Heathrow expansion: oh what’s in a plane?

Image: YiFeiBo

Image: YiFeiBo

The May Government is right to back a third runway at Heathrow Airport. It will not be appreciated by environmentalists and local communities, but for businesses and foreign investors it will go some way in rectifying the perceived losses following Britain’s vote to leave the European Union.

Investments in infrastructure, particularly infrastructure which facilitates international trade and tourism, will serve the goal of economic growth for it’s own sake but furthermore it will act as a gesture which may reduce the uncertainty surrounding the consequences of Brexit. From a foreign perspective it symbolises the Government’s theoretically reassuring slogan that ‘Britain is open for business’, a line slightly less meaningless than ‘Brexit means Brexit’.

Ultimately, Heathrow Airport has spent the last decade strained, operating at 99 per cent capacity which leaves little room for manoeuvre when tackling a delay or service disruption. It is expected that airports of the South East will reach capacity by 2040.

Hoping to be operational by 2026, the third runway will relieve the capacity issue and provide scope for further destinations to be travelled to and give room for Heathrow to compete against other major European airports. Chris Grayling, Secretary of State for Transport, has estimated that expansion will generate in excess of £60 billion of economic benefits across a 60 year period.

Environmentalists who nay-say against expansion forget that the wider debate has not been whether to expand airports but more where exactly to expand. As the national and global population increases and technology provides relatively cheaper means of air travel, demand for flights inevitably increases. A stable economy needs to be able to accommodate this.

While hundreds who currently live in the vicinity of Heathrow Airport will need to be relocated, adequate compensation may need to be a sufficient means of expanding what is already Britain’s largest airport in order to make a tough decision in a difficult political environment.

It’s been recognised since the Second World War that the South East requires more space for airports and as emerging markets converge toward the level of advanced economies, it is important that the infrastructure to make trade links is already in place. With the focus on connectivity, it makes sense to expand from the already largest airport, looking to make links with any country it hasn’t already.

This might run counter to the gradual trend toward demand for devolution that the UK has been experiencing over the last few years but to international eyes, it may be that the only option to secure the confidence of prospective business partners is to expand in the location that makes most sense, and that is of course Heathrow Airport.

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