World class air links for a world class city
Improving international air links is vital to maintaining London’s world city status and supporting economic recovery. London First has been among the most consistent voices calling for the government to develop a coherent strategy for increasing the city’s – and, therefore, the country’s – air connections.
To learn from the experiences of some of our international counterparts, earlier this week we hosted a short visit to the capital from two players in the international aviation industry – Rosemarie Andolino, Commissioner at the Chicago Department of Aviation and Jos Nijhuis, President and CEO of Amsterdam Airport Schiphol.
During their visit, they took a tour of Heathrow Airport and met with Sir Howard Davies and other members of the Airports Commission, before taking part in a debate on ‘World class air links for a world city’ on Monday evening, alongside Colin Matthews, CEO of Heathrow Airport, Stewart Wingate, CEO of Gatwick Airport and Daniel Moylan, London Mayoral Adviser on Aviation Policy. This event, with an invited audience of London First members, was kindly hosted by Berwin Leighton Paisner, in the City of London.
Andolino opened the debate with the observation that “there is no right solution, only a best solution for your city” while Nijhuis joked that the answer to the UK’s air capacity shortage actually lay with Schiphol Airport, provoking laughs from the audience.
After outlining their own experiences of resolving challenges around limited air capacity, both guests agreed that connectivity was the top priority for their airports, albeit from different perspectives- while Andolino and the team at O’Hare airport focused on an objective of offering direct flights to and from the airport, Nijhuis stated that Schiphol relied heavily on transfer passengers to keep the airport viable as it would not be able to fill direct inter-continental flights.
Andolino spoke of the importance of the support of the Mayor of Chicago and Governor of Illinois to support development and also of having a budget of $650m to take action such as acquiring land and relocating wetlands. Nijhous highlighted the constructive dialogue between local and national government supporting Schiphol’s plans. This enabled Schiphol to have a strong Masterplan based on growth, reducing noise impact and proactive engagement with the local community.
Matthews, Wingate and Moylan put forward arguments for their own preferred options- respectively, an expanded Heathrow to grow the UK’s hub capacity; deregulation at Gatwick and Stansted to offer a competitive network of 3 airports each with 2 runways; and a new hub airport to the east of London that could be built afresh to London’s present specific needs with room to expand as required in the future.
It was questioned whether the Government needed to be involved in the process at all, or whether decision making should be left to the market. Panellists were unanimous that a clear political judgment and consistent policy support was needed. Nijhuis noted Schiphol’s success in aligning the interests of the airport, the home carrier and all levels of government.
Further discussion focused on the timing of delivery for each of the options presented, concerns about increased noise, rail access and whether 4 runways at Heathrow would be a better long-term solution than 3 runways.
Although panellists offered differing views on which option would provide the most viable solution, and on how long each would take to deliver, the point that all were agreed on was the urgency for a decision from the Government about the future of the capital’s air capacity, before London’s competitiveness as a global city will begin to suffer irrevocably.