A longer read for the weekend: Tim Leunig on how to increase airport capacity in the UK

leunig bigger and quieterCongratulations to Tim Leunig — these days a senior adviser in the Department for Education, but until recently chief economist at the CentreForum think-tank — whose report Bigger and quieter: the right answer for aviation was the winner this week of the economic and financial category at Prospect Magazine’s Think Tank of the Year Awards 2013.

Tim’s report, published jointly by CentreForum and Policy Exchange, examined all the options for increasing airport capacity in the UK. It supports placing four runways immediately west of the current Heathrow site, doubling the existing capacity to 130 million passengers, and cementing it as Europe’s premier hub:

We argue that the first best solution is to build four new parallel runways, arranged in two sets of pairs, immediately to the west of the existing Heathrow airport. These would run above the M25, and Wraysbury reservoir. The Poyle industrial estate and a relatively limited amount of housing would need to be demolished. Clearly the problem with Heathrow at present is noise. Moving the runways west reduces noise over west London, since the planes will be higher over any given place. We will reinforce this noise reduction by banning the noisiest planes. This is not possible in the short run, but could be achieved by 2030, a plausible date for this airport to open.

In addition, narrow bodied planes will be required to land more steeply, as they do in London City. Again, this means that they are further up when they are above any particular place, reducing the amount of noise that reaches the ground. Finally there would be an absolute ban on night flights.

Interested in reading more? Here’s the link, and below’s the full document…

Bigger and quieter: the right answer for aviation — Tim Leunig for CentreForum / Policy Exchange (October…

* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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  • nuclear cockroach 29th Jun '13 - 6:35pm

    1) What do we need the extra capacity for? Reasons which don’t involve the self-interest of directors in airports, airlines or civil engineering companies by preference and reasons which don’t involve the mythical “hub capacity”, when 90% of all aviation through our present hub actually terminates in the UK.
    2) How is this compatible with reducing our carbon emissions to zero over the next half century?
    3) If extra capacity if desirable, why not actually somewhere in the middle of the country?

  • It’s scary, I seem to remember that a coach and horses was driven through Tim Leunig’s proposals for Heathrow expansion when he presented here on LDV. Be interesting to know the criteria the judges used to arrive at their decision…

  • Unless the planes are going to be much, much quieter, this is simply not an answer. I live 12 miles from Heathrow in North West London and some nights at 10.30-11.00pm (and sometimes much later) the planes thunder overhead as they take off for overnight flights for Asia. The noise can be deafening. So planes are going to have to improve significantly on the current situation. Frankly, I don’t trust Heathrow to keep its promises on this.

    Millions of people across west London (including those, like myself, born and brought up in the area) are affected severely by noise and pollution from Heathrow and expanding it will simply compound this problem. The last thing Londoners need is more noise and pollution to detract from the quality of their lives.

  • Keith Browning 29th Jun '13 - 7:11pm

    Why do we need more airport capacity? Car use is already on the decline and therefore it seems logical that the number of people flying will also peak in the next decade. ‘Growth’ is something no longer sustainable and we need to learn to live in a ‘flat-line’ world of ‘sustainability’.

  • If we want to maintain the exclusive powerhouse for the UK in London then something needs to be done about th airports there. It will either mean inconvenience for people, environmental damage or a huge amount of investment

    There are other options but they tend to involve developing areas outside of the capital and we all know that is not allowed! Any capital investment has to involve London in our current way of thinking – shame really

  • jenny barnes 30th Jun '13 - 8:25am

    Comments above – read the report, it’s worth the time. You’re asking questions he’s answered. You might disagree, but at least you’d be disagreeing with what he’s written, not straw aeroplanes.

  • peter

    Why does the views of one person matter – I hope you were being ironic

  • Yes! More building work in London. Let’s just channel all investment into London – that’s the UK’s big success story so it makes sense right? More people will move there, and we can house them in favellas on the outskirts.

    If we do have to increase airport capacity, let’s do it in Manchester and Birmingham – the latter will only be 38 minutes from central London when HS2 is built.

  • Thanks for that so basically move the noise from West London and dump it on Slough, Windsor, Maidenhead, Staines etc.

    I thought the Lib Dem point was to displace short haul flying, particularly domestic flights, with high speed rail, thereby releasing capacity for long haul. If we want a new big airport at low cost then Stansted – in Green fields and easily connected to the new high speed rail network would be the place to go. If we are prepared to really invest and don’t care about the environment, then Boris Island is it.

    Broadly however we have a government that isn’t prepared to invest, that juggles numbers to pretend it is investing when it isn’t doing more than scratching an itch, but hasn’t even got a grip of the order of investment required in our economy – so I think we all know that runway 3 is just a matter of time.

  • nuclear cockroach hits the nail on the head

    The whole report reads like a piece of GCSE coursework, full of supposition and speculation on subjects the writer clearly has little experience of. Here’s an example:

    “The absence of direct fights from a Chinese student’s home town makes studying at a British university less appealing. To become competitive again the university will have to lower its fees – and then,in turn, lower wages. Otherwise some of those students will choose American or Australian universities, for example. That is the reality, for universities or any other sector: if we make it harder for business to operate, British wages will be lower.Better access for business means more prosperity”

    The Chinese students I know seldom travel back home – maybe once a year. The idea that they would reject a British university in favour of one in another country on the basis of not having to change at Schipol once or twice a year is absurd. Besides, if they’re studying in Newcastle, what’s the difference between changing at Schipol on to a flight to Newcastle and changing at Heathrow for a flight to Newcastle? There’s no difference in the complication of the journey as far as the student is concerned. Oh, unless you start from the logical assumption that the only possible journey anyone could want to make is to London.

    Here’s another example:

    “Broadly speaking it is easy to decarbonise any static energy use, and rather harder to decarbonise mobile energy use. This is because fossil fuels have a very high energy to weight ratio, making them well suited to applications that require energy on the move. For this reason it is not inconceivable to imagine a future in which fossil fuels are used only for travel. Even then, small scale hybrid cars and buses can offer short distance carbon free travel. In this context we maybe able to see aviation take a larger share of the smaller carbon budget.”

    Er, electric trains? I believe they are capable of movement and don’t carry their fuel around with them. The above arguments prove the author hasn’t even thought about electric trains as a method of transportation for comparison.

    I’d be here all day if I had to go through all of the inconsistencies and poorly thought-out arguments.

  • David Wilkinson 30th Jun '13 - 11:21am

    What we need is High Speed Rail connections to all major regional airports, expand High Speed 2 north to Scotland on West and East coasts, into Wales, the West Country, take even more people out cars. Spend money on transport that does deliver botha short and long term return in jobs, transport improvements and the environment.

  • @jenny barnes

    Many fatal flaws and omissions in the report are exposed in the comments to Tim’s article where he first presented the report to DV (see: https://www.libdemvoice.org/opinion-a-four-runway-hub-airport-30591.html ). Also there are several articles and discussions on LDV which explain why many people and the LibDem’s have activity opposed expansion at Heathrow ever since the Labour government entertained the idea. So, personally, I wouldn’t waste time reading the report with respect to the pro’s and con’s of expansion at Heathrow.

    However, and I think Stephen has been a little mischievous in his reporting of the award, I think the CentreForum’s comment is more accurate about why they received the award:

    “The Prospect judges were impressed by our joint report with Policy Exchange on Heathrow expansion and the impact it continues to have on the public debate. It was previously endorsed by the Economist, Financial Times and House of Commons Transport Committee amongst others.

    The judges also commended our work on adult social care and leasehold and gave us an honourable mention in the category of UK Think Tank of the Year.”
    [http://www.centreforum.org/index.php/14-news/releases/500-centreforum-think-tank-awards ]

    Particularly when we take account of the context of the awards:
    “The Prospect Think Tank of the Year Awards were founded in 2001. They are an annual celebration of the important and influential work done by think tanks across the globe. The awards aim to give credit to the most original, influential and rigorous work on the most pressing challenges facing people, governments and businesses.”
    [http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/thinktanks/the-awards/ ]

    and the judging:
    “The awards are judged by a cross-party panel looking for evidence of influence on public policy and on the public discourse. The judges will also consider the quality of research and the potential of younger and smaller organisations.”
    [http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/thinktanks/the-awards/ ]

    At the present time Prospect Magazine hasn’t released details of who else had submitted an entry and hence what the competition was.

    So whilst I may disagree with the substance of Tim’s report on aviation, I can see that CentreForum have ‘arrived’ and through it’s reports has made an impact on public policy and discourse.

  • Peter Davies 30th Jun '13 - 11:55am

    There is an obsession in this debate about hubs which Tim does not challenge. I’m not sure how a hub differs from a point-to-point airport apart from who chooses to fly there but the reason for making sure we have a hub makes no sense:
    We need hub traffic to justify more routes.
    When acting as a hub, an airport has less passenger slots available for point-to-point flights.
    We need more capacity to cope with the increased traffic.
    So we need more capacity to justify more capacity.
    Increasing the international connectedness of Britain would be better achieved by making our airports more convenient for British destinations.

  • jenny barnes 30th Jun '13 - 3:23pm

    @jenny barnes

    Many fatal flaws and omissions in the report are exposed in the comments to Tim’s article where he first presented the report to DV

    I’ve reread the comments on that section. I can see a lot of alternative suggestions about distributed hubs, ideas that human beings will give up flying sometime soon (good luck with that) and suggestions that a number of regional airports and or High Speed trains would be just as good. I don’t see the “fatal flaws and omissions”. Most of those ideas are already dealt with in the report.

    One very important point in the report is that the Foster/Boris Island hub would cost north of £20 billion, while a 4 runway Heathrow would probably be around half that, as the terminal and transport infrastructure is there already.

  • nvelope2003 30th Jun '13 - 3:39pm

    If there were no hubs there would have to be more direct flights which would create even more noise. How many people would want to change from planes to trains if it was not necessary ?

    The French government has recently accepted a report which says that High Speed rail is unsustainable because of the high cost. SNCF debt is approaching 30 billion euros despite subsidies exceeding 12.5 billion euros annually. Only 2 of the present routes are profitable. This kind of spending would mean massive cuts in other, possibly more important , areas.Trains to China and the US are not yet practicable.

  • Alex Macfie 30th Jun '13 - 7:43pm

    Building domestic high-speed rail links is a good idea for the long term, but what about the high-speed rail link that we already have? The Channel Tunnel is running well below maximum capacity, and there are still short-haul flights from London/SE England to mainland European destinations such as Paris, Brussels, Cologne and Amsterdam. Getting these onto rail would considerably increase spare airport capacity for use by long-haul flights, without the need to build any new infrastructure.
    The trouble is that rail travel between UK and mainland Europe is too much like air travel, with the check-in, security measures and a bookahead-only service that is no cheaper than flying (and often is more expensive). Last time I took a train from Brussels to London a few weeks, the boarding process seemed almost like that of boarding a flight. Cross-channel train travel ought to be as straightforward as domestic train travel, like cross-border train travel is in mainland Europe. There is little chance of the UK joining the Schengen zone, but border controls could be done on the train, the way they used to be done in mainland Europe. The access charges for the CT should be reduced, and it is good that the European Commission has recently weighed in on this matter. The gold-plated safety regulations for running trains through the CT should also be relaxed — it’s just another rail tunnel. There also needs to be work at the European level to improve ticket integration for destinations not served by through trains.

  • In Chapter 2 ~ How will Aviation Change, ~ Tim Leunig writes :
    “Taken together, the future of aviation is much like it is today. We will be richer, and are therefore more likely to want to fly further, and more often.”
    This is pure wishful thinking, There is no evidence that the world will (or can), be richer on $100/bl., oil. Whilst more and more people, most certainly, want to fly,; wanting it, and the ability to afford, it will hit the buffers.
    Keith Browning is spot on, the number of people flying will peak in the next decade, not from lack of desire, but lack of affordability. Any expansion of Heathrow will be a white elephant before the concrete runway cures.

  • jenny barnes 1st Jul '13 - 4:51pm

    A good point about energy constraints.. 100$/bbl oil, and of course the effect of that on aviation kerosene. We clearly have an energy problem, which I think is more important than climate change – our demand doubles every 50 years, and fossil fuels will not cope for much longer. However, we do have plenty of solar irradiation – and ways of capturing it. Concentrated solar, photo voltaic for where it’s hot and sunny; wind, wave, tidal and hydro for where it isn’t ( ok, tidal isn’t solar powered ). Long haul HVDC grids to move it from where it is to where it’s needed, and storage, whether batteries or Dinorwic- alikes for the short term. Maybe smart pricing too.
    It’s technically soluble. Politically – well, there’s the problem. Anyway, if that can be solved, we won’t be worrying about aviation fuel – you can make kerosene out of carbon dioxide and water with enough energy input. And if it can’t, we still won’t be worrying about aviation fuel, because it will be very, very nasty when we run out of energy.

    PS If God had meant us to fly – He would never have given us the railways.

  • nvelope2003 2nd Jul '13 - 1:51pm

    High Speed railways use huge amounts of energy – the faster they go the more they use. Building High Speed railway lines and maintaining them to the very high safety standards required will use huge amounts of energy. Planes only need a short runway at each end, not the hundred/ thousands of miles of probaly four track railway. I love trains and come from a railway background but I have no illusions that they are a low energy form of transport. If you want that then you have to look at express buses as the French report has suggested.

    If HS2 is built it will require a continuing subsidy and additional subsidies will be required to maintain the existing lines in order to serve smaller places not served by HS2 such as Coventry, Rugby, Stafford, Stoke etc. Buried away in Government reports was an estimate of £5 billion. Where is all this money going to come from ? Mostly from people who cannot afford to travel by train or do not need to. With real wages falling there is going to be huge resentment if not worse. It is time for a reality check – Brazil might look like a picnic.

    Yes the rise in the cost of all forms of transport, including air will serve to reduce demand. Already the low cost airlines ar charging for so many so called extras which are often essentials has made them little cheaper than traditional airlines where they still exist

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