Small airfields could play 'feeder' role

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The Independent Online

Airfields near Heathrow and Gatwick should be expanded as a matter of urgency to cope with increasing demand for air travel, a Commons committee has recommended.

Northolt aerodrome six miles from Heathrow in west London and Redhill five miles from Gatwick in Sussex could be rebuilt to become "feeder" airports to their bigger neighbours, the MPs believe.

Theminor airfields could be transformed within about five years. An extra runway at Heathrow would not open for a t least a decade and extra capacity at Gatwick would have to wait for a legal agreement to expire in 2019.

A report by the Commons Select Committee on Transport, published yesterday, argued that Northolt could take 70 per cent of the aircraft that currently use Heathrow. Similar proposals by the committee in 1998 were rejected by the Government.

On environmental grounds the study came out strongly against building an airport on a greenfield site - a reference to plans for a complex at Cliffe on the Thames Estuary.

The MPs recommended that the monopoly enjoyed by BAA, the operator of Britain's major airports, should be broken up. The report said the company's dominant position meant that the ownership of the country's major airports was "deeply flawed". The document said the Government and BAA had an "ambivalent" relationship in which the company expected to provide advice to ministers, but was the "monopoly supplier".

Dan Hodges, director of the aviation group Freedom to Fly, said the report sealed the case for runway expansion. "Not only does it underline the economic, social and employment benefits of new runways, it stresses the importance of commencing their construction at the earliest possible opportunity," he said.

The select committee also said the Government should consider, as a matter of urgency, whether the present structure for National Air Traffic Services (Nats) and the resources available to it, were adequate. The part-privatised Nats, which has faced severe financial problems, runs the UK's air traffic control system.

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