London mayor pushes Heathrow alternatives in air capacity saga

LONDON Mon Jul 15, 2013 2:15pm BST

London Mayor Boris Johnson arrives at the Global Investment Conference 2013 in London May 9, 2013. REUTERS/Andrew Winning

London Mayor Boris Johnson arrives at the Global Investment Conference 2013 in London May 9, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Andrew Winning

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LONDON (Reuters) - London's mayor sketched out three options to solve Britain's airport capacity crunch, slamming the idea that expanding Heathrow is a viable alternative, in the latest episode in a long-running political tussle.

Lawmakers and businessmen are eager for Britain to add flights to fast-growing economies to ensure it doesn't miss out on billions of pounds of trade but with the UK's main Heathrow hub operating at 99 percent capacity, more runways are needed.

London's mayor, Boris Johnson - a Conservative tipped as a possible future prime minister - on Monday gave his backing to three airport plans which he said were deliverable by 2029, favouring alternatives to Heathrow.

Different expansion plans for London's airport capacity have been on and off the table since the 1970s but with demand for air travel expected to double in Britain to 300 million passengers per year by 2030, the crunch is coming to a head.

Johnson's office will submit the case that London should have a four-runway airport, which would be either a new hub 40 miles east of central London on the Isle of Grain, further out in the Thames Estuary on an artificial island, or the expansion of Stansted airport, to the northeast of the city.

Overturning the previous Labour administration's decision to build a third runway at Heathrow, Britain's Conservative-led coalition government, in power since 2010, also ruled out expanding London's smaller airports.

The mayor said that expanding Heathrow was not an option given the hundreds of thousands of people who would be affected by the increased noise. He also says that London needs a "hub" airport with four runways to cater for future demand.

"There is no evidence whatever that a third runway let alone a fourth runway at Heathrow would be cheaper than the long term solution that we're (outlining)," Johnson told a press conference, calling the Heathrow expansion plan an "intellectual cul de sac".

The new plans could cost up to 65 billion pounds each including the cost of expanding roads and rail services, Michele Dix, a Transport for London executive said.

The submissions will be made to a government commission chaired by former Financial Services Authority head Howard Davies, which is due to publish an interim report by the end of next year with a final report due in mid-2015.

Johnson said he thought the Isle of Grain option currently had the edge out of his three proposals.

Willie Walsh, the CEO of British Airways owner IAG last week poured cold water on Johnson's ideas, questioning how a new four-runway hub would be financed.

Under Johnson's plans, the 1,800 hectare site at Heathrow would be transformed into a new London suburb with around 80,000 new homes and a new university campus.

British airports and industry groups are all due to submit their proposals to the commission this week.

(Reporting by Sarah Young)

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