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Airlines back Heathrow expansion

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The airline industry has backed Heathrow on the eve of the Airports Commission’s recommendation on how to expand London’s aviation capacity

The Howard Davies-led commission will tomorrow (1 July) recommend either a third runway at Heathrow or a second at Gatwick, although a final government decision on the controversial subject is not expected for several months.

However airlines have already come out in favour of Heathrow because of the need for a ‘hub’ airport in the capital.

Board of Airline Representatives UK chief executive Dale Keller told AJ sister-title Construction News: ‘The fear is that if Heathrow does not expand, you do not have a hub.

‘If you have new routes to South America or China, for example, you need the critical mass of passengers.’

According to the major airlines, a hub must be large enough to deliver a critical mass of passengers from London - and from connecting short- and medium-haul services - to feed regular flights to intercontinental destinations.

Heathrow does this but is almost full, and the UK aviation industry fears passengers will instead choose Amsterdam’s Schipol and Paris’s Charles de Gaulle for intercontinental connections.

Gatwick would not work as a hub because it lacks this supporting network of connecting flights and expanding it would ‘give London two large airports, but not a hub’, Keller said.

Both British Airways and Easyjet have backed expansion at Heathrow, with the latter telling the commission: ‘Heathrow [expansion] is in the best interests of passengers as it has the greatest demand.

‘It is clear that long-haul airlines want to expand at Heathrow and if they can’t, they will do so not at Gatwick but at other airports such as Paris, Amsterdam and Frankfurt.’

The government will want extra airport capacity to help its quest for economic growth, but both options carry political risks.

Tory MP for Richmond Park and leading London mayoral candidate Zac Goldsmith has repeatedly threatened to force a by-election if ministers sanction a third Heathrow runway.

Incumbent mayor Boris Johnson has also said he opposes expanding Heathrow.

Conservative MPs with seats near to Gatwick, however, have been equally vocal against its expansion.

Conservative Home website executive editor Mark Wallace this week explained the internal Tory row: ‘When [the airports] commission was planned, it seems no-one had banked on the next government being reliant on a wafer-thin majority small enough to be undercut by the opposition of, say, a few west London MPs.

‘At the same time, there are now a group of anti-Gatwick MPs who are reportedly lobbying to have Justine Greening [an MP near Heathrow] among others removed from cabinet discussions on the topic.’

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