Air transport. Another British government disaster

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Commercial aircraft are amazing:

  • One version of the Boeing 777 can fly 17,395km (9,395nmi) non stop.  It is used to fly between long haul destinations such as New York-Singapore, Perth-London, New York-Auckland, Chicago-Sydney and Miami-Taipei. Pretty much between any two points on the planet.
  • One version of the Airbus A319 uses 1.93 litres of fuel per 100 kilometres per passenger, which is 122 miles per US gallon, or about four times better than a commuter in their diesel car.
  • The Airbus A380 cruises round our planet at 676 miles per hour. A startling speed which is many times that of any other form of transport.
  • More than 700,000 passengers are in the air in the world at any one time.

The huge increase in the wealth of our planet in recent decades, compared with what had gone before, was down to four factors: the shipping container, the geostationary satellite, the microprocessor and the Boeing 747. Commercial aircraft have revolutionised our lives. It is now normal to travel to do business or take holidays internationally, to the point that we now think nothing of it. The quality of our existence has been massively enhanced. And like all good things our politicians seek to punish it. To make it less good, so we get less benefit.

Their first stupidity is not providing airport capacity. All those aircraft have to land and take off somewhere. Air transport is organised on a hub and spoke system. It is impossible for every airport to have flights to every other airport. So to make a given journey, say from Newcastle, Tyne and Wear, to Denver, Colorado, you fly to and from hubs and between hubs. Which  makes hubs incredible important.

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One small desert country with not much in the way of natural resources decided to become an aviation hub. Dubai and its airline, Emirates. They have powered the economy there to an incredible high. It is now the world’s busiest international airport with 70,475,636 passengers and  2,435,567 tonnes of air freight a year, flown to more than 260 destinations. But it is near its capacity limit so Dubai are building a new five runway airport with a capacity of 160 million passengers and 12 million tonnes of cargo per year. But they have competition, Istanbul is building a 6 runway hub airport, and Amsterdam already has one. Detroit, Denver, Boston, Chicago and Dallas/Fort Worth also have 6 runways.

Heathrow, with just 2 runways, was the hub airport for Europe, but ran out of capacity in 1977. There are only so many landing and take off “slots” and the limited number of these means that each one has become very valuable. So, quite simply, the business moved elsewhere. To Amsterdam, to Copenhagen, to Frankfurt. The business we have lost must now have built up to be billions of pounds a month. All because our politicians refuse to allow runways to be built.

The solution is startlingly obvious. Build a new 6 runway airport in the Thames Estuary, on an artificial island, just as Hong Kong’s airport is. This so called “Boris Island” works brilliantly:

  • Landing approaches would be over the sea and take offs would be before central London vastly reducing noise and exhaust pollution for millions of people.
  • The airport could operate 24 hours a day, increasing its capacity and making many flight timings far more convenient.
  • The airport would be connected directly to the Channel Tunnel railway services, replacing the demand on short European flights.
  • Extending Crossrail to the airport would provide much of the transport infrastructure.
  • Location over water reduces the risk to the population from crashes. Remember the BA 777 that only just made it over the fence at Heathrow?
  • The cost of the airport development would be absorbed by the cost to include a new Thames Barrier that will generate power using hydropower turbines.
  • The huge 2,500 acre Heathrow site could be used for a much needed housing development.
  • It would connect air, rail, sea and motorway transport within a single hub.
  • Expanding beyond 6 runways would be quite easy, if world air traffic continues to grow, which it will
  • The project could be largely financed by private investors.

The benefits are so enormous for Great Britain that it is almost incomprehensible that it isn’t already built.

But if you think that is stupid, there is more. And, inevitably it involves Gordon Brown and his utter economic ineptness. He ramped up Air Passenger Duty (APD) as one of his stealth taxes, doubling it in February 2007 alone, for instance. APD is now £194 for a seat over 40 inch pitch for a journey over 6 thousand miles, £138 between 2 and 4 thousand miles. It has become a significant part of the cost of a flight and is the second highest such tax in the world (after Chad). So what has happened:

  • It has significantly reduced British economic activity as people and businesses have gone elsewhere. In 2013 a study by PwC, “The Economic Impact of Air Passenger Duty”, found that abolition of APD could provide an initial short-term boost to the level of UK GDP of around 0.45 % in the first 12 months, averaging at just under 0.3 % per annum between 2013 and 2015. It stated that this increase would permanently raise UK economic output, to the point where the economy could be up to £16bn larger in the period 2013-15 than under the current system of APD. In addition, it found that abolition would result in an increase in investment and exports, implying investment may rise by 6% in total between 2013 and 2015, with exports rising by 5% in the same period.
  • It has reduced Government income as all other taxes have had their take reduced. Getting rid of APD would increase government revenue. The PwC report says that the abolition of APD would result in £3-4bn in lost direct revenue,  but a positive net gain of £0.25bn per annum for the Government.
  • Huge numbers of people are avoiding APD. Just take a short flight to Amsterdam, Frankfurt or Copenhagen then make your long flight from there. The savings are considerable. This is why every local airport in the UK now has lots of shuttle flights to these European destinations. And the economic damage to Britain is immense.

I have long ceased to be amazed at the stupidity of Gordon Brown. Luckily we now have a competent Chancellor and George Osborne has got rid of the top two bands of APD, effective 1 April 2015. After which the top rate will be the £138. But really he needs to get rid of it completely.

So there you have it. The wonders of aviation could and should bring great riches to our country, instead our politicians are doing everything they can to prevent this.

Finally for the Greens out there who think they are saving the planet and who hate aircraft that use fossil fuels. Already it is possible to use fuels made from biomass. In other words the power of the sun. And it is possible to adapt aviation to run on liquid hydrogen, which can be made using windmill or tide power. Whilst the startling fuel efficiency of aircraft make them one of the most energy friendly forms of transport.

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Postscript 18/6/2015

Boeing now predict that the number of commercial aircraft in the world is set to double. This makes an expandable 6 runway hub airport the absolute minimum for Great Britain.

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  1. There is some debate just now about building an extra runway at either Gatwick of Heathrow. Both ideas are preposterous.

    If Gatwick the capacity will be split. 2 runways each, Heathrow and Gatwick. How does that create a suitable hub airport? Remember that 36% of Heathrow’s passengers are lucrative hub and spoke transfer passengers. Business that UKplc does not want to lose.

    If either it will not be enough capacity. Remember that Heathrow ran out of slots in 1977, so there is immense pent up demand.

    If Heathrow there will suddenly be 50% more flights dropping their noise and petrochemical pollution on London. And the potential for a crash disaster will be increased.

    It is self evident that we need a 6 runway hub and that the Thames Estuary is the best location.


  2. Problem is Bruce, just as we used to make great aeroplanes in the 1950s and 1960s we did at one point lead the world in air travel and airport efficiency but as a country successive Governments and in particular socialist Labour Governments have killed British industry and bureaucracy overides common sense when it comes to decent infrastructure.


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