Airline passengers flying into Heathrow face 16 more years of stacking and stress before a four-runway airport can relieve the capacity crunch, according to London's Mayor. Boris Johnson dismissed adding extra runways at Heathrow and Gatwick as "intellectual culs-de-sac," and came out firmly in favour of a new airport on the Isle of Grain in north Kent - opening no earlier than 2029.
The Mayor was launching Transport for London's evidence to the Davies Commission, which is evaluating airport expansion options. He lambasted politicians for failing to provide more airport capacity earlier, saying: "We've been sitting around like puddings for the past 40 years doing nothing. We have squandered decades and other countries are eating our lunch".
Until a new hub was ready, he said, London's airport system would struggle on as it is: "There is no quick fix, there is nothing you can do in the short term that addresses the problem." He ruled out "mixed mode" at Heathrow, where more capacity is extracted by allowing landings and take-offs on both runways, saying: "The government has tiptoed towards that minefield and has stepped away from it".
TfL has whittled down 16 options to three, each with four runways. "The Isle of Grain best combines regeneration with connectivity," said Mr Johnson. A rail link would reach central London in less than half an hour.
The other options are a new airport on reclaimed land in the Thames Estuary, and massive expansion at Stansted. Whichever is chosen, TfL envisages a sharp increase in destinations served, with more than 100 new international routes - including four times as many links to China and Latin America. Connections to the UK regions would also be improved.
Two out of three passengers using a new four-runway airport will be expected to arrive by public transport, compared with just 40 per cent at Heathrow at present.
All three options call for the closure of Heathrow, with the site becoming the focus for 100,000 new homes in a "Royal Borough of Heathrow".
A spokeperson for Heathrow said: "It seems extraordinary that any Mayor of London would propose forcibly buying and then closing Heathrow. The Mayor's proposals would leave 114,000 people facing redundancy, cost taxpayers more and take longer to deliver than building on the strength we already have at Heathrow."
Heathrow is to reveal its proposals on Wednesday. The main focus is likely to be a third runway to the south-west of the existing airport. Mr Johnson said the plans would prove a "half-baked" solution and would not be ready until the late 2020s.
The Mayor was equally scathing about Gatwick's proposals. The Sussex airport has called for an additional runway at both Gatwick and Stansted, competing against Heathrow with a so-called "2-2-2" approach. Land for a second runway at Gatwick has been protected, and work on a new runway could begin in 2019. Mr Johnson said: "You kid yourself that this is providing the country with long-term hub capacity. The sooner it is rejected as an option the better."
But a spokesperson for Gatwick said: "An over-engineered mega-hub solution would stifle innovation, reduce competition and mean higher air fares for passengers. The position of London today, with the largest aviation market in the world, is a direct result of using the existing airports in the South East effectively and efficiently."
As the Mayor revealed his recommendations in a sweltering City Hall on London's South Bank, further evidence for the capital's overstretched main airport was provided by BA's arrivals screens. Heathrow's runways shut for 90 minutes on Friday afternoon because of a fire aboard an Ethiopian Airlines Dreamliner. Besides massive disruption on the day, dozens of British Airways departures were axed over the weekend - with further casualties on Monday morning in the shape of cancelled flights from Rome and New York.
Heathrow plus one
An extra runway north of the A4 at Sipson has been ditched in favour of an extra southern runway, and demolishing the village of Stanwell Moor. Odds: 2-1
Gatwick plus one
The Sussex airport already has two runways, but they are too close to be used simultaneously. So the owners want another runway built to the south. Evens
Stansted plus three
The only option involving existing airports favoured by the London Mayor. Would require massive investment in surface links. 50-1
The development on the Isle of Grain, pictured, favoured by the Mayor, but the enthusiasm is not by local people, environmental campaigners and the airline industry. 500-1
Sandbanks in the Thames Estuary are the foundations for the biggest airport in Europe, with four runways and a high-speed rail connection to central London. 10,000-1