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Is BA getting green? October 19, 2009

Posted by supersonicswan in Supersonic.
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One of definitively positive aspects of my otherwise quite average university is that lecturers go the extra mile and get us out there to meet some really interesting people from within the aviation industry. As I write this, it’s been only a couple of hours since I got back from one of such outings. As it happens with ” the world’s favourite airline” ‘s homebase, it took an awful amount of time to get there and come back. But it was worth the hassle.

Firstly, since I’ve never been to the famous T5 before, it gave me an opportunity to have a closer look inside. And I must say, it’s an impressive piece of architecture. Even more so, if compared to other terminals at LHR.

Secondly, we got a very nice and relatively informative talk from an ex-alumni who is now working at Waterside trying to crave out a sound environmental strategy hand in hand with Mr Walsh.

A lot of this mostly Q&A session was related to the ever popular dilemma of whether to further develop LHR or to build a completely new airport in the Thames Estuary. With valid arguments on both sides and even more inbetween, this problem makes you wish for a sudden shift in politics towards dictatorship. After decades (the Estuary option surfaced as far back as late 1960s during existence of the so called Roskill Commission) full of debates, public enquiries and protests in January 2009 the first option seemed to prevail with the third runway at LHR being cleared by the labourist government. However, as the Labour Party’s political appeal started to deteriorate proportionately to the state of the eonomy, it has become clearer and clearer that it would be the Tories who will take over sometime around June 2010. The Tories of course are not some huge supporters of the 3rd runway (exactly up to what point it forms part of the political game to win over more votes, it’s hard to say) and being so they’ve already announcedthat any approvals for the 3rd runway will be scrapped as soon as they win the June elections. BAA, the spanish-owned airport operator, did in turn react very reasonably announcing it would not lodge any planning applications prior to the elections. Hence, the whole project has been grounded once again and with the Tories being the most likely winners the situation is unlikely to change.

On the other hand, there is London’s mayor Boris Johnson, a strong believer in the Thames Estuary airport’s propensity to succeed. His campaign in favour of such a solution took off some time ago but it keeps hitting the headlines every now and then. Although Boris encounters some fierce opposition (which surprisingly doesn’t focus on the location itself but on a more general credibility of the project in the british political environment), he is getting quite serious about it, having commissioned a feasibility study (that atually didn’t prove anything against an estuarian airport) and apparently had also held some kind of preliminary talks about funding options (with a potential investor coming from the Middle-East area).

Now, from what I’ve heard today, BA obviously supports the third runway very eagerly. Only for different reasons than I thought. The official line seems to be efficiency improvements due to increased joint capacity of the three runways. Fair enough, less fuel would be wasted while in the holding pattern or in a queue prior to take off. Mind you, it doesn’t even mention any increase in the overall number of flights and focuses exclusively on the benefits assuming more flexibility with a constant number of movements. Somehow I can’t force myself to believe BA wouldn’t like to see their number of slots at LHR increase as soon as the additional runway is finished. It’s more – if BA wants to remain competitive it would do them well if they had more slots. You see, that’s what airlines do – grow.

Assuming BA wants to do the same, how come one of main issues they hold against the Thames Estuary airport comes down to the fact that a new airport wouldn’t stop aviation from growing? I find it at least slightly contradictory. Nice try, though.

The truth (or a part of it) is that BA has invested a lot of money into improvements at LHR (like the T5 for example) and the last thing they would want to happen is a huge state-of-the-art airport being built on the other edge of the city and the competition transferring to the Isle of Sheppey.  And in the process they might appear that little bit greener.

What is your position on the LHR vs. Thames Estuary airport dilemma? Do you think Boris is a visionary or a daydreamer? Do we need more airport capacity in the Greater London area at all?