After a week of BAA propaganda last week in the pages of the Evening Standard (ES) you would be forgiven for thinking that Heathrow is not expanding – but it is! It may not be by the number of flights coming in and out of Heathrow but it certainly is by passenger numbers. You just have to see a double deck A380 land at Heathrow to appreciate this reality; when it off loads 500 plus passengers from a single flight. At present Heathrow turnsover 69 million passengers annually and once the redevelopment and construction of the five terminals are complete, it will be able to cope with 90 million passengers a year. This capacity is not something we hear about often but the fact is that Heathrow will be able to deal an extra 20 million passengers annually! This point is made well by Sarah Clayton in todays FT letters page under the header ” Forget a third runway – focus instead on filling existing Heathrow terminals “
We should rightly be concerned about the local environmental impact of this expanding capacity, particularly in the West London suburbs in terms of levels of noise and poor air quality. The answer of course is to improve surface transport access to Heathrow through adequate services levels on the the Piccadilly line with the tube upgrades and when the Crossrail finally delivers a service in 2018. We also need to see new links with the airport developed through HS2 and Airtrack. All of these improvements will make it more attractive for passengers and Heathrow employees to use public transport to travel to Heathrow instead of by car, which is often the worst leg of the journey for most Londoners anyway.
As for connections from Heathrow to the emerging economies of the Far East, the demand appears to be managed by airlines like the Emirates operating from Heathrow & Gatwick via Dubai, to get to destinations in South, East & South-East Asia. So the demand for those destinations via Dubai appears to be satisfied at present with packed double deck A380s and, I suspect, passengers quite happy to get to their far Eastern trips with a bit of shopping time inbetween flights.
Incidentally, it’s not just the Emirates but all the other Arab and Far Eastern airlines which are making similiar attractive offers. If this wasn’t a viable proposition for the airlines, Emirates would not be investing in London’s infrastructure such as Arsenal’s home ground (Emirates Stadium) or the Mayor’s cable cars across the Thames also placing them on our iconic London tube map, as it markets its name to Londoners on our skyline and via football.
So, in short, it would be helpful for both passengers and for the wider industry if BAA were a lot more truthful about what is actually happening at Heathrow. The discussion should cease to be one way traffic all about lack of capacity and should instead focus on what is happening on the ground right now. Larger, planes, more passengers flying and room for more.