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London First calls for more intensive use of runways and greater competition to support economic growth

London First, in its submission to the Airports Commission delivered today, recommends an increase of flights at Heathrow, coupled with greater noise protection for residents, plus the deregulation of Gatwick and Stansted and investment in their rail links, as short-term solutions to the UK’s air capacity crisis.

London First recommends that, in the absence of any long-term strategy to build new runways, priority must be given to finding ways of increasing flights through more intensive use of existing runways.  It estimates that Heathrow could support 10 per cent more flights, while reducing delays; and that Gatwick and Stansted airports could attract more airlines and passengers if existing price controls were abolished and the quality and capacity of rail services to both were improved.

Baroness Jo Valentine, Chief Executive of London First, said:

“We face fierce global competition from rivals who are increasing their air links to new and established markets. In the absence of a long term plan for new runway capacity to meet that threat, we have no choice but to make the assets we have work more intensively.

“Action is needed now.  The Commission must recommend how more flights can be introduced where the market wants them. We think the cap on flights at Heathrow can be lifted, and residents protected from noise, and Gatwick and Stansted deregulated to let London’s competitive market flourish, extending choice and services.”

“Without decisive action and the changes we recommend, the growing economic cost of deferring new runways – already too great – will not be halted.”

London First notes that new runways cannot be built quickly but in the short-term flights can be increased at Heathrow by around 10 per cent per annum, by using both its existing runways concurrently for take-off and landing.

At the same time, arcane price controls on Gatwick and Stansted could be removed to allow these airports to compete more effectively, driving choice and increasing their ability to attract new airlines and passengers. Rail services to these airports, if brought up to world class standards, would strengthen their ability to use their assets more intensively.

Lifting Heathrow’s cap on flights would not only extend the UK’s air links but also bring greater headroom to cut delays. More flights must not bring either a material increase in the number of people affected by today’s aggregate noise levels or an increase in the intensity of that noise.

London First believes that, with further improvements to aircraft technology, runway use and approach patterns, it will be possible to increase the number of flights further without increasing the overall impact of noise on residents.  Over the past 30 years, the overall noise impact in terms of the number of people affected has reduced from around 2 million to 250,000, despite a 75% increase in the number of flights and continued housing development near the airport.

More people are affected in London alone by similar levels of noise from road traffic (2 million +) or trains (300,000) than are affected in the whole of the south-east by flights in and out of Heathrow.  While fleet replacement and other improvements will continue to have a positive impact, London First also recommends that controls on noise be enforced by an independent noise regulator, established by Parliament.

 London First has made six recommendations to the Airports Commission:

1 – The Commission should call on all parties to support and instigate the work needed to lift the planning cap on flights at Heathrow to permit more flights.  Heathrow is the UK’s international hub airport and is where demand is highest and capacity most constrained. Using both runways for take-off and landing (“mixed mode”) could permit some 50,000 additional Air Traffic Movements (ATMs) per year.

2 – The Commission should call on Heathrow to provide public assurance and concrete proposals that, under a higher ATM cap, the right balance can be struck between more flights and fewer delays.  Operating at near capacity means that Heathrow currently has very little resilience against delays. If more ATMs are permitted, some of this potential capacity must be reserved to provide a buffer against the causes of delays, such as bad weather or a late arriving flight.

3 – The Commission should call on Government to review noise at Heathrow in the context of a higher ATM cap; and to establish an independent regulator to enforce noise levels when more flights are introduced.  Although the number affected by aircraft noise from Heathrow has fallen by more than 80% in recent years, any increase in ATMs must be accompanied by measures to mitigate the impact of noise.  Even with the increase in ATMs offered by mixed mode the number of people affected by current aircraft noise levels can be reduced, but an independent noise regulator with enforcement powers should be established by Parliament.

 4 – The Commission should call on the Secretary of State to make an unequivocal statement supporting an increase in ATMs at Heathrow and to treat any application for the introduction of Mixed Mode under the 2008 Planning Act regime, on the basis that such an application is of national significance.  To increase the number of ATMs permitted at Heathrow would require the Secretary of State for Transport to designate the move to mixed mode as a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project. This enables numerous consents previously required for certain projects to be wrapped into one single Development Consent Order. In this way, the necessary increase in capacity could be achieved within five years.

 5 – The Commission should recommend that Gatwick and Stansted be allowed to compete more effectively and should call on the CAA to apply the back-stop and price-monitoring powers it already has without imposing an economic licence.  The economic regulation of London’s main airports dates back to a time when all three were owned by one company. Since this is no longer the case, and neither Gatwick nor Stansted can be considered to have market dominance, the regime should be liberalised so that they can compete effectively with each other and with Heathrow.  This will encourage downward pressure on prices, increased choice, and the more extensive use of current capacity.

 6 – The Commission should call on government and Network Rail to deliver a step change improvement in the capacity and quality of rail services to Gatwick and Stansted, strengthening these airports’ ability to attract airlines and passengers. Rail services to Gatwick are hampered by poor quality rolling stock and uncertainty over the future of non-stop services. Stansted suffers from historic underinvestment in a slow service that does not operate at times of peak demand. Both should be brought up to the same standards as those serving other airports, notably Heathrow.

View the full submission


 Notes to editors: London First is a business membership organisation with the mission to make London the best city in the world in which to do business. Its submission is informed by the conclusions of its Steering Group of business leaders, established to examine the capacity and quality of London’s transport links. The submission reflects London First’s views on short term solutions.

The Airports Commission was set up by the government to assess the UK’s long- term aviation capacity needs.  It is chaired by Sir Howard Davies.  It will publish an interim report later this year and a full report after the next general election.

For further information please contact: Fran Edwards, Media Relations Manager,     E:  D: 020 7665 1427  M: 07535 977004


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