Regular readers will know, I am no fan of London’s offering in airports and the services they provide. Fresh from yesterday’s Commons mauling over Northern & GoVia’s inability to run a railroad, UK Transport Minister Chris Grayling will barely have time to change his shredded shirt before he’s thrown to the lions again today, this time to argue for approval of a third runway at Heathrow.
It’s fair to say there has been some dithering over this, not least because BoJo (ever on the qui vive for a headline) threatens to lie down before the bulldozers. The arguments are complex but what is clear is that air traffic is expanding and Heathrow can’t cope with what it has now. But the problem is not just one of landing slots. Heathrow may be the worst designed airport on the planet, a Heath-Roninson affair of tacked-on afterthoughts that exposes transferring passengers to quarter-hour bus rides through its entrails. The M4/M25 is a car park, the Tube takes forever and guards on the Heathrow Express yell at you foe being on the worng train. Look at any modern airport (Atlanta Hartsfield or Amsterdam Schipol) to see how this should work.
It is fair to say that alternatives are not easy to find. Gatwick lies on the ‘wrong’ side of London to service the North. Stanstead has capacity but poor links to the Midlands and West. The main argument for Heathrow seems to revolve around its use as a hub and sees itself competing with Frankfurt, Copenhagen and Dublin in this regard.
Yes, Dublun. Some tine ago, Ireland noticed all those vapour trails from transatlantic airliners crossing their skies. Their government invested £2bn modernising the airport, including a second terminal. They are about to invest a further £300m in a second runway. This is not just Irish pork barrel usung EU money. They worled out they were 500km closer to major American airports and could slice an hour off the flight time to any of them. Iceland has been doing this for years but Keflavik can no longer compete with Dublin’s facilities and selection: some of the most competitive fares to the US are on Aer Lingus via Dublin.
Astute readers may have noticed the absence of my usual shilling for Scotland in this piece but here it comes. Despite Heathrow arguing it is best placed from serving the North, recent Commons studies show third runway benefits are limited to the Southeast of England. Currently, most Scots flying to the States must go to Heathrow, faff about for 2-3 hours, then find themselves flying over where they started from, but half a day later.
Like Ireland, we are on the way there. What if they could fly direct? What if there were an air hub in Scotland to rival Dublin or even Schipol? A full-scale international airport on the carse between Airth and Larbert would be easily accessible from all over Central Scotland and lie at the heart of the ScotRail EGIP project and the M9/M80/M876 complex. Glasgow, Edinburgh, Falkirk and Stirling would lie 20 minutes away. Poky second-rate EDI and GLA, with their ludicrous competition with each other, would be obsolete. Instead of the odd flight to Newark that Edinburgh offers, Dublin flies seven major US cities and offer border pre-clearance to speed arrival in the USA. Scotland lies even more favourably than Dublin on the key Great Circle routes to America’s West Coast.
Instead of wasting £16.5bn trying to shoehorn another runway into the traffic mess that is West London, a full-scale airport could be built at Airth for a third of that. Instead of LNER and Transpennine shlepping Scots south to Manchester and Newcastle to catch planes, more Northerners would find it easier to reach Scotland and same time catching flights there by avoiding the chaos of Heathrow,
Of course, Home-Counties-fixated Tories are unlikely to see the advantages for all in this. Perhaps it would take an independent Scotland to capitalise on the future the way the Irish are already doing.