We have learnt something about Sir Howard Davis’s interim proposals for a third runway in the south east of England this week. To recap; before the last election two of the parties (not labour although its current leader threatened to resign over the issue as climate change secretary) ruled out a third runway at Heathrow airport. When the coalition was formed the coalition agreement ruled out a third runway at Heathrow. For overseas readers this gives you in idea of how toxic the idea is in London. The reasons for this are simple, noise. There is pollution as well, but this is less obvious. From about five in the morning there is a continuous stream of planes until 10pm? at night. I noticed the noise in the morning when I stayed with a friend under one of the flight paths. To be fair it did not stop me getting to sleep.
The problem was businesses were unhappy with no airport expansion and a very effective lobbying campaign was launched. To try to get the coalition of the hook Sir Howard Davis was brought in to write a report on future expansion, a decision on which is still formally ruled out until after the next election. Another complication is that of Boris Johnson the London Mayor. Knowing the politics he has suggested “Boris Island” a new airport to the East of London. Sir Howard considered this along with Gatwick and Stanstead.
Sir Howard has ruled out Stanstead and almost totally ruled out “Boris Island”. Stanstead is long way out of London and would require better surface transport. Boris Island would cost around £120 Billion although some this could be recouped (presumably in taxation). The proposals are therefore narrowed down to Gatwick which could be built fairly quickly or Heathrow. At Heathrow they have two proposals a new runway or doubling the size of the existing one. This they would use for both take off and landing at the same time. Something that was not mentioned in the media coverage was they also looked at a catapult launch system (rather you than me-which is what they decided).
What is astonishing about this whole debate is there is no mention of climate change or the oil supply. We can argue to we are blue in the face whether peak oil has happened. Maybe its more helpful to consider it occurring in stages. In my view stage one has definitely occurred. That is the peaking of easy to extract cheap oil. Recent reports from the US energy agency do suggest that shale oil in the US will have peaked by about 2021 (link on our Facebook page). A third runway at Heathrow would not be built until 2030. Currently airline economics suggest that as long as the oil price is below $120/barrel they can make money (reference in our book). It exceeded this in 2008 and a whole heap of carriers were wiped out. Are we really so sure demand for flying will increase for ever-can it? We also need to consider climate change as well. For this reason we also need to stop flying. I really don’t believe its so vital to the economy as business makes out. At some point airport expansion has to stop and ultimately we will have to live without flying.
The interim report can be seen here.