Failing to build third runway at Heathrow will make us little Britain

JOHN HOLLAND-KAYE: Failing to build a third runway at Heathrow Airport will make us little Britain, not global Britain – and won’t help the climate

After 50 years of debate, I believe we are just a few years away from expanding Heathrow and unleashing Britain’s potential. Last week’s Court of Appeal ruling, however, added at least another 12-month delay. What is another year after more than 50, you might ask.

Well, it is another 12 months of firms in Liverpool or Teesside having to export their products through Paris or Amsterdam, or tourists from China and South America having to go through France to get to Belfast or Inverness.

It is another 12 months of giving control over our trading network to our competitors and friends in the European Union.

Make no mistake, Heathrow is more than just another airport. As the UK’s only hub airport, we connect passengers and goods from all over Europe to global markets.

By pooling demand, we can support daily, year-round flights to long-haul markets such as Mexico City or Tokyo, carrying British exporters and their products around the world, and bring in tourists, students and inward investors to spend their money here.

John Hollande-Kaye, CEO at Heathrow Airport, says we will become little Britain, not global Britain if we do not expand the airport with a third runway

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell with protesters opposing the expansion of Heathrow Airport outside the High Court last week

A computer generated image released by Heathrow airport on June 18, 2019 shows what the airport will look like in 2050 following the completion of a third runway and new terminals

These trading networks are the lifeblood of the UK economy and Heathrow is its beating heart.

We are really good at our role. We have more regular long-haul destinations than any other airport in the world, apart from Charles de Gaulle, an airport in Paris that has four runways. Like Paris, Heathrow is one of the biggest in the world, but in contrast to Paris, we are rated by passengers as one of the best in the world for service.

Thanks to £12 billion of private investment in recent years, we are a national asset that Britain can be proud of.

More significantly, we are the UK’s biggest port by a long way, handling 40 per cent of British exports to non-EU markets in 2019. Why so much? Because the UK economy today is increasingly based on things that need to get to their destinations quickly, products that are delicate or of high value.

Think pharmaceuticals, high-tech engineering parts or fresh Scottish salmon. These travel under your feet in the cargo holds of passenger planes.

So whenever Heathrow opens a new passenger destination in India or China, we are also opening a direct trading route, adding arteries to our nation’s economic heart. No other airport in the UK does this. In fact, we handle more exports in the space of a few weeks than Gatwick, our second largest airport, handles in a year.

WHY am I so confident that Heathrow will expand, despite last week’s ruling? Because it is essential and, in today’s global economy, it is critical. These trading routes really matter, because the world economy is changing.

Future economic growth will come from the Americas, India and China, not the Old World economies in Europe. We need to be adding more destinations and frequencies to those markets and we need to be better connected to them than our rivals in Europe.

Yet today Heathrow is full. Our beating heart is congested.

We have been at full capacity for 15 years and, in that time, I have had to turn away requests to open new routes and destinations from dozens of airlines in India, China and other emerging economies.

We are always the first choice for international routes, meaning that Heathrow is the most valuable destination in the world.

Campaigners cheer outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London on February 27

Campaigners outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London as the Court of Appeal blocked a new third runway at Heathrow in a ruling on February 27  

But what if they cannot get to Heathrow? They go to Paris, Frankfurt or Amsterdam. Bear in mind that the first two operate four runways and the Dutch one uses six! Within two years, Paris will overtake Heathrow as the biggest airport in Europe. Within ten years we will have dropped to fourth place.

This is a tragedy. Heathrow can easily be the biggest and best- connected airport in the world. Further, because international businesses like to base themselves next to a well-connected airport, an expanded Heathrow would help make Britain the best place in the world for commerce.

Why does this matter? Why shouldn’t business people in Newcastle or Belfast travel through Paris instead? I can tell you that it absolutely does matter. This is about the UK as a newly sovereign nation being in control of its trade routes.

The Prime Minister has just started negotiations with the EU and is doing the same with other big economies. How can he stand strong when dealing with India, if business people in Ahmedabad or Kolkata have to travel through Paris to get to the UK?

And what happens when Paris starts to get full and decides to stop the Liverpool flight because they are adding a new route to India? Or when we get into a trade war with Europe, and they decide to cut off our routes?

What was impossible to imagine five years ago is an economic reality these days as trade has become an economic weapon. Why would we ‘take back control’ from Brussels with one hand and give it to the French with the other?

That is why I say, ‘No Heathrow expansion, No Global Britain’.

Unless we start expanding the UK’s only hub as quickly as possible, we will be ‘Little Britain’, not ‘Global Britain’. We will be ‘Levelling Down’, not ‘Levelling Up’.

Even in these times, when we are concerned about the climate, there are some vital cities that have no choice but to be connected by air.

It will be many years before Belfast, Aberdeen or Inverness enjoy a high-speed rail link to the UK’s hub airport. It is air travel to Heathrow that makes these cities the vital economic centres they are, and the Government should guarantee these connections will remain in place so that businesses can invest with the confidence that they won’t be cut off.

I HAVE heard some people say that the UK should set an example to the world by stopping flying altogether. That is not a lead that India, China or the US are ever going to follow.

Instead, we should show how we can still fly, even in a world in which carbon emissions are dramatically reduced.

Heathrow and the UK aviation sector have shown real global leadership, committing to net zero emissions by 2050 and by publishing a plan to get there.

The solution lies in changing the design of aircraft and aeroplane engines, and in using new power sources such as biofuels from waste, synthetic fuel, hydrogen and batteries for short haul. These technologies all exist today, but they need to be deployed more rapidly.

Failing to build a third runway won’t help the global climate. We have already seen that not a single ounce of carbon was avoided when the Coalition Government blocked Heathrow expansion in 2010. British passengers just flew through Amsterdam instead, boosting the Dutch economy at the expense of our own.

I have been asked many times this week whether the man who said he would ‘lie down in front of the bulldozers’ could ever support Heathrow expansion. My answer is that a Prime Minister facing the most critical economic challenge in our history should not be bound by a throwaway comment he made as a newly elected MP.

Rather, he should be bound by his promise to the British people that he would bring us economic prosperity, that he would ‘level up’ those in danger of being left behind, and that he would tackle climate change. Only Heathrow expansion will help him deliver all three.

We should all be asking him to live up to that promise, and make this a truly Global Britain.


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