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Airports Commission backs third runway at Heathrow

Airports Commission backs third runway
In an attempt to expand air capacity in the South East, the independent Airports Commission recommended to build a third runway at Heathrow, saying it will add £147 billion in economic growth for over 60 years and create 70,000 jobs by 2050. The proposed plan has won the backing of the government appointed panel led by economist Sir Howard Davies to settle decades of political unrest over the expansion of airport in southeast England. A third runway at the Europe’s busiest flight hub will hopefully address the looming runway capacity shortage that’s costing the country trade and jobs. This landmark decision has brought Britain close to tap into fast growing economies around the world.

Building a new runway at Heathrow would cost more than £17 billion, and top £23 billion including surface access costs. The expansion would mean 250,000 more flights a year, creating a globally competitive transport hub in a location that’s convenient and easily accessible to everyone. The new runway would also add around 40 new destinations, including more than 10 long-haul routes. But, Heathrow will be required to ban all fights between 11:30PM and 6:00AM, and if it were to get the green light it must meet stringent conditions on noise and air pollution, and above all, it must not build a fourth runway, the Airports Commission recommended. The verdict came almost five years after the government cancelled plans for a new runway at Heathrow.

The decision is a major blow to rival contender Gatwick Airport and its private-equity owner Global Infrastructure Partners, but there’s been speculation that the commission would hold the door open for Gatwick. The airport’s CEO Stewart Wingate claimed it was still “very much in the race.” He said the commission’s report was only a recommendation and that it was for the government to make a final decision. Davies said, “Heathrow is best-placed to provide the type of capacity which is most urgently required: long haul destinations to new markets. It provides the greatest benefits for business passengers, freight operators and the broader economy.” Meanwhile the commission’s report maintained that while Gatwick’s proposal was “feasible” it was more focused on “short-haul intra-European routes.”

The plan for the expansion set in motion a fierce battle within the ranks of the ruling Conservative Party who campaigned against the Heathrow expansion in the country’s 2010 general election. Prime Minister David Cameron himself unequivocally ruled out a third runway at Heathrow in 2010 saying “no ifs, no buts” – and to retract on that strong stand will be a political embarrassment.

The government has pledged to consider the Airports Commission’s findings and to give a detailed report by the end of the year, but with no promise to implement them. “We must be ambitious and forward looking. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to answer a vital question. I will make statement to parliament later today in which I will set out the process for that decision to be made,” Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said. The expansion of Heathrow will keep Britain as one of the world’s great trading nations, right at the heart of the global economy. Experts say it’s still a long shot for a new runway to become fully operational given the political obstacles.

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