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What does the future hold for the UK's airports?

What does the future hold for the UK's airports?
The UK is home to some of the world's busiest airports and millions pass through every year visiting the various attractions the country has to offer.

When London hosted the 2012 Olympic Games it saw athletes and spectators from all over the globe descend on the English capital to take in the atmosphere of the greatest sports event in the world while also exploring the rest of the nation. Naturally this saw a higher number than usual using the main airports and put the spotlight on the logistics of the likes of Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted and London City.

The capital is equipped with a transport system that means people can easily navigate from the main airports to the centre of the city. Advances in the London Underground and with the impending introduction of the Crossrail route will ensure that people can travel from their home to their flight with relative ease.

Heathrow Airport is not only the busiest airport in the UK but the third busiest in the world, only Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in the US and Beijing Capital International in China can boast a higher footfall. According to figures from the Civil Aviation Authority, Heathrow handled over 70 million passenger in 2012 alone, representing a 0.9 per cent increase on 2011's total.

Despite the popularity of Heathrow, the future of the airport has been put under scrutiny. Mayor of London Boris Johnson has been keen on expanding the UK's aviation capacity and it could potentially lead to the closure of Heathrow to make way for a new airport.

Mr Johnson wants the UK to compete with European airports such as Amsterdam Schiphol, Frankfurt am Main and Paris Charles de Gaulle but has cast doubts over whether this can be achieved while Heathrow remains the country's premier airport.

One of the main problems of Heathrow is its location. The UK's busiest airport is in the heart of a residential area which is making it difficult to justify an expansion. It currently only uses two runways and has long called for the creation of a third but has faced opposition from both residents and environmentalists. They are concerned that the addition of a third runway will cause a rise in noise pollution due to more airlines using the facility.

Heathrow submitted plans for a third runway to the Airports Commission in July, it included three different options which could be utilised to help the facility improve its capacity. They came in response to Mr Johnson's suggestion of closing the airport and building a new site in the Thames Estuary. All the solutions put forward to the organisation are designed to have fewer people affected by aircraft noise.

The options are also expected to be cheaper than building an entire new airport and could realistically be completed by 2025-29 for a cost £14 to £18 billion.

Colin Matthews, Heathrow’s chief executive, said, “After half a century of vigorous debate but little action, it is clear the UK desperately needs a single hub airport with the capacity to provide the links to emerging economies which can boost UK jobs, GDP and trade. It is clear that the best solution for taxpayers, passengers and business is to build on the strength we already have at Heathrow."

The mayor of London has a much different vision for the future for UK's airport and images have already been revealed of what London Britannia Airport, dubbed Boris Island, would look like. Mr Johnson has been opposed to the idea of expanding Heathrow and believes that having an airport in the Thames Estuary would be a much more viable options.

One of the backers of the project is Testrad, which stated that an island scheme would help to avoid all of the problems being seen by land-based airports. The futuristic airport would accommodate six runways allowing London to compete with its European rivals and could be created in just seven years. The company stated that it would cost £47.3 billion to complete but this could be generated through funding supplemented by a development gain from the release of Heathrow.

Testrad stated that despite being on an island the airport would be easily accessible thanks to a high speed Crossrail line which would provide "an enhanced direct link to Waterloo". Passengers would be able to arrive at an international ferry terminal and "logistics dock" prior to their flight which could accommodate people travel from the coast of France or simply from Sheerness.

Speaking about the possible plans, Mr Johnson said: “This is further welcome argument in favour of the feasibility of having a new hub airport in the Thames estuary.

“With so many options available for a multi-runway hub airport in a new location, it would be folly for the Airports Commission to give countenance to the prospect of expanding Heathrow, the most noise-polluting airport in Europe.”

While none of these plans have been given the go ahead it shows the ambition that the UK is having to bring more tourism into the country. As France, the Netherlands and Germany are currently leading the way in aviation, the UK wants to catch up. Whether this will be through an expansion of Heathrow, the creation of Boris Island or some other alternative it shows that the UK is committed to improving its airport capacity.

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Date: 27/11/2013 15:26:11

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