In his response to the government’s Sustainable Framework for UK Aviation scoping document, published in March, Johnson said the UK would lose business in crucial new markets, as well as export carbon emissions overseas, if the region’s aviation capacity is not increased.
Heathrow only offers 9,000 seats a week to mainland Chinese airports, while Frankfurt, Paris Charles de Gaulle and Amsterdam Schiphol have around 17,500, 15,000 and 11,000 respectively, his submission declares. Moreover, it does not have the potential to expand this figure, as it is already handling 66 million passengers a year and running at 99 per cent capacity.
Johnson, who opposed the previous Labour government’s plans to add a third runway at Heathrow, a proposal which has now been shelved, again backed a new four-runway airport in the Thames estuary with high-speed rail connections to London, dubbed ‘Boris Island‘.
"A Thames Estuary airport would be a long-term, high-volume, high-capacity hub for the UK," the response, published at the weekend, reads. "It would resolve the South-East capacity issues that will clearly inhibit the UK’s competitiveness if it is not provided and provide enormous economic benefits."
Current government policy opposes expansion of Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted, and aims to maximise the use of the UK’s existing airport infrastructure, but Johnson warned the UK risked becoming an "aviation backwater" if it failed to add new runways in the South-East.
High-speed rail can complement air travel, he added, but does not offer an alternative, leaving the Thames Esturary airports as the "obvious solution", as concentrating growth at a hub airport would reduce carbon through more efficient activity.
"We cannot go on as we are and I respectfully urge the government to make it a priority to consider plans to build a full-service, round-the-clock, multiple runway hub airport of the type that so many of our neighbours already boast," Johnson said in a statement.
However, Jean Leston, senior transport policy advisor at WWF-UK, argued extra capacity was unnecessary, given planes are now able to carry more passengers – BAA expects 198 passengers per plane by 2050 compared to 143 in 2009 – and almost half of businesses have cut down on travel in favour of video-conferencing.
"If you want to keep within climate limits, you can’t increase aviation," she told BusinessGreen. "There’s an assumption businesses need Heathrow to grow – our research shows the UK’s largest companies are completely rethinking the way they travel.
"If businesses fly less, planes are larger and you replace domestic and short-haul flights with train journeys, that will free up capacity," she added. "But if you keep building more tarmac you’re going to be left with stranded assets."
Leston also dismissed Johnson’s claims that Boris Island would limit the number of people affected by the noise and air quality impacts of aviation.
The potential effect on air quality is also a major worry, given the capital’s woeful record, which has drawn repeated EU criticism and forced Johnson to revisit London’s Air Quality Strategy.
The London Assembly Environment Committee will meet on Thursday to discuss whether measures included in the mayor’s plan are sufficient to control air and noise pollution around Heathrow.
"We’re keen to show that the air pollution issue is not just a central London issue, but is a major issue around airports," committee chair Murad Qureshi told BusinessGreen at an event in London last week.
"It’s not just the planes, but all the surface transport and its something that, even with Crossrail coming in, we’re only going to have a one per cent shift away from cars. So something even further has to be done and it would be useful to have some focus on that front."
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