Martin Evans: on why regional airports like Cardiff will have to expand if it proves too difficult to build new runway capacity in the south-east of England.

Martin Evans says that Cardiff Airport has potential for strong passenger growth in the years ahead as he believes there will no new runways in the south-east of England

Cardiff Airport

It is frustrating waiting for the Airports Commission led by Sir Howard Davies to deliver their final report on where airport hub capacity needs to be located within the United Kingdom.

The wait isn’t due to the commission being particularly slow or continuously putting off writing the report.

It is because the delay was built into the process, when Sir Howard delivers his report it is not going to please everybody, whatever he decides so for a political party that wants to be elected, far better to put off the fateful day until after the next election and try to offend nobody, for the time being.

It is because decisions on where to site runways is so politically difficult that the question has been handed over to an independent commission and the UK Government, whatever party or parties that happens to be after the next election, can try to distance itself from the inevitable unpopularity.

The real problem is that previous UK governments have failed to grasp this particular thorny nettle and as the years have gone by, the problems at the existing hub airport of Heathrow have grown and the possibility of building an airport on a new site has lessened.

Our interest has been maintained through this lengthy process by a series of consultations, submissions and decisions from the commission. I supported a submission from Western Gateway setting out how Cardiff Airport could in the short and long term contribute to airport capacity in the UK.

Western Gateway did not get onto the final short list. One option was given a special status and that was the potential Thames Estuary Airport that has become known in the media as Boris Island.

The commission decided that they did not have enough information to either put a Thames Estuary Airport on the shortlist or reject it.

The commission undertook further work to look at the concept of a Thames Estuary Airport and recently rejected it.

The reasons were both economic and environmental. There is a linkage between the number of passengers served and economic benefits.

The commission were sceptical about the passenger forecasts for a Thames Estuary Airport and it therefore follows that they were sceptical about the level of economic benefits that could be delivered.

The environment has been an issue ever since a Thames Estuary Airport was first proposed in the 1970s.

There would be significant bird habitat loss in order to build an airport and because birds and aircraft do not mix well any new habitats created to make up for the loss would have to located a considerable distance from the airport.

Other issues considered by the commission were the cost of acquiring and closing Heathrow, the costs of building surface access, both rail and road, and the socio-economic effects of having to build the equivalent of a small town to accommodate workers.

We are now left with a two horse race between Heathrow and Gatwick Airports.

Perhaps that should be a two and a half horse race because there are two proposals for Heathrow.

The first is a conventional third runway located to the north-west of the present airport.

The second proposal is less conventional and involves extending the northerly runway and using it as two separate runways.

When the commission finally makes a choice, it will again be the decision of politicians if they want to follow the recommendation. If a runway is built at Heathrow, the decision will not take away the debate over airport location in the UK.

Hundreds of thousands of people are affected by noise and pollution and it cannot be acceptable to allow approaches and departures to take place over central London.

I can forecast that a vigorous and effective campaign would delay or even cause the cancellation of the project.

I also cannot see that the building of a runway at Gatwick would be unopposed.

 Also, whilst Gatwick would argue that they need the extra capacity, it is not a major airline hub, it provides point to point services. A decision in favour of Gatwick would not, in my view, satisfy the terms of reference of the Commission.

My prediction is therefore that whatever the decision of the commission, it will just be too difficult to build a new runway in the UK.

However, the growth in aviation is not going to stop if no new runway is built and we need a plan to cope with growth if the building of a new runway remains politically impossible. The answer would have to be a dispersed airports policy where passenger growth that cannot be accommodated at the crowded airports of the south-east of England is forced out to the English regions and Wales.

Under this scenario, Cardiff Airport would have a role to play in providing UK airport capacity.

Much has already been done to make Cardiff Airport surface access more attractive with the introduction of the Cardiff Express bus service. You only have to see the bus after the arrival of the Dusseldorf service to see how effective it is.

However, faster rail links into the airport can increase the size of the catchment area for the airport and therefore potential passenger numbers. Following electrification of the Great Western main line, connections to the airport could provide fast links to England.

The South Wales Metro could provide connections to the Cardiff City Region. A successful city region requires a successful airport.

Also, if there is a renegotiation of the devolution settlement in Wales following the referendum vote in Scotland, devolution of Air Passenger Duty to Wales is an absolute necessity for the future development of the airport.

Sourced from


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s