‘We should use regional airports fully before considering building a huge hub airport’

A delegation opposed to an estuary airport has traveled to Birmingham to see how its airport can significantly increase capacity, lessening the need for a new south east hub airport.

Supporters of a huge hub airport in the Thames Estuary say it is needed as Heathrow is full and claim the only way to solve this is to build a costly four-runway scheme in Kent.

But the delegation – which consisted of councillors and officers from Medway and Kent County Council and MP Mark Reckless – visited Birmingham Airport to see an example of why this is not needed.

There, they learned how the airport serves nearly nine million people a year, but could more than double its capacity overnight and even quadruple it over the next two decades – even without building a new runway.

They saw how the existing runway is already being extended so that by 2014 planes fully laden with fuel will be able to fly even greater distances, meaning the airport will be able to open up routes as far away as the Far East – including China – and South America.

And they were shown how there is an appetite for using the airport – which is one hour’s drive time away for eight million people – with routes to Dubai, operated by Emirates airline, having expanded over the last decade to now include two flights a day.

Importantly, they also learned how Birmingham Airport is currently only seventy minutes from Euston, that this could reduce to 59 minutes over the next year or two and how the new High Speed Rail 2 line – which will have a stop there – will be just 31 minutes from the London Interchange.

During the visit, Birmingham airport executives told the group how, despite all its advantages, only 40 per cent of the Midland’s air travellers use the airport while a huge chunk still opted to travel to Heathrow.

Cllr Jane Chitty, the Portfolio Holder for Strategic Growth and Economic Development, said of the trip: “It was very useful to see how regional airports such as Birmingham can increase capacity and carry many millions more passengers.
“We hear all too often how there must be a new hub airport built in the Thames Estuary.

“I say to anyone that believes this to be the case to go to Birmingham and see their ambition, how their airport could easily take many more millions of passengers and how close it is by train to London.

“The government will shortly be starting a consultation on aviation capacity for the UK, which will include looking at whether we need a new hub airport, and where that might be.

“Birmingham Airport is a clear example of how this country has lots of capacity already available that needs to be used up before we even consider spending billions ripping up the Kent and Medway countryside to build a huge new hub airport.”

Cllr Vince Maple, who is the Leader of the council’s Labour Group and also went on the fact finding tour, added: “It was good to see that Birmingham Airport is ready to handle some of the potential increase anticipated in the UK’s air travel, especially their ability to double their passenger number overnight if demand required it.

“For many years, I have been a strong advocate for better connectivity between airports and greater use of existing airports. Both those options make more sense than either a third runway or an estuary airport option.”
Cllr Geoff Juby, the Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group, said: “Having traveled to Birmingham Airport for this fact-finding visit it clearly showed to me how easy it is to get there from the south east of England.

“In fact, it took as long as it takes to get to Heathrow or Gatwick and, to me, this indicates that the government seriously needs to look at using our regional airports more as they have a huge amount of spare capacity available.

“Looking at what places like Birmingham have to offer would seem a more sensible option than listening to those with vested interests who seek to wrongly convince the country that an airport needs to be built in the Thames estuary.”

John Morris, Birmingham Airport’s Public Affairs Director, said: “We believe that a distributed aviation strategy makes sense for the wider UK.

“We cannot put all of our eggs in one basket by forcing the majority of the UK population to make unnecessary and arduous trips to the south east to access aviation. If we are to rebalance the UK economy, we need a new way of thinking. Before that, let’s make use of what we already have”.

The government is set to start a consultation into aviation capacity this Autumn and Medway Council – which runs a campaign against a Thames Estuary airport jointly with Kent County Council and the RSPB – will respond to it.

In this it will argue that capacity at regional airports needs to be fully and better used before the government spends billions of pounds building a new hub airport.

It will also point out how key aviation figures such as Richard Branson and British Airways Willie Walsh are against a hub airport, which they also say would be too costly as well as on the wrong side of London. They also say it would lead to Heathrow closing.

To find out more about the camapign against an airport at the Thames estuary and sign the petition go online at www.stopestuaryairport.co.uk