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The great aviation debate

September 27, 2012

Heathrow

London and the UK desperately require a new airport fit for the twenty-first century to serve the fast developing global market. For several years, I have favoured the Thames Estuary solution – also known as ‘Boris Island’ (click here to read my past speeches) – but we also need to face the fact that this option will take at least fifteen years before it is up and running.

In the meantime we need to add additional capacity at either Gatwick or Heathrow. In light of my Party’s manifesto commitment not to expand Heathrow, the latter option comes with enormous political difficulties. However, I would suggest that any commitment to a third runway at Heathrow should come as part of a package for West London residents that would see Heathrow closed once a Thames Estuary airport is built and turned into a tech hub with new jobs in professional services such as IT. The great advantage of the estuary option is the possibility of night flights without disturbing residents in the same way that Heathrow has always threatened to.

I have every sympathy with Justine Greening, Zac Goldsmith and Vince Cable whose West London constituents will surely punish them for any backpedalling on the issue of Heathrow expansion. Nevertheless, I suspect if Mr Cable were an MP for a constituency in Hertfordshire rather than the Member for Twickenham, he would recognise as Business Secretary that it is critical we do all we can to attract Chinese, Indian and South Korean investment by opening up routes and increasing the frequency of flights to important eastern destinations.

The lack of quality aviation capacity is brought up in nearly every conversation I have with senior business folk in the City. Those employed by global corporations and the financial services industry recognise the competitive disadvantage we are putting ourselves at in ignoring our capacity needs. This is an issue we cannot afford to flunk for much longer.