Virgin Atlantic Airways today submitted its response to the Government’s consultation on future runway development and called on it to back Heathrow and put its weight behind the early building of a third runway at the airport.
Virgin Atlantic’s preferred options for the development of additional airport capacity in the South East, in order of preference, are:
- a move quickly to full mixed-mode use of Heathrow’s existing runways;
- the speedy development of a third, short runway at Heathrow (with associated passenger handling facilities) as soon as possible;
- the earliest possible development of a second runway at Gatwick.
- the development of additional runway capacity (should that still be necessary) at either Stansted or Gatwick.
Virgin Atlantic does not support the construction of a new hub airport at Cliffe in North Kent, or the development of Stansted into a second hub airport for the UK in competition with Heathrow. Neither of these options are economically viable or sustainable without the enforced closure of Heathrow and Gatwick Airports and the consequent economic and social costs that such a move would have. Furthermore, the construction of Cliffe and possibly of a mega-Stansted would do more harm to the environment than the development of Heathrow, Gatwick and more restrained development of Stansted.
The provision of mixed-mode at Heathrow would provide a quick, albeit partial, solution to the immediate problem of lack of capacity there, at limited environment cost. A new runway is the most economically viable of the options available, producing additional capacity at the airport where it is most needed, at an acceptable cost to the environment.
Commenting on the submission Sir Richard Branson said:
“Alistair Darling showed real courage in starting this consultation process and he must demonstrate it again when he publishes his White Paper later this year. The UK and Heathrow in particular is in serious risk of losing its pre- eminece in European and World aviation.
“Business, tourism, trade unions, air users and the aviation industry all demand a clear commitment from Government to the development of new runway capacity and a detailed timetable for its delivery. Virgin is today calling for the Government to commit to introduction of a Hybrid Bill to develop a new runway at Heathrow. As was demonstrated with the Channel Tunnel Rail Act the procedure allows full consultation on both the local and national issues and will be so much quicker and less costly than the protracted public enquiry process which delayed Terminal 5 for so long.”
Virgin also made clear its commitment to reducing the environmental impact of runway expansion. Virgin Atlantic believes that these should be tackled through:
- controlling and reducing the scale of adverse impacts where possible
- taking mitigation measures against remaining impacts to the full extent that is both reasonable and practicable
- providing compensation for impacts remaining after mitigating measures
In addition, Virgin Atlantic would be prepared to sign up to a list of commitments pertaining to Heathrow. Such a list could contain commitments such as:
- the safeguarding of key buildings such as St Mary’s Church and the Great Barn at Harmondsworth through a slight realignment of the proposed additional runway from that shown on the indicative plans contained in the SERAS consultation documents
- the setting up of a community fund to provide compensation for local residents adversely affected by noise and emissions from the runway development
- the establishment of a local environmental management plan with the airport operator, airport users, local authorities and community groups which would set the environmental targets and measure performance
- phasing out, by the time of the opening of the new runway, all aircraft which do not meet the tightest current international noise standards
- a curfew on the use of the new runway between 23:00 and 06:00 and no increase in night flying restriction applicable to all runways - adherence to the limits on noise attached to the Terminal 5 decision, even with a new runway
- working to reduce the level of N02 emissions at the airport by measuring both aircraft and non-aircraft contributions and introducing appropriate air quality controls consistent with EU limits
Similar undertakings could be developed for Gatwick and, if necessary for Stansted.