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The Real Stupidity of Heathrow

Heathrow Airport

Heathrow has more on the consultation front in the pipeline. At the present, Heathrow is having great fun asking people what routes they would prefer and spinning a great red herring about air quality. Now, air quality is important. Our environment is important, of course. So before I get shouted at by the Green lobby, let me explain why Heathrow are using this clever red herring to keep everyone's eye off the real ball.

What does Heathrow do? Heathrow manages to shove through about 78 million passengers a year. All on 2 runways. Compare that to Chicago O'Hare (ORD) that shoves through 79 million passengers and has 8 runways. What does this tell us? Is this an argument for extra runways at Heathrow? Well, No.

Heathrow (LHR) has some 476,000 movements of aircraft, in and out, a year. Again, compare that to ORD which has 867,000. Nearly double. What does this tell us?

Let us, for a moment talk about "hubs". A hub airport is one which has all the major long haul stuff and feeds some of that traffic by flying people in from smaller, regional airports. This, in turn, means smaller, regional aircraft. After all, you are not going to send a Jumbo Jet to pick up 110 people from Jersey, are you? If, that is, Jersey could even manage a Jumbo Jet. If it is the case, however, that you need a hub airport then by definition, it does not need to be in the most crowded bit of a crowded corner of a crowded island. Railways spotted this a while ago, which is partly why you get "Parkway" Stations. True, it helps to be near a major conurbation, but with High Speed Rail it is possible to link a hub airport to any major city - or cities - quite easily. Needs a bit of foresight, of course.

Getting back to LHR and ORD, though, the reason why ORD has 8 runways is because with all that hub activity and hence, smaller aircraft, you need a lot more runway space to land them all. Not to mention, a lot more space to process people and baggage and everything else that gets any given passenger off one aircraft and onto another. What this means, though, is that a 3rd runway at LHR is neither here nor there. To process all that hub traffic, you need and extra 2 (at least) if not 3 new runways.

What about freight? Freight certainly does not need to go through LHR. The fastest growing freight airport in the UK is actually Birmingham, closely followed by Manchester and East Midlands. As far as Europe is concerned, Heathrow stands 10 places behind Frankfurt and Paris CDG; Amsterdam is more busy, freight-wise, than Heathrow. If you expand freight at Heathrow, then you need those large things that take up a lot of space on motorways. You know, lorries. Where freight is time-critical, it is much easier and safer for courier firms to use regional airports, where they can be fairly sure that their road transport is not going to spend time setting up a nice friendly campsite, just off (or indeed, on) the M25 motorway.

UPS and DHL use East Midlands. FedEx use Stansted (these are but feeder hubs for their main Euro-hubs which are at places like Cologne)) and TNT's main Euro-hub is at Leige, in Belgium and have feeder cargo flights to many UK airports - just not Heathrow.

So, it makes no sense to try and expand freight at Heathrow. Much more runway space could be created simply by moving freight to those airports more adept at handling it - like East Midlands, Birmingham - Bristol even.

All the above before we start talking about jobs. "Up to 40,00 jobs..." says Heathrow. Great! Well, is it? The highest rates of unemployment in London are in Tower Hamlets and Barking & Dagenham (7.7%) Some of the lowest are in Hillingdon and Hounslow. (4.4%). London and the South East, according to the ONS, has the highest employment rate in the UK whereas the lowest is in the North (generally). All this shows another reason to locate freight away from LHR to increase regional employment. 40,000 jobs is one thing. 40,000 jobs at minimum wage or close to minimum wage is another. Transient jobs in the service industries do not bode well for thriving communities and the major consideration is, if Hounslow and the "local" area to LHR is not an unemployment blackspot.... where are these 40,000 people supposed to live? Will they all commute from Tower Hamlets and Barking, one wonders.

In the meanwhile, even though the whole idea is rather, well, silly, you keep thinking about which way aircraft should go and the air quality..... Mind you, Heathrow could be made to work ... maybe I will tell you how!

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