Questions about the campaign and the Airports Commission’s recommendation

What are the specific objectives of your campaign?

Let Britain Fly’s strategic objective is to build cross-party political support for airport expansion in London and the South East.

Now that the Airports Commission has published its Final Report our aim is to ensure the Government responds to the Commission’s recommendation to build a new runway at Heathrow in a positive and timely fashion; and commits to an early Parliamentary vote, to take place by summer 2016 at the latest.

Who supports your campaign?

The Let Britain Fly campaign is a broad coalition of key business leaders, business organisations, trade associations, think tanks, trade and professional organisations, unions and academic institutions who have signed up to our founding statement in favour of expanding air capacity in London and the South East. Our supporters come from across the country and are united by their belief in the strategic national importance of Britain’s global aviation hub status to the UK economy. For a full list of signatories to the Let Britain Fly campaign statement, click here.

Who funds your campaign and how is it governed?

Let Britain Fly has been initiated by London First who has provided the campaign secretariat. This includes two full-time members of staff, office space and administrative support. In addition Let Britain Fly has received a number of financial contributions from external companies and organisations to fund the campaign’s activities. Those that have provided funds include Aberdeen Asset Management, Arup, Cadogan, Canary Wharf Group, Chelsea Football Club, Cicero Group, City of London Corporation, Edwardian Group, Harrods, ICAP, Mace, SEGRO and Selfridges.

The campaign is overseen by an Operating Guidance Group. This group includes any financial contributor who wishes to nominate a representative and the Let Britain Fly Director. The operating guidance group provides oversight of the campaign finances, ensuring the money is spent properly and in addition provides high level guidance to the campaign secretariat. This group may be supplemented with individuals with campaigning expertise or policy experience.

For a detailed note on Let Britain Fly’s governance arrangements please click here.

Why do we need airport expansion in London and the South East?

There is a pressing need for airport expansion in London and the South East.

Heathrow, Britain’s only international hub airport, has already been at full capacity for the last ten years. Gatwick, our second busiest airport, is already at capacity during peak times and will be completely full by 2020. Whilst all of London’s other major airports are likely to be full by 2030.

A lack of capacity is making it more difficult to expand our connectivity to new markets, undermining our ability to trade and impacting negatively on our economic competitiveness.

This is why after nearly three years of rigorously examining the evidence, the Airports Commission has concluded that London and the South East needs one new runway by 2030. Their unanimous recommendation is that the best strategic solution would be for a new runway to be built at Heathrow.

What is your view on where a new runway in London and the South East should be located?

The Airports Commission, an independent body established and funded by the Government, has spent the best part of three years rigorously examining the evidence and their unanimous recommendation is that a new runway at Heathrow offers the best solution. We believe the Government must now listen to the experts and get on and make a swift decision to build the first new full-length runway in London and the South East since 1945 at Heathrow.

What about building a new runway at Gatwick?

The Airports Commission has spent almost three years examining the evidence and their unanimous and clear recommendation is that a new runway at Heathrow is the better option. The Commission’s analysis has shown that Heathrow expansion will deliver almost twice the economic benefit and create many more new jobs. As a hub airport Heathrow is also better equipped to provide the additional long-haul connectivity Britain needs to key growth markets such as Brazil and China. We therefore back the Commission’s recommendation and believe on this basis the Government should give the green-light to a new runway at Heathrow as quickly as possible.

Despite what you and the Airports Commission say, isn’t it the case that given the major impacts on local communities, expansion at Heathrow will never be politically deliverable?

We believe the recommendations put forward by the Airports Commission to build a new runway at Heathrow are robust and politically deliverable, balancing the need to strengthen our economy with the needs of local communities. This is on the basis that the Airports Commission have recommended a number of robust mitigation measures to help minimise the impacts on local communities and the environment.

This includes: banning all night flights from 11:30pm to 6:00 am; a noise envelope to ensure no increase in current noise levels; a new aviation noise levy to fund a £1bn community compensation fund; an independent aviation noise authority and for the Government to rule out a fourth runway.

We believe a new runway coupled with these strong measures has the potential to make Heathrow bigger and better and strike a fair balance between national and local priorities. On that basis we believe the proposals put forward by the Commission for a new runway at Heathrow are now politically deliverable.

What we need more than ever is for the Government to make a decision that is based on what is in the long-term national interest, not short-term political considerations.

After decades of political procrastination, do you really think politicians will act upon the recommendations of the Airports Commission? Isn’t a decision just going to be kicked into the long-grass?

The Airports Commission was established on a cross-party basis and represents the biggest and most thorough investigation into the future of aviation capacity ever conducted in the UK. With a budget of £20M and taking nearly three years to conduct it has been a robust and rigorous process that has examined the issue from all angles, examining a large evidence base and consulting widely.

Given the thorough nature of the Commission’s work we think it will be difficult for the Government and UK political leaders to now kick a decision into the long-grass.

Indeed since the Commission published its Final Report the Prime Minster has made clear that there is a need for extra capacity in London and the South East and said he intends to make a decision by the end of the year; whilst the Leader of the Opposition made clear that she would support the Government in making a swift decision to build a new runway at Heathrow. So there is increasing cross-party support for early action.

The Prime Minister has also now set up a Cabinet Sub-Committee on aviation to examine how to take the Airports Commission’s recommendation forwards, a clear sign as to the Government’s determination to make a final decision.


Is just one new runway really enough? In the long-term don’t we need many more new runways?

The Airports Commission has spent three years looking very carefully at the evidence in what has been a rigorous and robust process. Their clear view is that London and the South East definitely needs one new runway by 2030. The Commission think there might be sufficient demand for a second new runway by 2050. However the focus now needs to be on building the new runway that is required by 2030.

Therefore we trust the view of the experts that one new runway is enough to sufficiently address London and the South East’s air capacity requirements for the next decade and a half. We believe the Government should proceed as quickly as possible with a decision to build this one new runway at Heathrow.

Now that the Airports Commission has made its final recommendation how quickly will it take for the Government to make a decision and how soon can a new runway be built?

The Government will obviously need time to carefully consider the contents of the Airports Commission’s Final Report and review the evidence it has been presented with.

On this basis we expect the Government to give its formal response to the Airports Commission’s Final Report by December 2015. In its response the business community would like the Government to commit explicitly to the Airports Commission’s final recommendation to build a new runway at Heathrow and set out a clear timetable for a Parliamentary vote to take place by summer 2016 at the latest.

A swift decision is needed because it will take around ten years for a new runway to be built, involving five years of political and legal wrangling, followed by the five years it will take to build the runway and associated infrastructure.

A Parliamentary vote by summer 2016 at the latest will help ensure we can get spades in the ground by 2020, with the new runway in operation by the mid-2020s.

Questions about the economic benefits of airport expansion

What evidence is there that a lack of airport capacity is damaging the economy?

There is compelling evidence that our international connectivity matters to the success of the British economy. As an island-nation we trade twenty times more with countries with which we have a direct air link and by value 40% of exports go by air, most in the belly-holds of passenger planes. In fact by value 26% of our exports go via Heathrow alone.

If all our major airports are at full capacity that will constrain our ability to grow our trade and exports to new markets.

Indeed recent CBI analysis suggests Britain could be losing up to £31 billion in trade by 2030 because of the failure to increase flights to Brazil, Russia, India and China alone.

The Airports Commission has found that a new runway at Heathrow could deliver up to £147bn in economic benefit and up to 77,000 new jobs. This represents a significant boost to the UK economy.

How much will it cost to build a new runway at Heathrow? What is the cost to the public purse?

According to the Airports Commission the estimated cost of building a new runway at Heathrow is £17.6bn. It is envisaged that these costs would be paid for through private not public investment.

In addition to the costs of building the runway, which would be paid for through private investment, the Airports Commission estimates that there would be surface access costs of £5bn, it is likely these costs would at least in part be paid for through public investment.

However the clear majority of costs associated with building the new runway would be paid for by the private sector, for every £1 of public investment there is likely to be at least £3 of private investment.

What are our global competitors doing?

Our European rivals got on and expanded their hub airport capacity years ago. While Heathrow has only two runways and has been at around 99% capacity for ten years; Amsterdam has six runways, whilst Frankfurt and Paris both have four runways each. As a result Paris for example has 50% more flights to China, with room to grow.

Whilst for the first time ever, Dubai International recently overtook Heathrow as the world’s busiest international airport.

Looking further to the future global cities around the world have plans to build over fifty new runways between now and 2036. Istanbul has plans to build a new six runway hub that will have double the passenger capacity of Heathrow. China alone will build seventeen new runways. Mexico City has plans to build a new five runway hub. Whilst the massive Dubai World Central Airport will have more capacity than all of London’s airports combined.

Questions about the environmental and community impacts

We often hear about the economic cost of not building a new runway, but what about the human cost of building a new runway in terms of the homes that will be demolished and the lives that will be destroyed?

According to the Airports Commission around 750 homes will need to be demolished to make way for a new runway at Heathrow. This is sad for those people that will lose their homes, as is always the case with big infrastructure projects of this size and scale.

However those homeowners will be compensated generously. Not only will they receive the full un-blighted market value of their homes, but in addition they will receive a compensation pay-out of 25% of that homes market value.

So for example an owner whose home is valued at £400,000 (not untypical for the local market) will be paid £500,000 for that home, an extra £100,000, in addition to reasonable costs.

The 25% compensation offer is over and above Government guidelines, which stipulate 10% above market value.

Over 3000 properties that will be located very close to the new runway, but which will not be destroyed, will also be eligible for the improved scheme.

However what is critical for those homeowners now is certainty over what is going to happen, so that they can plan and prepare for their future. This is why the Government should make a decision as quickly as possible to end uncertainty and help people get on with their lives.

One must also bear in mind that a new runway will create up to 77,000 new jobs – the additional employment opportunities will transform the lives and families of thousands of people living near the airport. So there is equally a human cost to not expanding.

Isn’t it the case that airport expansion will be bad for climate change, it will lead to more carbon emissions from aviation? Shouldn’t our ambition be to encourage less people to fly, not more people to fly?

We shouldn’t have to make a stark choice between securing our economic future and that of the environment. In fact according to the experts we do not have to.

The independent Committee on Climate Change, which is a public body comprised of climate change experts and has been advising the work of the Airports Commission has concluded that a 60% growth in flights to 2050 compared to 2005 levels is compatible with the UK’s overall carbon reduction targets.

Cleaner more advanced technology means new planes coming into service today such as the A380 and 787 Dreamliner are around a third more fuel efficient than the older aircraft they are replacing. With further efficiencies expected in the future.

Analysis shows that the cumulative carbon footprint of the UK’s 18 biggest airports has shrunk by 3 per cent since 2010, whilst passenger numbers have increased by 5 per cent over the same period.

These figures demonstrate that expansion can be delivered sustainably with emissions progressively reduced over time.


Won’t expansion at Heathrow simply lead to more misery for Londoners in terms of increased levels of aircraft noise?

Significant reductions in aircraft noise have already been delivered by technological improvements and are set to continue in the future.

New planes like the 787 Dreamliner and the A380 are around a third quieter than the planes they are replacing.

As a result of operational and technological improvements it is estimated that with the proposed new runway at least 200,000 fewer people will be affected within Heathrow’s current noise footprint.

Furthermore the Airports Commission has recommended a package of robust measures to address the airports noise issues.

Measures include: a ban on all scheduled night flights between 11:30pm and 6:00am; a noise envelope stipulating no overall increase above current levels; a £1bn community compensation fund paid for by a new noise levy and the establishment on an independent aviation noise authority.

These measures amount to a new settlement for local residents.

Questions about the alternatives to airport expansion in London and the South East

Why do we need more flights from London and the South East? Why not put on more flights from regional airports such as Birmingham, Manchester and Edinburgh where there is plenty of spare capacity?

Smaller airports outside the South East have a critical role to play in facilitating the UK’s overall connectivity. However in many cases they are unable to support the direct international flights the UK needs to new markets in the Far East and South America.

In theory smaller airports often have both the facilities and the spare capacity to support long-haul flights to high-growth markets, however in reality do not have a sufficient local market to support these flights and make them commercially viable.

The Airports Commission have looked at this and they do not think it is realistic to attempt to transfer demand away from the densely populated South East.

It is for these reasons that smaller airports around the UK rely on connectivity with hub airports, in order for their customers to access a larger number of international flights, providing transfer passengers who fill up the larger long-haul planes. In fact many smaller airports around the UK do have such links to hubs, however these flights are not just to London, but to other European hub airports such as Amsterdam, Paris and Frankfurt. A lack of capacity means we are therefore driving business away from the UK to our European competitors.

This is in part because other UK airports are increasingly being squeezed out of Heathrow. For example UK destinations from Heathrow decreased from 19 in 1990 to just 7 in 2014. This has resulted in passengers from the nations and regions having no choice but to transfer through other European hubs. Without action soon the situation will continue to get worse – the Airports Commission forecasts that without expansion UK domestic routes from Heathrow will fall to just three by 2040.

It is for these reasons that expansion at Heathrow is supported by at least six smaller airports outside the South East including Aberdeen, Belfast City, Liverpool, Leeds and Newquay Airports.

Won’t new technologies such as high-tech video conferencing reduce the need for face to face meetings and therefore reduce the need for air travel?

The growth in new digital communication technologies will certainly play an important role in the future of commerce and enable business people all over the globe to connect with each other through a few clicks.

However, these new technologies are unlikely to reduce the need for face to face meetings and therefore reduce the demand for air travel; if anything we believe easy access to advanced communication technology is likely to increase demand. Business leaders looking to make new deals and partnerships with their counterparts in developed as well as emerging markets may well initiate first contact via Skype, Facetime and other video conferencing software; but sooner rather than later these business relationships will require those new partners to meet face to face. Historically the development of new communications technologies has increased demand for air travel rather than reducing it, and we believe this will hold true in the future.

Won’t the Government’s plans for HS2 reduce demand for domestic flights to London airports such as Heathrow and therefore free up existing capacity?

HS2 could help reduce the need for some domestic flights between London and other cities in the UK, although this reduction is likely only to be limited to a very small number of flights to and from a handful of destinations.

Equally, HS2 could feasibly increase demand for international flights from London by making Heathrow and other London airports more easily accessible to people in cities like Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester.

Critically however, HS2 will simply not be built in time to help reduce any pressure on London’s existing airport infrastructure by reducing the need for domestic air travel. Heathrow has already been full for a decade, whilst Gatwick, Stansted, Luton and City Airport are all likely to be full by the end of the next decade.

However the HS2 London to Birmingham line will not open until 2026 at the earliest, and the London to Manchester, Leeds and York lines will not be running until 2033 at the earliest. By this time, London’s airport system will be at breaking point and these connections will bring very little – if any – relief to London and the South East’s looming air capacity crunch.

Just as we are investing in expanding our rail capacity through HS2, so we must now invest in expanding our airport capacity by building a new runway at Heathrow, as recommended by the Airports Commission.