Mayor warns there are no short term options at Heathrow

17 May 2013

The Mayor of London has warned the Government’s aviation commission of the dangers of taking a ‘muddle along’ approach to aviation policy and told them that there are simply no short term options to increase capacity at Heathrow.

Today (17 May) the Mayor submitted papers to the Government’s aviation commission, which said that after carefully examining the legal position and the physical requirements for any expansion of Heathrow, the Mayor has concluded that any increase in flights would breach the cap of 480,000 air traffic movements imposed on the site under planning law.

To change that cap would take several years and possibly a major public inquiry. The Mayor believes those findings should send a clear message to the various organisations who believe capacity could be increased at Heathrow to think again, and to accept that a new airport offers the best opportunity for addressing the country’s increasing aviation crisis.

When responding to the Davies Commission’s call for views on how to make the best use of existing capacity the Mayor told the Commission that a firm decision must be made on a long term aviation policy before any pursuit of short or medium term measures. His response to the Commission said it was a myth to believe that one new runway could be delivered quicker than a brand new hub airport, as both would be subject to the same planning and construction timescales. The Mayor’s team warned that the longer a ‘muddle along’ approach continues, the more costly a decision to start afresh will be.

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, said: “The history of airport policy in our great country has been dominated by short termism and attempts to squeeze ever more flights into Heathrow airport. It is now time to wake up, smell the coffee and accept the reality that Heathrow is full, it is straining at the seams and we need to deliver a new hub airport with at least four runways, which can put the UK in a strong position for the next 50 years.”

Today the Mayor of London’s aviation policy team responded to the Davies Commission discussion papers on making the best use of existing capacity in the short and medium terms; and climate change.

In the Mayor’s response to making the best use of existing capacity his key points were that:

• The current aviation capacity crisis is the result of four decades of policy failure. It is therefore not likely that there is a politically, legally and environmentally acceptable “silver bullet” that can address it in a significant way in the short or medium term.

• Seeking to slice the question into “short, medium and long term” solutions is not an appropriate approach to the problems at hand and has been at the root of failed policy-decisions that have led us to the current problems.

• Decisions on short and medium term options must only follow a firm decision on the long term solution. Otherwise, short and medium term options will be pursued that do not address the fundamental challenges and will only serve as an excuse to postpone consideration of a long term solution until the next crisis arises.

• The long term aim must be to meet the needs of the UK by developing a new hub airport that can efficiently serve the country’s economic motor in London and the South East, while being at the same time accessible to the rest of the UK and supportive of the growth of the national economy.

In the Mayor’s response to the Davies Commission on aviation and climate change the key points he made were:

• That the Mayor accepts the recommendation of the Committee on Climate Change, which states that aviation passenger demand growth could be limited to 60% by 2050 given prudent assumptions about technological improvements. Within those limits an additional 140 million passengers a year could be catered for by 2050.

• However the Mayor believes the Commission’s Discussion Paper was wrong to suggest that capacity constraints at UK airports will be an efficient and effective way of reducing global carbon emissions. A new hub airport not limited by capacity constraints, and combined with technological and operational improvements, could substantially reduce the amount of CO2 emitted per passenger. This would include the benefits of lower fuel usage that result from less time spent stacking in the air and taxiing on the ground.

The Mayor of London’s aviation advisor, Daniel Moylan, added: “The top priority has to be to achieve clarity on the long term policy for aviation in the UK. Only when we have that clarity should we begin to consider the different options for helping to cover the period until that policy is delivered. In the short term some non-hub London airports may be able to help serve long haul traffic. And we could also then look at possibly extending the ‘fifth freedom’ rights, which allow foreign airlines to stop at our airports and pick up passengers while en route elsewhere, to Gatwick or Stansted. However those measures would in no way alter the need for an effective and sustainable long term solution in the form of a new hub airport.”


Notes to editors

• Responses from the Mayor of London to the Davies Commission discussion papers on ‘making best use of existing capacity in the short and medium terms’ and ‘aviation and climate change’ will be available online at or from the Mayor of London’s press office on the numbers below.