The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, spoke at the Institute of Directors on Monday to launch the second part of a series of reports on the case for greater aviation capacity in London and the southeast. Also speaking at the event were Daniel Moylan, Deputy Chairman of Transport for London, who produced the report ‘A new airport for London: Part 2 – The economic benefits of a new hub airport’, and Irwin Stelzer, Director and Senior Economics Fellow at the Hudson Institute. The launch event was chaired by Simon Walker, Director General of the IoD, who welcomed the report on behalf of business leaders.
There was a consensus amongst the speakers on the vast economic benefits of developing airport capacity, as well as the dangers for the UK of falling behind Western counterparts in terms of connectivity to emerging economies. Mr. Johnson warned that “as the world economy changes and global power shifts to the East, the constrictions of London’s hub airport are becoming ever more apparent and ever more damaging”. This concern was echoed by Simon Walker, who said that “London has always been a cutting-edge place – a world city for a country that looks beyond its borders. But its status as one of the top global cities is now under threat”. IoD support for the project is based on the views of its members, with the majority of those in London and the South East saying that additional aviation capacity would improve the productivity of their business.
The debate opened up with a speech from Mr. Stelzer and probing questions from representatives of the aviation industry. Mr. Stelzer agreed that a long term solution was needed, but suggested we should not be ignoring interim options, like expanding Heathrow, arguing that the UK is already falling behind and a new hub would take years to negotiate, plan, and complete. Simon Walker agreed: “Whatever is decided, we are looking for swift action. The Terminal 5 application took 8 years to be approved – we can’t afford to wait that long this time around.” Questions from the floor threw up alternative ideas. Jo Lloyd of Birmingham Airport highlighted the case for developing their site – which is running at just 40% capacity – into a national hub, or strategically planning a broader, more integrated system of aviation development at more than one site across the country.
The debate was varied and engaging, with speakers willing to discuss new ideas and the stage set to bring this issue to the forefront of the political agenda. The central message of both the report and the IoD was clear: there is a significant economic need to increase aviation capacity in this country, and British businesses simply cannot afford to wait.