Thu, Oct 13, 2011 - Page 7 News List

Britain mulls ‘Boris Island’ to ease crowded Heathrow

AFP, LONDON

London’s Heathrow airport is on the verge of overload, giving flight to fears that one of the planet’s main air hubs is on the slide and thoughts of building another — on the River Thames.

Handling more than 180,000 passengers a day but operating with just two runways, the world’s busiest airport in terms of international passenger traffic has been the subject of heated debate for years.

However, the question has -returned to the fore again after a report commissioned by Spanish--owned operator BAA, which runs six British airports including Heathrow.

As Britain’s only true international hub, Heathrow is already functioning at 98 percent of capacity with 450,000 takeoffs and landings last year, according to the report prepared by Frontier Economics, entitled Connecting for growth: The role of Britain’s hub airport in economic recovery.

“If Heathrow’s capacity remains constrained, Heathrow is likely to lose its position as Europe’s busiest airport by 2021, falling to third behind Frankfurt and Paris Charles de Gaulle, with Amsterdam Schiphol close behind,” the report said.

That is a blow to the government, which has buried a plan for the construction of a third runway at Heathrow on the grounds of reducing pollution and noise in neighboring areas, where residents already see more than 1,200 planes pass overhead every day.

As a result, Heathrow already has fewer daily departures than Paris or Frankfurt to cities in emerging markets and will not be able to keep up with future growth, particularly in terms of flights to Asia.

“We estimate that UK businesses are missing out on £1.2 billion [US$1.9 billion] a year now and this trade gap will widen to at least £1.6 billion a year by 2021,” the report said.

To deal with this headache, London’s ebullient Mayor Boris Johnson came up with an idea three years ago. Heathrow is on London’s western edge, hemmed in by housing, so why not, he suggested, build an entirely new airport with four runways on an artificial island in the Thames to the less populated east of the city.

However, “Boris Island,” as it has been dubbed, has fallen foul of environmentalists and airlines who oppose the idea of closing Heathrow.

However, critics of this pharaonic £40 billion plan are not completely closed to new ideas.

Norman Foster, the architect of Hong Kong’s international airport which opened in 1998 on largely reclaimed land, also put forward a hub project with four runways and a capacity of more than 150 million passengers a year on another island in the Thames estuary.

However, environmentalists are up in arms.

“We would no more knock down Canterbury Cathedral to build a new supermarket than we would destroy our most important wildlife sites for a new airport,” said Paul Outhwaite of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, claiming that 300,000 migratory birds use the estuary.

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