Simon Calder's Holiday Helpdesk: Why is Manston never mentioned as a London airport option?
Every day our travel guru answers your travel questions
Simon Calder’s career in travel started at Gatwick Airport, where he cleaned aircraft for Laker Airways and later worked as a security officer. He became The Independent’s Travel Correspondent in 1994, and is known as “the Man Who Pays His Way” because he does not accept free travel facilities. He writes across the Independent titles, as well as for the Evening Standard.
Thursday 22 November 2012
Q The Independent referred to the return of commercial flights, to Amsterdam, at the former RAF air base at Manston. I was down that way in the summer and agog at the size of the airfield. Given it wouldn't be difficult to link it via the High Speed One rail link or the M2, there is obviously a good reason why Manston is never mentioned as a possible new London airport option. What is it?
A You're right about the sheer scale of the former RAF Manston - it has one of the longest runways in the UK after Heathrow. You're also right that it's easily accessible from London on the M2 and the A299 (the motorway's continuation into Thanet). And thanks to the High Speed One rail line, Ramsgate station is just 77 minutes from London St Pancras, with the airport about five minutes beyond.
The geographical position of Manston bestows it with big advantages for eastbound flying. Frankfurt, Luxembourg and Amsterdam are at least 20 minutes closer from Manston than from Heathrow. And that's on a good day; on bad days, with heavy traffic or stormy weather, Manston's advantage is much greater, avoiding congestion on the ground and in the skies over London - the busiest Air Traffic Control space in the world.
Yet repeated attempts to run scheduled flights from Manston have failed, most recently when Flybe axed its routes to Edinburgh and Belfast.
Why isn't Manston part of the solution, at least in the short term, to South-east England's capacity crisis? Geography, once again. Everyone living west of the River Medway is closer to Gatwick or Stansted than they are to Manston. As the main bases for easyJet and Ryanair respectively, these airports offer cheap flights to a vast range of destinations across Europe.
Manston may yet succeed as a niche airport, with KLM's announcement that it will start twice-daily flights to Amsterdam in the spring. If they profitably connect East Kent with the rest of the world, other airlines such as the Dutch airline's parent company, Air France, and Lufthansa of Germany, may be tempted to open links to Paris Charles de Gaulle and Frankfurt respectively. That would help alleviate some of the strain on other airports. But were Manston to grow strongly there could be some significant airspace issues involving entanglement with flight paths to and from Amsterdam - which would also apply to a Thames Estuary airport.
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