanwhile the CBI chose today to launch its report into the matter, apparently backing Heathrow over Gatwick.

'While no one can predict the future of air travel, the track record shows that it tends to be hub airports that deliver the new connections to emerging markets that we desperately need,' said Katja Hall, CBI deputy director-general, in a statement.

As Heathrow is the UK’s main hub airport (hubs being those that attract both local passengers and those who fly in on short-haul flights before transferring on to longer flights), it seems the CBI is dipping its wings that way.

Elsewhere in the report the CBI pressed for the launching of air routes to emerging markets, to safeguard the UK economy – backing George Osborne’s call to double exports to £1trn by the end of the decade. It also stressed the importance of cracking on with it, pressing for 'spades in the ground by 2020'.

That's surely what it's all about, and the Airport Commission's decision this week should at least help move that along. Perhaps then politicians could turn their focus to expanding these business connections beyond the South East. But that's a whole other flight path...

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