The position of the United Kingdom as a prime world aviation hub is at risk due to its ability to meet increasing capacity requirements. Heathrow is functioning at 98.5 per cent of its capacity and there is a substantial shortage of runways in the south east, indicating that the UK economy is at loss of nearly £1.2 billion a year to France, the Netherlands, and Germany. As experts confirm, adjusting and rearranging new schedules and altering flight slots will not resolve Heathrow’s shortage of capacity but neither will constructing a new multi runway hub airport within the Thames Estuary, which cannot be delivered in a timely manner to reduce or cease the UK’s continual decline against its competitors. In order to meet the UK needs for being able to connect with emerging markets now, the earliest way of addressing this is to construct on the existing aviation infrastructure (Institute of Civil Engineers, 2012).
As also lately suggested by Victoria Borwick (London Assembly Member), Medway Council, Terry Farrell and other like minded experts and institutions, Kent County Council believes that the way ahead is to embrace a unified aviation strategy which builds on, and enhances, current airport infrastructure and connects Gatwick and Heathrow with a high speed rail link, efficiently creating one airport (London City Airport Ltd, 2006).
London City AirportLondon City Airport is based in Dockland in the Newham London region of England. Consisting of a single track, this airport was particularly planned and designed for short haul flights. It chiefly provides air services to the city which is the financial district of the British. After the four sister airports Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted and Luton, London City airport is said to be the fifth airport that serves London after airports. Additionally, this airport is acts as the hub of City Jet. A master plan is underway for 2030 that involves a phased expansion of the airport to accommodate maximum capacity of a whopping 8 million passengers annually without constructing a second runway or expanding the current airport boundaries (Forsyth & Gillen, 2009). Furthermore, at the airport, strict limits have been imposed on the level of noise exposure coming from aircrafts due to the physical parameters of the runway as well as the steep slide pathway of aircraft types.Terminal London City Airport is the smallest of all London's international airports. Nonetheless, it is proved to be convenient enough for those using the airport. London City Airport has attracted numerous businessmen operating in the business districts of London. Further, the airport is also utilized by thousands of tourists on weekends. Being the closest airport to central London for business aviation, the terminal of London City Airport has 26 check-in counters along with five self-service kiosks for passengers of airlines like Air France, British Airways, Lufthansa and SAS. This airport currently is equipped with nine gates. In the near future, Apron Buses will be installed to connect these gates with five new parking areas. Indeed, the airport has become an extremely useful and beneficial addition to the big airports of London. It has become a vital factor for starting the construction of hotels. Airlines Following are the companies which use the exclusive services of the London City Airport:
Air One, Air France, British Airways, Austrian Airlines, KLM, Euro Manx, Lufthansa, Luxair, Swiss International Airlines, Scandinavian Airlines, and VLM AirlinesLimitations of Physical DesignThe airport capacity is limited to just a single runway of 1508m by 30m. Only limited number of aircrafts tends to use this airport to their maximum. Moreover, the airport is restricted by the length of its runway which helps in limiting the noise. Because of shortage of runways, the airport is capable of serving only limited number of flights in comparison to other top airports of the United Kingdom.Access to the AirportLondon City Airport is in good connection to the new financial district in London's Canary Wharf financial district as well as the conventional City of London light-rail line called as Docklands Light Railway, with schedules at the London Underground at different stations. Light-rail station London City Airport DLR station is situated exactly outside the terminal building. In addition to this, the airport is served by bus routes 473 and 474 which mainly serve East London. Earlier, a well established network of local bus routes existed, but it was closed post the commissioning of the station light-rail. Short-and long-term parking is also made available near the airport.
The importance of aviation to the UK economy:
A flourishing and dynamic aviation market is essential to the UK economy. Aviation sector, in 2009 made a contribution of approximately £18 billion to UK output. The sector appoints more than 250,000 professionals directly and supports an approximated 200,000 additional jobs by means of its broad supply chain. Furthermore, the value added by employees in aviation market is nearly one-and-a-half times the economy-wide average, totalling to 2% of Gross Value Added (GVA). Frm the economy perspective, the aviation market is of crucial importance to the UK’s development and employment opportunities.
The United Kingdom has the sixth largest amount of international visitors in the world; and in 2009 around 22 million foreign tourists travelled by air to visit the UK, producing approximately £14 billion of yearly expenditure throughout the economy. Moreover, tourism directly offers 1.5 million jobs in the UK which represents 5% of employment nationwide. To facilitate this, good air connectivity is of great importance and a necessary factor in business location decisions and the organization’s capability of attracting highly skilled labour from overseas. The immense development of regional airport services across Europe has aided in attracting inward investment and, along with complementary rail and road advancements, has facilitated the integration of several previously peripheral cities and regions into the world economy. In addition, the ongoing expansion of these services in the United Kingdom could play a substantial role in order to rebalance regional economies to be favourable for the private sector (Infratil Airports Europe Ltd, 2009).
It is undeniable that current runway capacity at London’s airports is said to be the primary restriction on their ability to accommodate future demand for air travel. Since the year 1988 London City Airport has seen no new runways and Heathrow and Gatwick airports respectively are functioning at a much larger capacity more than what they can accommodate in one day. Further, London’s airports jointly accommodate greater number of passengers in comparison to any other city in the globe, and this, together with the shortage of surplus capacity, entails that they are specifically vulnerable to disruption and delays (Brandt, et al. 2014). At present, Heathrow is taking care of 75,000 more passengers in a day than the actual capacity it was constructed for. Its runways function at 98.5 per cent capacity, as against 70-75% at other European hub airports. In addition to this, throughout busy periods, an aircraft can be kept on hold in one of its four stacks for about half an hour to one hour awaiting a landing slot. Heathrow also experiences longer waiting times and queues for take-off slots. Such delays lead to environmental costs and financial costs to be incurred by both passenger and the airline (Harvey, 1987).
As is depicted in table 1, Heathrow presently manages the largest proportion of passenger numbers amongst Europe’s primary hub airports and is known as Europe’s busiest airport. However, by 2021, Heathrow airport is anticipated to drop down to third place behind Frankfurt and Paris Charles de Gaulle. Nonetheless, with increasing demand experts have analysed that Heathrow airport has little room for accommodating extra passengers while Frankfurt, Paris CDG and Amsterdam Schiphol, in comparison, have enough available capacity (between 25-30%) to continue to take maximum benefit of this evolving industry. This severely disadvantages Heathrow in supporting UK businesses to trade with growing markets (Kent County Council, 2012). A recently commissioned report by airport operator BAA and carried out by Frontier Economics, found that UK businesses trade 20 times as much with emerging market countries that have direct daily flights to the UK. Paris and Frankfurt already have 1,000 more annual flights to the three largest cities in China than Heathrow11; Heathrow has five flights per day to China serving two destinations, whilst Paris has 11 serving four destinations and Frankfurt 10 serving 6 destinations12. Sao Paolo is the only South American destination served directly from London. These startling comparisons clearly illustrate the difficulties the UK is facing right now in remaining competitive and taking advantage of emerging markets. This shortage of capacity does not only impact UK passengers who wish to connect with these newer markets but also overseas client who are unable to directly access Heathrow. At Gatwick airport, similar problems are seen which at 78% of capacity (33.64 mppa in 201113) and is said to be the busiest single-runway airport in the globe. Projections given by growth forecasts show that Gatwick will carry 40 mppa by 2020.
If runway capacity is not further added in prediction of forecast demand growth, then disruption and delays are more likely to worsen at London’s airports. Consequently, the UK will become less accessible to passengers than its competitors to strategically crucial locations in the world and future economic success will be at risk. With the present UK economic prediction, it is even more important that this sector, so critical to a nation’s economy, is invested in, secured and expanded to meet customer requirements (Brandt, et al. 2014).
As a remedy to this rising capacity issue, proposals for developing a new hub airport within the Thames estuary area have been suggested. Nonetheless, this will involve greater costs and consume a minimum of 10-15 years for the completion; it is likely that within this amount of time the UK will have already fallen behind. A quicker and more cost effective solution is needed. Additionally, this need calls for an opportunity for regional airports to acquire more of a share of the capacity, specifically domestic and short haul flights, enabling Heathrow and Gatwick to focus on the long haul international market. This scheme has greater benefits than resolving the capacity problem– expansion of regional airports will offer local advantages via increased employment opportunities, at a time when unemployment is a major reason for concern for the country.
Strategic management of existing airports
With the current scenario, a more strategic approach to managing London airports must be implemented, emphasising on low-cost, charter, and short haul point to point flights at the currently under-utilized regional airports. This will allow freeing-up of capacity so Heathrow can take more long haul flights. With Heathrow and Gatwick connected with a rail link, Gatwick can work as a feeder airport, while Heathrow can concentrate on long haul. Regional airports considered appropriate for this use due to existing good connections to London include:
- London City
Effectively, the regional airports around the capital will become point-to-point airports. Such airports focus on direct air services and have low levels of transfer flights. By assimilating majority of the South East’s demand for point-to-point operation, capacity will be released at Gatwick and Heathrow to provide for a millions of passengers to make a broad range of connections. When there is approximately 25 % extra capacity via multiple runways operating simultaneously, the nature of a hub operation can be is maximised. This runway capacity is necessary to allow for the ‘waves’ of arriving and departing flights. The increase in usage of regional airports would be more succeeding by complying with Government policy and legislation on emission reduction while also meeting the need for growth and job opportunities in the South east and other regions in the UK (Department for Transport, 2013).
The following recommendations must be considered to facilitate bold steps for Aviation:
- Constructing a high speed rail link to connect Gatwick and Heathrow.
- Advanced rail connectivity of other regional airports i.e. Lydd, Manston, London City, Southend, Stansted, Southampton, Luton, and Birmingham, with Gatwick, Heathrow and London.
- Further expansion of Manston Airport is urged along with other current regional airports in the South East, like Lydd, London City, Southend, Stansted, Luton and Southampton, and those well connected to London (Birmingham).
- After 2019, capacity growth at Gatwick airport by constructing a second runway.
- No more proposals for a Thames Estuary airport to be progressed further.
- Quick actions should be taken to tackle capacity issues; instead of relying on an estuary airport that will take years for developing which might not even succeed.
Furthermore, the Government is also recommended to implement an aviation strategy that answers all queries, and obtains cross-party support. This approach can guarantee that the issues are accurately resolved, the country maintains its competitiveness and that any aviation development plans will work in future against changes in Government.
As previously discussed in the introduction section, this varying viewpoint shifts the debate away from a. a predominant emphasis on scheduled traffic and b. installation of a new hub to resolve the current capacity issues, and towards the efficient operations of the airport system as a whole as being the primary goal, mainly in the case of London. Further, it also entails that by considering carefully designed, incremental, and system-driven methods, are not prevented from consideration in support of an over pre-occupancy with an innovative approach that attempts to mix traffic which is better kept apart.
Enforcing this logic to planning for London’s business aviation sector over the medium to long term, it can be predicted that through the next decade, business aviation will undergo severe pressure and feel itself being squeezed at the Heathrow, Stansted, London City, Luton, and Gatwick airports due to a combination of factors. This is to due to the increasing intensity of pressures to increase the usage of capacity at the above major London Airports for commercial traffic.
These factors are:
- Congested runway capacity and the inequality amongst full-slot coordination status and the flexibility of operation which is inherent to value proposition of business aviation
- Increasing the commercial returns being sought from costly and limited infrastructure assets
- Constraints on transport and access
- Constraints on hangar, apron, and aircraft parking availability
- Conflicts for airspace and limitations within the London TMA (De Neufville, 2013)
So, there is a powerful argument for Government intervention to alleviate clarity, resilience, and organized planning for the aviation sector, while freeing up maximum slots to be used for scheduled services at these over-dominantly commercial passenger airports by:
- Issuing based on the season, slots or time periods available to business aviation at airports like Luton and Stansted which are slot co-ordinated
- Enforcing traffic distribution rules and regulations prohibiting business aviation flights to heavily congested airports like Gatwick and Heathrow
- Designating two less congested airports with lot of capacity and likelihood of developing as specialist, potentially dedicated, business aviation airports for serving the needs of London.
Comparisons with a third runway at Heathrow:
The extra capacity created by a third runway would be anticipated to exceed the relevant threshold defined in the Planning Act 2008, i.e. a rise in potential capacity of over 10 million passengers per year. Therefore, it also would need authorization through a Development Consent Order and will be subject to the similar constraints and timescales for a new hub airport. Taking this in consideration and the debatable natural of a third runway application, the earliest consent can be in place for a third runway would be around 2020 (Windle and Dresner, 1995). The restricted nature of the Heathrow site and the demand of keeping the current airport functional would indicate the construction process for a third runway will be complex and can probably take a minimum of six. Also, the earliest date for a third runway construction to get completed would be in 2026, and just one year earlier than a new hub airport.
The demand for air travel:
In general, global aviation is anticipated to rise at an average compound yearly growth rate of 5.6 percent for the period to 2025. Growing salaries in the UK and globally will bring about higher rates of business and tourist travel to and from Britain, whilst the development of greater wealth in India, China, Brazil, and Brazil will further expand overall demand for aviation. According to the estimations of the Dft's 2011 aviation passenger demand, in a situation with no capacity limitations, UK-wide demand for air travel will almost become double between year 2007 and 2030, rising from 211 million passengers per annum (mppa) in 2010 to nearly 335 mppa in 2030. The tendency to fly is fundamentally greater for London and South East inhabitants as compared to different areas of the UK and demand at London airports depict some 60% of demand across the UK (Budd et al, 2011).
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