As protesters gather in Frankfurt, British group rejects industry argument that lack of action will lead to expansion abroad
Anti-aviation campaigners have challenged the “myth” that Britain is alone in curbing airport expansion plans, as thousands of demonstrators converged on Frankfurt airport on Sunday to protest against the effects of its new runway.
The aviation industry has consistently warned that a lack of hub airport capacity in the south-east of England means European competitors will take trade away from the UK. According to polling for the Airport Operators’ Association, 73% of business leaders believe the government needs to do more to back aviation.
The government is in the process of setting up a commission, to be chaired by Sir Howard Davies, to examine whether additional capacity is needed – with options including a third runway at Heathrow or a brand new hub airport. Heathrow directors have said the growing, multi-runway airports of France, Holland and Germany are “eating our lunch”. However, campaigners say there is also widespread opposition in Europe that is restraining development.
John Stewart, of Airport Watch, said: “What we continually hear from people who want to expand Heathrow is that if we don’t build here, expansion will automatically take place elsewhere in Europe.” Instead, he said, a network of increasingly informed and organised campaigners was putting a brake on growth.
In Frankfurt, police estimated that 4,000 protesters gathered to mark the first anniversary of the airport’s fourth runway, which campaigners say has raised noise levels in southern Frankfurt.
The airport is increasing its flight numbers from 490,000 to 700,000 a year, and its passenger numbers from 56 million to more than 90 million. At weekly gatherings inside the terminals, protesters make as much noise as possible with football rattles and pots and pans.
The protesters’ overarching battle cry is that “the runway must go”, but first they want a two-hour extension of the 11pm-5am flight ban, and a ban on all flights to and from destinations reachable by train in four hours or less. “We consider that to be a reasonable demand,” said Ingrid Kopp, spokeswoman for the protest movement. The issue could determine the outcome of elections in the state of Hesse.
Munich, where a planned third runway was defeated in a referendum this year, and Berlin, where the opening of the vast Willy Brandt airport has been delayed by a series of spectacular organisational failures, have also become the focus of the growing anti-expansion campaign. Leipzig/Halle, Cologne/Bonn and Düsseldorf have also attracted protests over noise pollution caused by night flights.
Italian campaigners have overturned planned airports in Siena and outside Rome, and in France a combination of local farmers’ protests and environmental groups has blocked a proposed new airport in Nantes.
In Britain, Gatwick has been trying to tread softly with local opposition before last week saying it wanted a second runway to compete with Heathrow. Brendon Sewill, chairman of the Gatwick area conservation campaign, said any new runway would be a step change that would make it impossible to limit growth.
Unlike at Heathrow, more fields than houses stand in the direct path of potential bulldozers, although about 17 listed buildings would be destroyed or made uninhabitable by the runway, and noise levels would rise in neighbouring Crawley. Sewill said campaigners also feared the increased roadbuilding, construction and urbanisation that would follow a bigger airport.
Sewill, 83, was at the opening of the Beehive, Gatwick’s original terminal, as a seven-year-old in 1936. A decade ago he fought proposals for expansion to the north that would have left his village of Charlwood – home to a Norman church with wall paintings and yew trees dating back almost a millennium – effectively squeezed between the two runways. Only a church survives from the village of Lowfield Heath, on the current southern edge, razed in 1973 as uninhabitable and now an industrial park. “A dreadful warning to the rest of us,” said Sewill.
In the 1950s his parents were part of a defeated campaign to stop Gatwick developing, purportedly as a bad weather back-up to Heathrow. Subsequent growth meant the council insisted on a long-term agreement to build no second runway when granting Gatwick permission to build a new terminal two decades later. That agreement runs out in 2019.
Sewill said he expected to hand over to a new generation of activists before plans come to a head. Gatwick has installed some new razor wire on the perimeter fence. “They put it there to stop Plane Stupid getting in.” But, he smiled: “I hear they have good wirecutters.”
Future clashes seem increasingly likely, with the aviation industry and business adamant that expansion must occur, and the Davies commission unable to defer a decision indefinitely. But Stewart said a “sea of protest” across Europe was set to meet it. “Given the opposition, the safest assumption is that airport capacity in western Europe will remain much as it is now over the coming decades,” he said.
Five UK airports run by BAA, which include Heathrow, handled 9.6 million passengers in July 2012, 4.1% lower than the year before
The number of passengers using the UK’s main airports dipped last month as people stayed at home to watch the Olympics.
The five UK airports run by BAA, which include Heathrow, handled 9.6 million passengers in July 2012 – a 4.1% decline on the July 2011 figure.
Numbers at Heathrow fell 4.4% to just under 6.57 million, while Stansted was down 5.3%, Southampton fell 9.5% and Glasgow dropped 0.5%.
The only BAA airport to see an increase last month was Aberdeen, where numbers were up 4.4%.
The Olympic effect was most marked on European scheduled flight passenger numbers, which fell 6.6% at the five BAA airports last month.
North Atlantic traffic was almost unchanged, while other long-haul routes declined 6.3%.
The increased number of Border Force staff handling immigration at Heathrow in the runup to the Olympics led to a record-breaking month for customer satisfaction at the west London airport, BAA said.
On a scale of one to five, with five being excellent and four being very good, arrivals scored a record 4.3 points last month, with departures scoring 4.22.
There was also a fall – albeit a small one – in the numbers of passengers using Gatwick, which is operated by American company Global Infrastructure Partners.
The West Sussex airport handled just under 3.63 million passengers last month – 0.1% fewer than in July 2011.
Gatwick’s chief financial officer, Nick Dunn, said the slight drop was “in line with industry expectations where fewer Britons were predicted to travel abroad in favour of staying at home to soak up the Games”.
Gatwick Airport has cut its pre-tax losses, helped by a rise in passenger numbers and new routes to the Far East including Hong Kong and China
Read more: Gatwick boosted by passenger rise
The owner of Gatwick and London City airport formally takes ownership of Edinburgh Airport following a £807m deal.
Read the original post: Edinburgh Airport changes hands
A deal is struck to sell Edinburgh Airport to the owner of Gatwick and London City airports for £807m.
Go here to read the rest: Scottish airport sold for £807m
Delays follow two-hour suspension of flights after emergency landing of Virgin Atlantic flight
Flights in and out of Gatwick airport were suspended for nearly two hours on Monday when a Virgin Atlantic flight with 299 passengers and 13 crew made an emergency landing after a “technical problem” on board the Airbus 330-300. Some reports said there had been smoke in the cockpit and “a small fire on board”.
Passengers slid down emergency chutes to escape the aircraft. The airline said the captain had decided to evacuate the plane immediately after touching down on the runway as a precautionary measure.
There were four minor injuries.
A statement from the airline said: “Our teams at Gatwick are now offering full support, looking after our passengers and assisting with their immediate requirements. Virgin Atlantic is working closely with the authorities to establish the cause of this incident. The safety and welfare of our crew and passengers is Virgin Atlantic’s top priority.”
Richard Branson, the airline’s boss, tweeted: “Very sorry to all passengers on board VS27, the staff @virginatlanticare doing everything they can to look after everybody. More info soon.”
West Sussex fire and rescue service said it has been called to reports of a small fire on board an aircraft, which had made a full emergency landing. A spokeswoman said six fire appliances were sent to the scene.
Liam Moore, a passenger on the flight, told the BBC everybody was “really shaken up”. He said: “We were on the plane and everything seemed fine. Then the pilot came on the Tannoy about 10 minutes into the flight and said we would have to do an emergency landing.
“It all happened so quickly. We landed and suddenly all the doors flung open and the emergency slides were inflated.
“We then had to slide down the chutes, some people got cuts and grazes from the slide.”
Thousands of passengers faced delays and disruption. Some planes had been taxiing for take off as the Virgin plane, which had taken off from Gatwick, bound for Orlando, Florida, at 11.48am, touched down again at 12.17pm.
Emergency services rushed to the plane and incoming flights were diverted to other airports including Stansted in Essex, at Gatwick resumed at about 2pm but knock-on delays were expected to disrupt travel for some time.
British Airways warned customers: “Flight delays, diversions and cancellations are expected so if you are due to travel to or from London Gatwick, please check the status of your flight before leaving for the airport.”
And easyJet’s website said its flights were experiencing significant disruption and recommended passengers check the status of their flight before leaving for the airport.