Playing the political game: will we ever see a third runway at Heathrow Airport?

29 August, 2017

Travel management companies have voiced their frustration and concern after reports have once again emerged that the UK’s opposition Labour Party could vote against plans for a third runway at London Heathrow. A report in the Financial Times claims senior Labour figures say the party's leadership is 'almost certain' to block the long-awaited proposed expansion of Europe’s largest international airport on environmental grounds.

The growth of UK airport capacity has for a long time been a major vote swinger for political parties in the UK and has seriously hampered efforts to deliver much-needed additional capacity into the London and southeast England area.

Doubts over a previous decision to expand Heathrow Airport with the construction of a third runway surfaced after Prime Minister Theresa May lost her majority in the House of Commons during this year’s snap general election. However, the UK government has signalled its commitment to push ahead with plans to expand at the hub airport and will seek approval for a third runway in this parliament, likely in the first half of 2018.

The opposition to the project seems to be rising. Although Labour seemingly supported the project in its general election manifesto The Financial Times reports that senior figures in the Labour Party have suggested that leader Jeremy Corbyn and his high-ranking colleagues are almost certain to oppose Heathrow’s third runway proposal when it comes to a Commons vote rising further doubts to whether the runway will ever be built.

Backers of Heathrow’s expansion have argued that it is the best-placed UK airport to offer more long-haul flights, in a move that could boost the British economy by improving links with other countries, notably in emerging markets and trade association GTMC describes these latest opposition reports are “frustrating, detrimental to the economy and severely short sighted”.

The association, which represents the views and requirements of 80% of the UK’s business travellers supporting a diverse range of travel management companies from small independent specialists to some of the worlds’ largest multiples, says in a statement: "As the voice of the business traveller, the GTMC is very clear that airport expansion in the South East is vital for the UK's continued economic growth, particularly post-Brexit."

"The infrastructure to access other growing markets is essential post-Brexit to avoid UK businesses becoming disadvantaged compared to overseas competitors. Without greater air capacity jobs will be lost to other countries," it adds.

The GTMC urges politicians to make decisions based on what is genuinely right for the long-term development of the country that considers the nationwide impact of not allowing air connectivity to stimulate economic growth and not to focus simply on attempting to win the next election. "We yet again urge politicians of all parties to seriously review any possible plan not to approve airport expansion, GTMC adds in a statement.

GTMC research, conducted in partnership with Oxford Economics, shows a direct link between air connectivity and economic prosperity. Just a single 1% increase in international air travel for business has the potential to increase trade by around 0.09%, the equivalent to around £600 million.

The Blue Swan Daily analysis of OAG schedule data for summer 2017 shows that London Heathrow has the highest proportion of first class seats among Europe’s largest airports, albeit it slips to second place behind Paris Charles de Gaulle when you consider total premium seats (first class + business class) available from each airport.

CHART - London Heathrow and Paris CDG are Europe's leading airports when it comes to premium seat inventories in the current summer 2017 scheduleSource: The Blue Swan Daily and OAG