THE BLOG

To Prosper and Become a Great Trading Nation Again, We Must Increase Our Airport Capacity

05/03/2014 16:38 GMT | Updated 05/05/2014 10:59 BST

If we are to prosper and become a great trading nation once again, we will need to boost our airport capacity. We need modern airports with larger freight and passenger capacity; we need to be able to export British-made goods and compete against our European neighbours. No-one disagrees with this.

Connectivity is also vitally important for attracting wealthy people and businesses from overseas to invest in British businesses. One of the major reasons many international firms have chosen to put their European HQ in the UK is because we have fantastic airport links to the rest of the world.

But we're running short of space. Heathrow looks like it's full and Gatwick is operating at more than 85% of its maximum capacity and is completely full at peak times. By 2030, Heathrow, Gatwick, London City and Luton are all predicted to be full.

This aviation crisis will stall our recovery and lower UK GDP through lost trade, foreign direct investment and tourism. By 2021, the capacity squeeze is expected to cost £8.5billion each year and lower employment by 141,400.

The capacity crunch is affecting our ability to perform. It's putting a severe bottleneck on UK growth and we need to do something quickly.

Global airport capacity and expansion is ongoing

Right now, there are thousands, if not millions of people in countries round the world debating airport expansion. It's very easy to see our own problem in isolation; to think that we are the only country tackling the challenge of how to grow capacity for the future. But Britain is far from unique.

Qatar is building a brand new airport to replace Doha International Airport. Bahrain International is undergoing huge expansion and a new $15billion airport for 28million passengers a year is nearly complete in Doha. In December, Kenya began work on a $653million expansion of the capital's main airport.

LA International Airport is about to begin a controversial $4.8billion dollar improvement plan which includes moving a runway closer to nearby homes. There are ongoing projects at Orlando International, Iowa Airport and Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, and at Philadelphia International Airport they will be spending $6.4billion on projects.

Turkey is planning to build one of the world's largest airports, a massive new hub outside Istanbul, at a cost of more than $5billion and at the last count. China has plans to build 82 new airports and expand more than 100 existing ones by 2015.

All round the world people are facing up to the challenge of how to compete on the global stage in the 21st Century. We need to face our own challenge and take bold steps to ensure our long-term economic future.

An offshore airport is still the best solution to this problem

In my view a brand new offshore airport is the most sensible long-term plan. Other countries are thinking big, planning for the future and building brand new airports - why can't we? In fact, a number of other cities have already successfully moved their airports, including Bangkok in 2006, Hong Kong in 1998, Munich in 1992 and Paris in 1974. A new airport, located offshore, is the long-term solution.

We may need four or more extra runways over the next couple of decades, and a new offshore airport would give us the space to expand. And because there is no-one to disturb around an offshore airport, it could operate throughout the night. British businesses could export goods to the rest of the world 24/7. This is exactly what we need if the UK is to become a great trading nation once again.

This new airport could be constructed very quickly if there was the political will - the offshore airport at Hong Kong was constructed in less than five years. It could also be largely funded from the pockets of private backers. Large national projects like this excite wealthy investors with big sovereign wealth funds, and all the indicators are that there is a strong appetite to fund this airport in the private sector.

A second runway at Gatwick will lower prices and increase competition

A second runway at Gatwick would be a good compromise, at least in the short-term. A second runway would only affect up to 13,800 new households - to put this in perspective aircraft noise at Heathrow already affects more than a quarter of a million people. Plus, a second runway could certainly be completed as soon as 2025, before the other options and it is could be delivered at a low cost of around £5-9billon with private funding.

But above all, building a second runway at Gatwick would be good for competition. It would give airlines and people a fair choice about where they want to fly from so people would be able to take their money elsewhere if they weren't happy with the airport's price or service. Building a second runway at Gatwick would lift standards at all London's airports and lower the costs of fares.

A third runway at Heathrow would only cement their monopoly. Of course we should expect Heathrow to make the case for their expansion - they want to jealously protect their stranglehold on travellers so they can make more and more money for their shareholders. But building a third runway at Heathrow would just guarantee that people had to pay higher fares forever. Shattering Heathrow's monopoly would almost instantly bring down prices.

Heathrow expansion is the worst of all worlds

Expansion at Heathrow is a short-term sticking plaster. It is not a long-term solution. The current infrastructure does not allow for expansion on the scale we're going to need to really compete. There are not even enough existing quality transport links, and to create those would mean chaos for decades to come. An extra runway would require Heathrow to bulldoze between 1,000 and 3,000 houses and I do not believe that this is acceptable given the other options.

I want Britain to be an outward-facing, well-connected country that exports around the world. We need bold solutions and big ideas. For the sake of Britain's long-term economic future we must think on a much larger scale.