Boris Johnson calls for new airport in the south east

London mayor Boris Johnson today backed a report calling for a brand new south-east England airport.

Overseen by Transport for London deputy chairman Daniel Moylan, the report said the UK economy would suffer and London lose jobs to its European competitors unless a new hub airport was created in south-east England.

Releasing the report today, Mr Johnson said: "For London to retain its position as the heartbeat of global business, we need aviation links that will allow us to compete with our rivals."

While the coalition Government has ruled out new runways in south-east England, Mr Johnson has long favoured a new airport in the Thames estuary.

Today's report does not specify a particular site for a new airport but another Mr Johnson-commissioned report later this year will consider a range of locations for new airport capacity.

This will include options for a new airport which could be in the Thames estuary, as well as consideration of existing sites with the exception of Heathrow.

Mr Johnson's backing for expansion not only puts him at possible loggerheads with the Government but also with those opposing airport growth, including residents' groups and conservationists.

Today's report said that in terms of destinations served by worldwide international airports, Heathrow had fallen from second in 1990 to seventh in 2010.

The number of destinations that can be directly accessed from Heathrow was now 157 compared to 224 from Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport and 235 from Frankfurt.

The report said that this showed that London's only hub airport was losing out to other European airports, which if sustained could have long-term damaging effects for the economies of London and the UK.

The report also said that an additional 85 million passengers a year or 564,000 annual flights could be generated at London's airports within the environmental targets the Government has adopted.

It added that runway utilisation at Heathrow and Gatwick airports was operating at approximately 99%. This was causing delays and reliability problems. Heathrow is handling up to 75,000 more passengers a day than it was built for.

Runway utilisation was typically 70-75% at other major European hub airports.

The report said the Government was forecasting considerable growth in aviation demand within environmental limits. To ensure that this growth was accommodated to the benefit of the economy of London and the UK without harmful environmental consequences, the report called on the Government to adopt a fresh approach and develop a comprehensive strategy for aviation growth for London and the UK.

Mr Johnson said: "The capital's airports are full, our runways are rammed and we risk losing jobs to Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Madrid or other European cities should we fail to act.

"No other city even approaches the volume of passengers handled at London's airports but we need to start planning for a brand new airport that can help meet the ever-increasing demand for aviation and act as a hub, particularly to the rest of the UK."

But Mr Johnson reiterated this cannot be at any cost and reaffirmed his opposition to expansion of Heathrow.Mr Moylan said: "We have produced this report to understand the importance of aviation to London and the results are compelling.

"London and the rest of the UK have prospered greatly because of our air links with the rest of the world. If we are to continue to prosper in the future, our airports and aviation links have to be able to grow in a way that meets future needs."

He went on: "This report makes the case for new airport capacity to serve London and for this to be provided at a new hub airport, although not necessarily on a new site.

"Extra capacity at a hub airport is crucial if we are to support the rebalancing of the UK economy, which this Government seeks, while remaining consistent with the mayor's goals of improving the quality of life of all Londoners and reducing transport's contribution to climate change."

The report was launched as Mr Johnson hosted a London seminar on south east England aviation capacity attended by business leaders.

Ahead of the seminar, London First chief executive Baroness Jo Valentine said: "London's links to the world are one of its greatest assets, and critical to business. There will be difficult balances to strike, but to remain globally competitive London international air links will need to grow in the next decade.

"The Government should consider all options based on their merits and the UK's long-term prosperity. Ruling out solutions on the grounds of politics can only undermine the credibility of its proposed review."

Simon Buck, chief executive of the British Air Transport Association, said: "We are pleased that the mayor and his team recognise the huge importance of aviation to London's economy and the need for increased capacity at our airports to accommodate future growth.

"There needs to be a proper debate about the UK's airport capacity as the Government has yet to be persuaded of the need for new development in south east England."

Anti-Heathrow airport expansion group Hacan has claimed that Mr Johnson is "on a collision course" with the Government over his aviation policy and that there is no business case for a new airport.

London Assembly Green Party member Darren Johnson said: "The mayor needs to give up his dead duck plans for a new airport. For a mayor who claims to be concerned about climate change, building a new airport is the last thing he should be considering.

"There has been significant opposition to this idea from local people, politicians and from environmental campaigners. The mayor would better represent Londoners' interests by pushing for investment in alternatives to aviation, such as improved and more affordable rail services."

Rodney Chambers, the leader of Medway Council in Kent, said: "I believe it is time that Boris Johnson realises that his pie-in-the-sky Thames Estuary airport plan will never get off the ground.

"It has already been rejected by the Government and the aviation industry - with nine out of 10 air carriers saying they oppose the scheme.

"Yet, despite this, the mayor seems intent on carrying on regardless, wasting public money to try and get support for his project."

A Department for Transport spokesman said: "We welcome the mayor's input and his suggestions will be considered alongside the many other contributions to the debate about our future aviation strategy.

"However, we have made clear that we do not support the construction of additional runways at Heathrow, Gatwick or Stansted.

"That is why we are working with interested parties to develop a new framework for aviation which is more sustainable but still supports economic growth."

In a foreword to the report, Mr Johnson said: "I welcome the review of national aviation policy announced by the Government but it is essential that it captures the significance of aviation growth to London and the UK's economic future.

"The new Government must act swiftly to address the difficult questions that previous governments have failed to grasp. And the correct decisions must be made now in order to stimulate the continued growth of London and the UK."

The report said: "The Mayor is keen for a new airport in the Thames Estuary to be considered among the options. He acknowledges that it will require sustained political determination to deliver such an airport.

"The intention at this stage is to stimulate further debate with the aim of building a consensus around a long-term vision which will complement the work of others."

The report defined a hub airport as a location at which flights are organised in waves of arrivals and departures in order to allow large volumes of passengers to make a wide range of connections.

The report concluded that London was one of the few cities which might be able to successfully support two hub airports.

Matthew Knowles, spokesman for aerospace and defence organisation ADS, said: "The social and economic impacts of last year's Icelandic volcano eruption and the more recent disruption caused by snow showed that aviation is crucial to the UK's national well-being.

"The authorities at all levels must work together to deliver a fully-functioning air transport system and, while making no judgment on the mayor's proposals, the world-leading UK aerospace and airport supply industries are keen to work with the public sector to achieve this."

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