Airports - still questions to ask

I was pleased to attend the event at Stansted Airport on 8 June that marked the launch of a service by Emirates to Dubai.

The airport’s owners are boosted by the arrival of one of the world’s foremost airlines.  It is significant too that Emirates have chosen their newest aircraft to operate the flights to and from Stansted.

The timing of Emirates’ decision to add Stansted to their portfolio is interesting.  London’s two other principal airports, Heathrow and Gatwick, are effectively full.  This leaves Stansted as the only airport with substantial spare runway capacity.  The Government, following the advice of the Davies Commission, has decided the only long-term answer is to allow a third runway at Heathrow.  In these circumstances Gatwick is unlikely to pursue its own ambition to build a second runway.

Only a supreme optimist could suppose that the projected increase in capacity at Heathrow will be in place much earlier than ten years from now.  Only a supreme pessimist could believe that the British economy in this same period will decline to such a degree that passenger numbers drop.  But for at least the next seven years major airlines flying to London will have no place else to go than Stansted if they want to add new routes or increase frequency on others.  This leaves two matters to ponder.

If, as I suspect, the Government would not markedly disagree with the scenario I have described, how likely is it that the Secretary of State will stand in the way of Manchester Airport Group’s application to lift the ceiling on passenger numbers on its existing single runway?  And, if that is right, how can a decision to increase track capacity on the West Anglia rail line be much longer delayed?

Should legal challenges delay or even block Heathrow expansion, these questions have even greater potency.