The Government’s announcement (Oct’16) that Heathrow is their choice for the expansion of UK airport capacity does not so much bring the debate to a conclusion as herald a further period of wrangling; over a year later we still await a final decision. This provides a window of opportunity for UKIP, particularly in Scotland. I would like to explain why.
But first I better declare that I have no vested interest and nothing to gain personally. I am offering my ideas because I think they provide a better way forward for UK aviation and a great political opportunity for UKIP. I have been a member of UKIP since 2003. I am English, and these days live in Herefordshire, but primarily I am British and so what is good for Scotland is good for Britain.
I take it as read that the UK aviation objective is to have a World-Class hub airport; that is what the Government has said. An entirely reasonable objective if it can be achieve at reasonable cost, with an acceptable negative impact and does indeed achieve a net benefit for the UK as a whole. The objective can only be achieved by increasing airport capacity.
The debate has been between Heathrow and Gatwick, but there are so many reasons not to expand either that to choose one will inevitably generate a large amount of objections, difficulties, delays and costs. When stuck between a rock and a hard place it makes sense see if there could be a third way. And I think there is a third way, which is Prestwick.
The Third Way
By its very nature a “hub” is not primarily a destination but an interchange. It does not have to be anywhere near London as its primary role is not to increase capacity for London as a destination.
Prestwick is already an international airport, and has a lot going for it. Prestwick enjoys an advantageous micro-climate, which means that it is less affected by bad weather than any other airport in the UK. I believe for this reason it was designated an emergency landing runway for the Space Shuttle.
It is on the Great-Circle route to North America: so, for instance, planes from Heathrow to New York fly over Glasgow. Bear in mind the policy objective is for a hub airport, so Western Scotland is ideally placed for intercontinental routes with North America to fan out to short-haul routes across Europe.
The environmental and social detrimental impact of expanding at Prestwick will be small compared with Gatwick, and tiny compared with Heathrow. Indeed, socially it should be beneficial.
Prestwick was bought by the SNP government for £1 and they don’t know what to do with it! The news reports (end October 2016) are that the SNP is backing Heathrow (because they have done a deal with them, it was said), so UKIP making the case for Prestwick shows how little the SNP care about their own country!
Two other reports on the BBC are instructive. Both British Airways and Ryan Air are opposed to Heathrow. It seems they are concerned that the cost of building the third runway is so high that it will inevitably put up their cost operating from Heathrow and there by undermine their competitiveness. I would expect the cost of converting Prestwick to a hub airport would be much less than expanding Gatwick and very much less than Heathrow.
Prestwick is close enough to Glasgow to be able to draw on a large city for services and resources, yet far enough away that the city will not suffer the noise, pollution and congestion associated with Heathrow.
By building the main UK hub airport at Prestwick some flights will move from Heathrow, thereby freeing up landing slots and so enabling Heathrow to continue to serve London for the foreseeable future without the need for a third runway. Heathrow will continue to have some “hub” function, and being the airport for the capital there will continue to be direct routes Worldwide. But the need to expand will have gone.
On Radio 4 there was a lorry driver who has been going to Heathrow for years: much of the goods transported by air goes in the baggage hold of passenger planes. He said that for years there has been totally inadequate facilities for lorries, resulting in them driving round in circles as there is nowhere to park in the goods area. Expanding Heathrow means more commercial and private vehicles in the vicinity, a place that is already heavily congested.
Expanding Heathrow and thereby increasing road usage in the area is illogical given its very close proximity to the M4/M25 Junction. There must be many bitter memories of the terrible congestion caused last time by road infrastructure improvements in that area; not to be repeated.
It seems several of the UK’s provincial airports favour Heathrow as their interconnect, but that is compared with Gatwick, and given the option of Prestwick, with its cheaper operating costs, I do not see any reason for them not to support that option once they know it is possible.
Some, in England, may argue that with the loud beating of the independence drums in Scotland putting an airport in Scotland to serve the whole of the UK is madness. But Scotland has voted to remain in the UK, and what better way for a Government in Westminster, that supports the Union, to show it really does care about Scotland.
Good For UKIP
If UKIP promotes the idea then it puts all the other parties to shame. But how to proceed?
Clearly it is one thing to have an idea, it is entirely another matter to turn it into reality. I am not the person to lead a Prestwick campaign, though I would help as best I can. UKIP has many talented Members, and I would hope from within the Membership people with relevant expertise of airlines, air transport and airports could be found who could put the flesh on the bare bones of my Prestwick idea.
A few years ago there was a call for UKIP Members to help on various working groups which got a good response – I worked on the Transport Group focusing on roads. That never came to much, but it did show the expertise was available and people were willing to help. This is a resource that should not be ignored.
What do you think?