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Date: 2024-07-24 Page is: DBtxt003.php txt00012106

Infrastructure
Airport Constraints

Heathrow expansion addresses a sliver of EU airport capacity crunch

Burgess COMMENTARY

Peter Burgess

Heathrow expansion addresses a sliver of EU airport capacity crunch

Downing Street has been pondering an expansion of runway capacity around London for years, but Tuesday’s announcement that Heathrow will be expanded won’t be enough to solve a European airport capacity crunch alone.

Europe’s air traffic management organization Eurocontrol has flagged the U.K., Turkey and the Benelux as key bottlenecks in physical landing capacity. What’s more, forward planning at other hubs is lacking.

“There is still ample capacity at Charles de Gaulle in Paris but look down the road 25 years and there will be major congestion issues. But nobody is talking about it,” said Olivier Jankovec, the director general of airport association ACI Europe.

And even though Prime Minister Theresa May’s cabinet gave the nod for Heathrow, the action merely triggers a year-long public consultation before a final decision is taken subject to a vote in the House of Commons. It will be years before construction can begin.

In the meantime, Heathrow’s two existing runways are operating at 99 percent capacity, mirroring a continental shortage in aviation capacity that’s largely flying under the radar.

“We all know that one runway at Heathrow is not enough,” Jankovec said. “It’s too little too late. We need more.”

Capacity crunch

The International Air Transport Association said this month that it expects global air passenger numbers to almost double by 2035 to 7.2 billion. Much of that growth will be in Asia and Africa, but Europe will need to build fast if it wants to keep its hub airports as key transit points.

“Growth in air travel continues to put tremendous pressure on congested and aging airport infrastructure, and airports worldwide are struggling to keep up with demands,” said Alessandro Ciancimino, vice president at consultancy Sabre Airline Solutions.

In Europe alone, air-traffic congestion during the next 20 years will result in a 12 percent reduction in demand, or 237 million less passenger journeys, Ciancimino said.

Outside London, a new airport at Berlin is mired in delays and the Dutch hub at Schipol is approaching capacity as environmental rules limit the number of planes that can fly through. When projects are approved, building them takes time. Construction outside London is unlikely to begin before 2020, if domestic politics doesn’t get in the way first.

Key to growth

For some, the decision to invest is a no-brainer, though there are critics including London Mayor Sadiq Khan who said that the decision to expand Heathrow Airport “is the wrong decision for London, and the wrong decision for the whole of Britain.” Many environmentalists and local residents also oppose the deal, though it’s predicted to have a positive effect on the economy.

The U.K. government estimates the plan for Heathrow, which will be paid for by the private sector, will come with a £61 billion boost to the U.K. economy, creating 77,000 jobs over the next 14 years.

“They are talking about hundreds of millions of dollars in economic impact for a third runway,” said Randy Tinseth, Boeing’s vice president of marketing.

“This is a way for the economy of the U.K. to grow and they’re going to have to make a choice — do they want growth happening in the U.K. or are they going to give that growth to other airports in other parts of Europe,” said Tinseth.

The decision will allow Heathrow to “continue to operate as a hub airport and reinforce its status as the main airport in London, the largest and most valuable aviation market in the world” according to credit agency Moody’s.

But there’s also Brexit, with the U.K.’s status as an open trading nation in question after June’s vote to leave the EU.

“This [Heathrow] decision is even more vital in a post-Brexit world where Britain’s capability to expand its trade and ability to compete in markets outside Europe is heavily dependent on connectivity to emerging markets,” said Chris Welsh, the Freight Transport Association’s director of global and European policy.

“An island economy lives or dies by its air connectivity,” Jankovec said. “If the U.K. government is serious about its focus on economic growth and preserving the country’s global positioning, it needs to truly embed air connectivity and sustainable airport development in its economic strategy.”

Charlie Cooper contributed reporting.


Related stories on these topics: Air traffic control, Airports, Aviation, Infrastructure, United Kingdom

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