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Boeing’s Dreamliner has to rise again – the future of world aviation needs it

Category : Business

For airlines, fuel efficiency, quietness and a unique range far outweigh a battery problem that will be fixed

As Boeing showed off its multibillion-dollar baby on the Dreamliner’s promotional world tour in 2011, one quirky feature was regularly pointed out: a sleekly designed but redundant ashtray, a compliance with regulations laid down in a different age. In the darkest torments of Boeing executives during the past few incident-packed weeks, it may have finally appeared of use: somewhere to enjoy the cigarette of the condemned, a quiet smoke to mask the smell of burning battery.

A little over a week ago, America’s government and air authorities stood shoulder to shoulder with their top exporter, Boeing, to assure the world that the plane was safe after a string of incidents from fuel leaks, windscreen cracks and battery fires. They still say it – only, right now, that no one should fly in it.

By Wednesday, a diagnosis of teething problems was no longer enough. The burning battery was back, and Japanese authorities said the latest incident was “highly serious”. Corrosive fluid had leaked down through the state-of-the-art electronics below the cockpit. Hideyo Kosugi, a Japanese safety investigator surveying the All Nippon Airways 787 that had made an emergency landing at Takamatsu airport, said the stuff had gone right through the floor.

After the Japanese airlines operating almost half of the Dreamliners worldwide decided they could risk it no longer, the US Federal Aviation Administration grounded all 787s in its jurisdiction. From India to Qatar, Poland to Chile and finally Ethiopia, the global fleet was taken out of action, an ignominious fate for a plane that had been so eagerly anticipated for so very long.

In an industry where different models are normally denoted by numbers alone, naming the 787 the Dreamliner was to invite attention: a bold statement that this was to be something fundamentally different. This craft does not simply carry the commercial aspirations of Boeing; it has become symbolic of aviation’s promises for a greener, quieter future.

For passengers, there was the thrill of bigger windows, funky lighting and increased cabin pressure, said to reduce the ill-effects of flying. Thomson, the first UK customer, has built an ad campaign around it. But for airlines, the critical selling point was fuel efficiency, where the airline executives’ and the environmentalists’ interests briefly coincide.

While rivals mutter that the aspirations have yet to be matched in operations, the lighter plane promised a 20% cut in the soaring fuel bills that have wiped out profits for many airlines.

The Dreamliner also promised a range unique for an aircraft of its size, potentially making direct flights to long-haul destinations viable with fewer passengers, not least, the secondary cities in the emerging Bric economies – Brazil, Russia, India and China – to which business people in the UK apparently clamour to fly.

Improvements in those spheres are by no means unique to the Dreamliner. But perhaps more than any other plane, it has come to represent the technological innovation that the aviation industry claims will allow it to meet its wider obligations to the world: that we can fly and not fry, even with ever more flights.

A carbon dioxide “roadmap” produced by Sustainable Aviation, an industry group addressing environmental issues, sees the fuel efficiencies delivered by the 787 and its successors as a way to cut about a third of all projected carbon emissions, a major part of a plan that would let traffic double by 2050 and still meet the emissions targets aviation signed up to in the wake of the Kyoto climate negotiations.

For airports in Britain’s crowded south-east, the Dreamliner is also a name to conjure with. Briefly in operation here since Qatar Airways’ inaugural flight just before Christmas, it claims a “noise footprint” some 60% smaller than other planes its size. Around Heathrow, such contours spell votes: Boris Johnson has spoken of 750,000 Londoners having their lives blighted by aircraft noise

As Howard Davies’s commission sits down to reflect over the next two and a half years on the future shape of Britain’s airport capacity, Heathrow will want to demonstrate that noise is not a insurmountable political obstacle. Current proposals from the Department for Transport, penned before Justine Greening was shuffled out of the department, will ramp up the fines for louder planes: Virgin’s Richard Branson has suggested banning noisy aircraft from the airport – but then his airline has 16 Dreamliners arriving from next year.

So Boeing’s problems are aviation’s problems too. Little wonder that few airlines, beyond the annoyance of those already operating the now-grounded 787, have offered anything but unqualified support and confidence. With 799 aircraft outstanding, the order book dwarfs the 50 in service. The ambitions of the fleet planners everywhere for new routes and for lower overheads hang on the 787s rolling out of the Seattle factory.

Observers have little doubt that the Dreamliner will fly again. Douglas McNeill, investment director at Charles Stanley, says: “It will get fixed. Boeing just has no alternative – it’s just a question of how much time and money it takes. If it’s just the battery, it could be relatively simple. If it’s an overhaul of the whole onboard power generation, it’s a time-consuming and costly task.”

If safety has always been paramount, the industry is taking absolutely no chances in preserving its proud boast; according to the International Air Transport Association, 2012 was the safest year on record. McNeill dismisses safety fears: “It would be more than odd, it would be astonishing if there was an issue that escaped the hundreds of thousands of hours of testing that Boeing and the FAA carried out.

“It’s hard to imagine the Dreamliner not re-entering service quickly, but in the worst-case scenario it could have a real impact. It was going to be a big step forward in terms of noise and emissions.”

Not everything hinges on the Dreamliner: rival Airbus has the A350 coming down the line, also built with composite materials and lithium-ion batteries. It has often been described as Airbus’s answer to the Dreamliner, although the European manufacturer is quick to point out that its design – and batteries – are very different to Boeing’s plane.

There was no hint of schadenfreude from boss Fabrice Brégier at last week’s Toulouse event when Airbus announced a record year for aircraft deliveries – though second to Boeing in orders. In the long term, the efficiencies will come: concerns about the new technology may again hold up the process more than those worried by climate change or the bottom line would hope. “Airbus and Boeing will need to get these planes into service,” McNeill adds.

Boeing meanwhile has said it will do all it can to restore confidence. Chief executive Jim McNerney pledged to “work around the clock” with investigators, adding: “We will make available the entire resources of the Boeing company to assist.” For a corporation the size of Boeing, worth around £50bn even with its shares sliding, the current problems should amount to little more than a spot of turbulence. Airbus quickly recovered confidence and orders despite cracks in the wings of its pioneering A380 in 2011. Boeing’s bosses will hope that the Dreamliner can swiftly rise above its current problems and return to the skies.

Under pressure: the man who must rule on next UK airport

Category : Business

Politicians, green lobbyists, business … and Boris Johnson. All these and more are clamouring to be heard in the increasingly fractious debate over the site for a possible new airport hub. Sir Howard Davies explains the task that is facing his inquiry

Reclining in an office chair usually filled by the transport minister, Norman Baker, who is away for the day, Sir Howard Davies, 61 – former senior mandarin at the Treasury, one-time aide to Nigel Lawson, former director of the London School of Economics, head of the Financial Services Authority under Labour and now chairman of Phoenix Insurance – oozes the confidence of a man who has seen it all before.

“It happened in the way these things do. Jeremy Heywood, the cabinet secretary, gave me a call and said, ehm, your number’s come up,” he chuckles. “I was slightly surprised. It wasn’t an obvious thing to do, although, curiously enough, I did a couple of years in the Treasury on aerospace, but I don’t think Jeremy was even aware of that when he asked me.”

Ever since, critics have been lining up to point out how far it was from being the “obvious thing to do”. Heywood was inviting Davies to be the man to decide whether and where to build Britain’s next major airport, an issue that in other countries might be regarded as a dry administrative task, but in the UK is a peculiarly red rag to the many-headed bull that is the green lobby, local communities under flight paths, regional tsars jealous of the south-east and political leaders looking to display their environmentally friendly or business credentials – depending on the fashion.

Then, of course, there’s Boris Johnson, a London mayor in search of a defining issue for his political career, frustrated that the prime minister has not made a decision on the issue, determined to have a third runway at Heathrow ruled out, and for a new airport, popularly known as “Boris Island”, to be built swiftly on the Thames estuary.

It is a political quagmire that even the most capable of mandarins might struggle with and Davies has not, it is pointed out, enjoyed the easiest of times recently. His period as executive chairman of the FSA, where he stewarded light-touch regulation of the City between 1997 and 2003, cannot be said to have been an unqualified success. It was on his watch that the banking crisis, which in part delivered the UK its double-dip recession, was brewing.

His next job was as director of the LSE, a position he resigned from last year after it emerged that the university had taken a £300,000 donation from a foundation run by none other than the playboy son of Colonel Gaddafi, Saif, who is currently incarcerated by the new Libyan government but wanted by the International Criminal Court to face charges of crimes against humanity.

Perhaps it was felt that a decision on airport capacity would be a doddle for a man who has dealt with all that. As a Treasury mandarin in 1979 he was, after all, in charge of nationalising British Aerospace under Labour, then equally quickly privatising it under Margaret Thatcher. “It was crazy,” he admits.

But Davies’s frustration at the political debate raging, even on day one of the launch of his commission into Britain’s aviation – due to publish an interim report in 2013 and a final one in 2015 – is evident: “Obviously we have to have a public process here but the public process I want is about the issues rather than about the timing and the politics.”

On Friday morning he gave a short interview to the Today programme but didn’t know, until he spoke to the producers, that Johnson, all fired up, was coming on later to trash everything he had said, in particular the plan to wait three years for Davies’s answers to the big questions. It was an undoubted attempt to ambush Davies on his big day. “Did he succeed?” Davies asks. The headlines the following day suggest Johnson may have, although it will be Davies’s word on Britain’s airports that will be the last.

The former mandarin, who will work “a day, or a day and a half, a week” in the unpaid role, admits that he “can’t be convinced” that when he reports in 2015 the politicians will actually listen.

It may be a new government; what is certain is that the politics of the moment will be different, and that matters. The Conservatives, who delighted in ruling out a third runway at Heathrow before the 2010 general election on environmental grounds, are now procrastinating and split on the issue, hence pushing it into what Davies admits is the “long grass” of his commission.

And Labour has been on a diametrically opposite journey. “I note it is not that long ago that the Labour party was in favour of the third runway and appeared to be going to go ahead and now it is not fashionable again,” he says. “I don’t think you can take these things as completely fixed anyway.”

So he won’t allow Boris and the politics of the moment to come into the commission’s thinking? “No, I don’t think we can afford them to be. I think the whole point of asking an independent commission to do this is in order not to do that. I observe the political debate swirling around this, but I don’t think it makes sense to get involved in it.

“I think you have to step back a bit and start with demand forecasts, how do you fit it into the climate change commitment? How different is the rail environment, does that open up options that you’ve not had before? And you have to build from there and see where that takes you. But we have been told that all options, including the third runway, are on the table and for the moment that is where they shall remain.”

Whatever way Davies falls on the issues ahead, there will be critics, fierce ones. How do you weigh up the interests of homeowners under the flight path at Heathrow against the economic stimulus of building a proper hub airport, with one, maybe two, new runways? “We haven’t worked that out yet. The things you have got to look at include ‘are you going to create more unpleasant noise for people?’.

“There are some options which say that you wouldn’t necessarily do that. If you move where the runways are, there are options for moving Heathrow westward; that’s an interesting sort of idea which would reduce the noise envelope. Other countries have got other compensation regimes, but we haven’t got an equation for doing that at this point.”

But he is equally keen to look at Boris’s plan, which is why he insisted to the prime minister that his commission needed to at least shortlist the options in his 2013 interim report. “The estuary island has the mayor supporting it, but it doesn’t really have a corporate sponsor because it isn’t there. So if you decide that is the one you want to look at, you need to have time to do some more work yourself, and the commission will do more work to level the playing field, if you like”.

What clearly will not influence Davies, a Manchester Grammar School boy, Oxford graduate and alumnus of Stanford Graduate School of Business, is the prime minister’s notion of a happiness index, once promoted by David Cameron as a rival barometer of success to growth which, it was said, would play a key role in the big future policy decisions.

“I think that’s quite difficult territory and I haven’t seen that that has gone terribly far,” he says. “There are these, you know, happiness indices, but I don’t quite know what they mean really.”

Neither can we expect him to be a climate change pioneer. He worked as an adviser to the sceptic Nigel Lawson in the 1980s, but refuses to discuss his own views, adding that it is irrelevant because he will work within the government’s climate change commitments.

“I am honestly not sufficiently expert to have my own independent views on climate change,” he says. “But certainly the fact that I once worked for Nigel Lawson– now 28 years ago – is not relevant. What I do is take whatever the commitment is. There is a government commitment, and indeed there is legislation, that says we are going to reduce our emissions by 80% by 2050.”

It is possible, of course, that Davies could simply rejig things and not suggest any building projects at all in 2015. There is spare capacity in less popular airports, while some in the environmental lobby say that the UK would be able to cope with demand up until 2050, based on a recent dip in the number of people travelling and perhaps pessimistic forecasts on the UK’s economic growth.

But it doesn’t sound likely. “I was in Scotland last week and there were two flights a day to go to Dubai, taking people and rerouting them to India, or wherever. So now we might decide as a nation that that is sustainable, but clearly at the moment it is not the plan is it? Nobody is saying we should stop having any flights here and they should bugger off and go somewhere else.

“So given that the brief is to say how do you maintain international hub status, it does look like doing nothing is not likely to achieve that.”

Is Davies, despite the delays, ultimately going to be seen as a man of action? “Actually, I’ve got to go now. I’ve got an insurance company to run.”

Let’s not avoid the difficult questions on the future of our airports | Observer editorial

Category : Business

Howard Davies has an onerous task in choosing whether we need a new airport or an expanded Heathrow

Sir Howard Davies, the man with the job of deciding whether Britain needs a new airport, must be looking with some alarm at the precedents. In 1971, after more than 18 months of work, the Roskill commission recommended that a four-runway airport to serve London be built at Cublington, near Aylesbury.

When Michael Noble, then minister for trade, opened the debate on the commission’s findings in the Commons, he said of its authors: “I hope that they may draw some comfort from one of my hon friends who said that the fact that he totally rejected their conclusion did not in any way diminish his admiration for the way in which they had done their work and presented their report.”

Their plan, of course, never got off the drawing board.

Committing the Conservatives to blocking a third runway at Heathrow was a key plank of David Cameron’s strategy to detoxify the Tory brand and prove that he would put polar bears before sharp-suited businessmen. It was also built on political expediency – he needed to win Conservative seats in the area. Further, it was a recognition that the building of a third runway would hurt Britain’s then leading role in reducing global carbon emissions

But with the economy trapped in a deep malaise Cameron is having a rethink. There is a strong lobby that suggests that UK plc needs extra airport capacity in order to boost future economic prospects. Also, the UK is on track to meet its Kyoto targets, albeit partly because of economic weakness. There is, too, an argument that the tax system may be a better way of reducing the number of unnecessary flights than a ban on building new runways. Flight travel is simply too cheap compared with rail fares – this is the fault of a tax system that gives an advantage to airlines.

George Osborne now firmly believes that if the UK really wants to build an economy that can properly connect with the rest of the world it needs more airport capacity. But the economic case is being driven largely by self-interested parties, not least British Airways, the British Airports Authority and the bodies that represent them.

It will be a crucial part of the Davies commission to identify the economic benefits a new airport or runway would deliver. Multinational companies make inward investment decisions on the basis of a whole range of factors, including the skills of the workforce, the strength of the currency and the generosity of state support for industry. Whether the chief executive can jet in direct from Chicago or Shanghai may be a marginal consideration.

However, those advocating the development of a hub airport may have a case. If Britain allows its one airport that comes close to being an international hub to become ever more clogged up while Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Madrid and Paris become transit points for Europeans, including enterprising Brits, wanting to get to the fast-growing economies of China, India or Brazil, there is a risk that economic opportunities will be missed, ambitions stunted, jobs lost.

However, if any British government is to press the case for extra airport capacity, it needs to make a convincing case for continuing to meet its ambitious carbon emissions target. As this paper said in 2008: “It will require a radical programme of wave and wind turbine construction, nuclear industry expansion and the building of underground vaults to store the carbon dioxide that currently pours from the nation’s coal, oil and gas power plants.”

Unfortunately, there is absolutely no evidence that this government’s energy policy is fit for that purpose. Indeed the government’s desire to pursue a dash for gas as a future energy strategy is precisely the wrong direction of travel.

Even if the case for a hub airport is established, Heathrow is not the only answer: Heathrow already creates all-but-unbearable noise, pollution and disruption for unlucky residents, and its transport links are groaning. Of those affected by noise pollution in Europe, 30% live in and around Heathrow. Is it really sensible to build more airline capacity in the middle of a major population centre?

There is a plausible case that bringing in as many planes as possible – the proposed estuary airport – over sea instead of hundreds of thousands of rooftops makes more sense. As importantly, a giant new airport would provide a powerful economic boost for an area where unemployment is high. Although characterised, until now, as a Boris Johnson vanity project, there is support from politicians of all persuasions to the east of London to try and create a hub – in all senses – which would address the historical inequalities and poverty to the east of the capital.

There is no easy solution. Davies will need wisdom and a good dose of political nous to weigh up the issues – the financial and environmental costs and any economic advantages. He should use his authority to seize the initiative and insist that the question of airport capacity in the UK be settled sooner rather than later. Otherwise, the likelihood of a repeat of the Roskill commission is all too likely.

Heathrow night flights may return to airport capacity agenda

Category : Business

Government call for interim recommendations on airport capacity revives speculation over possible actions

Proposals for night flights at Heathrow could be back on the agenda after the government said it had told the independent commission into aviation capacity to produce an interim report next year recommending “immediate actions”.

The announcement will help David Cameron deflect claims he is continuing to dither over airport capacity. But the new timetable will reignite controversy over Heathrow well before the 2015 election and has fuelled speculation that night flights, or even dual use of Heathrow runways for both landing and takeoff – known as “mixed mode” – may be put back on the agenda.

Sir Howard Davies, who is leading the inquiry, insisted he was “genuinely undecided” and “logically could not deny” speculation over any option, but said no one had asked him to examine specific questions about mixed mode, which would bring huge increases in air traffic and noise. He said he would be scrutinising even the government’s own forecasts for growing airport demand.

The former boss of the Financial Services Authority and the CBI industry group , who resigned as head of the London School of Economics last year, said he believed the key to a successful inquiry was formulating the right questions. He said he would start holding hearings in the spring. According to the announcement from the new transport secretary, Patrick McLoughlin, his task is “identifying and recommending to government options for maintaining this country’s status as an international hub for aviation”.

Davies said he would be recruiting no more than three or four members for the commission, including a “transport economist, but otherwise you’ll probably want people of judgment from a decent balance of backgrounds”. Names would be confirmed within seven to 10 days, he said.

The coalition agreement rules out a third runway at Heathrow. But Cameron’s removal of Justine Greening from the transport portfolio in this week’s cabinet reshuffle, and the apparent shelving of her own planned “call for evidence”, has been taken by many as a signal that a Conservative U-turn over the building of a third Heathrow runway is in motion – albeit slowly enough and sufficiently at arm’s length to avoid the electoral fallout. Davies’s ultimate conclusions will not be delivered until 2015, after the next election.

Labour supported expansion at the last election, but proposed the commission to the government a year ago, in part to overcome its own internal difficulties on the issue. Shadow transport secretary Maria Eagle said Labour would “engage constructively”.

Davies said: “The issue is the extent to which they are committed to receiving its findings.”

He said he was under no illusions that his findings would dictate policy, and had no assurances. “It’s very clear to me that the government that appointed me is not the one that will receive the report. There is a clear policy for this parliament and they want another – which could be the same one – whoever wins the next election.”

Davies will be doing the job part-time, with a “significant time commitment” towards the end of 2013, when he must publish the interim report, including “recommendation(s) for immediate actions to improve the use of existing runway capacity in the next five years – consistent with credible long-term options”.

No 10 did not rule out night flights, but seemed to suggest that a short runway at Heathrow, one of the short-term solutions proposed by advocates of extra aviation capacity, could not be considered as being within these terms of reference.

In reality, more night flights would lead to an outcry before a general election, and would be fiercely opposed by two prominent south-west London Liberal Democrat MPs: Vince Cable, the business secretary and Ed Davey, the energy secretary.

It is said that mixed mode could allow 120,000 extra aircraft movements a year at Europe’s busiest airport, but Heathrow’s owners, BAA, and figures such as Willie Walsh, the boss of British Airways’ parent company, IAG, have accepted that it would be too controversial with local residents to pursue.

Given the difficulties associated with all the options, especially at Heathrow, the interim report may prove a bigger flashpoint than the eventual findings if the government commits itself to immediate action.

Davies insisted he had an open mind over the need for additional capacity. “That’s not simply just tactical – I’m genuinely not decided. I’m very interested because I use airports a lot, I honestly have not got a settled view on any of it.”

He warned: “The point is to have a very clear idea of what the demand is going to be. On the need for airport capacity, and how reliable those forecasts are, I’m going to take myself right back into all of that.”

McLoughlin acknowledged the debate was difficult. “But the reality is that since the 1960s Britain has failed to keep pace with our international competitors in addressing long-term aviation capacity and connectivity needs.

“The government believes that maintaining the UK’s status as a leading global aviation hub is fundamental to our long-term international competitiveness.

“But the government is also mindful of the need to take full account of the social, environmental and other impacts of any expansion in airport capacity.”

The commission will also look at possible expansion at two other major London airports – Gatwick and Stansted.

Meanwhile, the Richmond MP, Zac Goldsmith, has stepped up his criticism. Writing for the Guardian, he said that “the government appears to have been seduced by vested interest” and warned that building another runway at Heathrow “would represent an off-the-scale betrayal”.

He said the creation of the commission had “only one explanation: the government believes it can press on with a third runway, and without fronting up to the electorate”.

Stansted will get next runway in south-east, says Ryanair boss

Category : Business

Michael O’Leary believes next new runway in region will be at Essex airport, but Heathrow third is ‘inevitable’

Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary has said he believes the next runway built in the south-east would be a second at Stansted, as he outlined his interest in bidding to run the Essex airport. But he added a third runway at Heathrow was “inevitable”.

He revealed he had been in talks with various potential investors about buying and running the airport, Ryanair’s largest UK base, since BAA announced it would no longer fight the competition commission’s ruling which forced it to sell.

The Irish airline called on the airport regulator, the CAA, to confirm if and how it will reduce Stansted’s landing charges, which Ryanair said have grown by 68% in the last five years, while traffic has significantly declined. O’Leary claimed the CAA was allowing BAA to “cook the books” by inflating Stansted’s assets. The airport is valued at £1.3bn although analysts predict it will not raise that sum.

He said: “The next runway in the south-east will be at Stansted. The south-east does need additional runway capacity: the advantage of Stansted is that it has already got planning permission, the land already exists, it’s ready to roll. What it needs is a government decision allowing it to go ahead.”

In reference to the longer term, he added: “I think a third runway at Heathrow is inevitable, then there will be a second runway at Gatwick.”

But, he said: “Not in my grandchildren’s lifetime will there be some lunatic airport in the Essex marshes or the Thames estuary or any other estuary.”

Asked whether an airline would be allowed to have a stake in the running of a British airport, he pointed out a consortium of British airlines including IAG part-owns the air traffic control service NATS. Ryanair carries two-thirds of passengers flying from Stansted.

Ryanair would limit its holdings to below 25% but would want a management role. O’Leary said he could quickly reduce costs at the “grossly mismanaged” airport by scrapping “the cathedral of check-in desks” in favour of more retail space and “blowing up the train” that takes passengers from the terminal to the departure gates, replacing it with a bridge for passengers to walk over instead.

O’Leary said he would not force passengers to pay to use a toilet should he own or run the airport. In fact, he said, his often quoted plan to make passengers pay to pee in when flying was dependent on making airport toilets the cheaper option, so he could install more seats on his plane.

For now, true to form, O’Leary confirmed that Ryanair customers “with no life and no friends” who wanted to download its new mobile booking app would have to pay €3 for the privilege. “If you want it you can pay for it.”

The bullish airline boss also said he “didn’t care” that Suzy McLeod, a Ryanair passenger, had recently won the support of hundreds of thousands of Facebook users after being forced to pay €60 per person for the airline to print out boarding passes for her family of five at Alicante airport. He said: “We think Mrs McLeod should pay for being so stupid.”

David Cameron taunted by Tory MP over Heathrow

Category : Business

Former environment minister Tim Yeo asks prime minister if he is ‘a man or a mouse’

A senior Conservative has launched a stinging attack on David Cameron, urging the prime minister to decide if he is “a man or a mouse” over the expansion of Heathrow airport.

The former environment minister Tim Yeo, writing in the Daily Telegraph on Tuesday, said environmental objections to a third runway were disappearing and backing the third runway would give the government a “sense of mission”.

Earlier, speaking to the BBC Radio 4′s Today programme on Monday, Yeo said the issue “was a race in which Britain is now falling behind and we need to get back into it”.

Yeo wrote: “The prime minister must ask himself whether he is man or mouse. Does he want to be another Harold Macmillan, presiding over a dignified slide towards insignificance? Or is there somewhere inside his heart – an organ that still remains impenetrable to most Britons – a trace of Thatcher, determined to reverse the direction of our ship?

“An immediate go-ahead for a third runway will symbolise the start of a new era, the moment the Cameron government found its sense of mission. Let’s go for it.”

The outspoken comments came after the housing minister, Grant Shapps, warned recently that a third runway was needed to ensure the UK remained a “great trading nation” and the mayor of London, Boris Johnson, accused Cameron against “pussyfooting around” on expansion.

Yeo, who chairs the Commons energy committee, was previously a high-profile opponent of expansion but now argues that European Union carbon emissions caps will force airlines to use more environmentally friendly planes if they want to use new capacity at Heathrow.

He added: “We could cover the whole of Surrey with runways and not increase emissions by a single kilogram: if Heathrow expands, so remaining the European destination of choice, airlines will fly their newest and quietest aircraft to it.”

A third runway, Boris Island, better rail? Please, just decide | Jackie Ashley

Category : Business

Prevarication over aviation policy breeds a dangerous mistrust. The cabinet must take a firm decision, and act on it

To steal the omnipresent Nike slogan: Just do it. There is no “right” answer to the great conundrum of where to build more airport capacity for southern England. When every option causes major protests in marginal constituencies, the easiest course is to do nothing. So far, this has been the coalition’s response. But it’s dishonest politics and increasingly contemptible.

Why? Because all the major business voices the government says it listens to agree that Britain needs more capacity. And at a time when the economy is flat on its back, with no help coming from growth anywhere nearby, one of the few things even a Tory-led government can do is to create capacity for growth. Yes, there are good green arguments against any increase in growth, particularly in transport, but they are a million miles away from the stated beliefs of the people who are actually in charge.

There is nothing new about controversial and politically dangerous infrastructure projects, from the first railways to the Channel tunnel, from the

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Airline chiefs slam government for blocking Heathrow expansion

Category : Business

Aviation industry says stopping third runway was an ‘easy, populist’ decision and came at worst time for the economy

Airline bosses have warned that “the chickens are coming home to roost” after the “easy, populist decision” to scrap a third runway at Heathrow, as Britain’s aviation industry delivered its loudest call yet to the coalition to spell out its strategy for airport expansion.

Union and business leaders joined the bosses of International Airlines Group, Virgin, Heathrow and Manchester airport on Monday to demand that an imminent consultation on aviation “does not become a pretext for further delay”. They said years of indecision meant Britain was “falling behind as an economic powerhouse at the worst possible time”.

Willie Walsh, chief executive of British Airways’ owner IAG, said politicians could decide that “we’re happy where we are – the quarter-finals – or we can decide to become winners. What we’ve said in this country is that we have no ambition and that message has gone around the world.” He said the industry was “not asking for a penny from taxpayers, just for the government to get out of the way”.

While the group, speaking collectively as the Aviation Foundation, said that “all options” needed to be considered, most indicated that they favoured Heathrow expansion as a solution. It said a successful consultation had to be quick, clear and objective, while achieving cross-party consensus.

Steve Ridgway, Virgin Atlantic boss, said blocking the third runway was causing Britain to lose opportunities and business when it could least afford it. “It was an easy and populist decision to make at the time, and now the chickens are coming home to roost. They can’t fudge it any more. If that means painful conversations about Heathrow, let’s have it, because the economic future is pretty stark. Our foreign competitors must be loving the inaction in the UK.”

Brendan Barber, general secretary of the TUC, said: “I’ve not seen a credible alternative to the third runway and we desperately need the extra aviation capacity in the south-east.”

John Longworth, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said the government must “stop tiptoeing around on aviation because of short-term political considerations.”

The coalition is expected to publish a framework for aviation and launch a consultation on “hub capacity” in July, which will look at whether Britain needs larger airports to allow transfer of passengers and sustain long-haul routes. Walsh reiterated his threat to boycott any consultation that excludes expanding Heathrow, saying it would be a “joke” and “meaningless”.

Colin Matthews, chief executive of BAA, Heathrow’s owners, stressed that: “A new runway at an airport that isn’t a hub is not the same as extra hub capacity.”

However, bosses of other airports – although ostensibly spoken for by the Aviation Foundation – distanced themselves from his arguments.

Stewart Wingate, chief executive of Gatwick airport, said most air passengers travelled “point-to-point”, and “connectivity” was the major question. “Is it possible to deliver an estuary airport? It seems unlikely. Given the population density around Heathrow, it makes the delivery [of a third runway] a problem. Stansted and Gatwick and other options seem to be more deliverable.”

He said new aircraft, such as the Dreamliner and the A380, would make long-haul, point-to-point routes to emerging markets viable with fewer passengers, adding that Gatwick already served more destinations than Heathrow. Gatwick – which reported an 8.6% rise in turnover yesterday and pledged further investment as underlying earnings jumped 16.9% to £221.5m – is reviving proposals for a second runway, to be built after 2020, which would double its current capacity of 35 million passengers a year.

Asked about the Aviation Foundation’s proposals, Wingate said: “My focus is on the [Department for Transport] and what they say – that’s the real driver here.”

Birmingham airport, which is expanding its own runway, also dissented, saying the “hub” model needed replacing with a “balanced, national” aviation strategy. Paul Kehoe, the chief executive, said the government should “draw a line under old-fashioned industry thinking. It is time to start recognising that there is more than one solution for UK aviation.”

Meanwhile, environmentalist groups warned against the “myth” that a third runway or expansion was essential for the UK economy. Hacan, which represents residents under the Heathrow flight paths, said the airport had more departure flights each week to key global business centres than its two closest rivals in Paris and Frankfurt combined.

Friends of the Earth said: “We don’t need to build new airports or runways in the south-east … Creating more air capacity will lead to more pollution, more misery for local communities and make it much harder to tackle climate change.”

BAA’s third Heathrow runway plans back on the agenda

Category : Business

Heathrow expansion proposals can be submitted and upcoming government policy revamp could head off BAA legal action

The government will not block BAA from submitting proposals for a third Heathrow runway in a forthcoming revamp of policy

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There’s a strange beauty to the Hoo peninsula. Is this any place for an airport? | Ian Jack

Category : Business

Along with birds and their habitat, the hidden traces of Hoo peninsula’s previous eras of industry will be buried by railways and runways

I’m not sure I fully understand the term “psychogeography”. To me, it means the exploration of an unlikely place or a hidden aspect of a place, and whenever I hear it I think of Sunday walks in my childhood, when we would follow an overgrown and neglected path and sometimes scrape away the turf to discover a square stone with bolt holes drilled through it. As beetles hurried this way and that across its surface, my older brother would explain that the stone had once held an iron rail and that the path had once been a wagon-way, built in the 18th century to take coal from the Fife pits to a harbour on the Forth.As nobody else seemed to know or care about these facts, I felt I was sharing a historical secret. There were several of them close by: dark, deep ponds that had once been quarries; a ruined slipway built to take seaplanes; steel rings that had tethered barrage balloons; an abandoned railway tunnel where bats flew. Like a great many people in what was at that time an industrial country, I grew up in a landscape that was interestingly pockmarked with successive eras of exploitation, and all of it so commonplace that beyond a mention of

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