Heathrow lags behind on runways as it turns 60

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The Independent Online

A lobby group pushing for a third runway at Heathrow airport has urged the Government to reverse its position and back expansion if the airport is to have a viable future.

On the eve of Heathrow's 60th birthday, a study revealed that the airport's lack of runway capacity means the UK is languishing at the bottom of the world league of national air hubs.

Future Heathrow, the pro-expansion group chaired by Lord Soley, said the airport will celebrate its birthday with the same number of operational runways as when it opened for its first commercial flight on 31 May 1946.

With only two runways at its main global gateway, the UK is on a par with the likes of Brazil, Indonesia and Iran, the report said. Only Mexico has fewer runways at its main airport. The USA heads the list of the 20 national economies with six runways at its largest hub, China was in second place with five and France was joint third with four.

Lord Soley said the UK should be looking to match the capabilities of other continental airports over the next 10 to 20 years. "These figures show how far the UK has slipped behind not just Europe, but the rest of the world," he said. The report is a riposte to calls made over the weekend for Heathrow to be "retired" and closed for business. The Town and Country Planning Association believes the best solution to cramped skies over Britain is to replace Heathrow with a new airport on an artificial island in the Thames Estuary.

A Government White Paper in 2003 turned down a third runway at Heathrow in favour of a second one at Stansted on environmental concerns over the likely levels of nitrogen dioxide around the west London airport. A review of the White Paper is due to be published by the end of this year.

Lord Soley said Heathrow's total route network had shrunk by 12 per cent since 1990. "It must be permitted to expand - or else prepare for inactive retirement at the expense of tens of thousands of jobs across the UK," he added.

BAA, which operators the main UK airports, is keen to build a third runway but faces opposition from a number of quarters, including local residents who are concerned about noise levels.