UK government still avoids taking the final step on airport expansion
By Ben Vogel, Editor, IHS Jane’s Airport Review
As expected, the UK government announced on 25 October 2016 that a third runway for Heathrow is its favoured option for airport capacity growth. However, the decision by a special cabinet committee merely signals the start of a year-long delay, before a binding vote is held in late 2017 or early 2018.
The latest government statement on UK expansion seems to be a step forward, but, in fact, it fails to resolve the issue. By building in another delay before the final vote, the government raises suspicions that it will find further excuses to kick the can down the road. Political expediency is leading to a delay that may affect the UK economy at the worst possible time, as the government seeks a navigable path through the Brexit maze.
Bizarrely, ministers are allowed to disagree with government policy but they will not be permitted to campaign publicly for a judicial review. There are many anti-Heathrow expansion MPs in the governing Conservative Party who could cause trouble for the government, which is anxious to preserve its slim majority while it tries to negotiate Brexit. Boris Johnson, one of the highest-profile members of the successful Brexit campaign, is adamantly opposed to a third runway and has said he will continue to fight the project.
Brexit adds a whole new set of complexities separate from the lengthy planning approval process; the protests from local councils, concerned residents and environmental activists; the political opposition; cost wrangles with airlines; and the possibility that Gatwick may mount a legal challenge.
The lack of movement on airport expansion undermines UK economic competitiveness and credibility among aviation stakeholders worldwide – even if ground was broken on the third runway tomorrow, it would probably take 15 years before the first aircraft used it. Airport operators in Paris, Amsterdam and Frankfurt will be delighted. They’re growing on the back of the UK’s vacillation and prevarication.