The Government should not overlook the vital role regional airports such as Bristol can play in helping solve the looming gridlock at airports serving London and the South East.
The message, from Bristol Airport boss Robert Sinclair, came today as the Airports Commission’s interim report into the capacity constraints at Heathrow and Gatwick was published.
He said regional airports had plenty of room for expansion – in Bristol’s case it has planning approval to increase passenger numbers to 10m a year – and so could ease the pressure on London’s hubs by taking on more short haul flights.
Bristol Airport has marketed itself hard in the Swindon area to lure air travellers away from Heathrow and, particularly, Gatwick and Stansted. Bristol bosses argue that the trip West along the M4 can be cheaper and more convenient than the longer journeys to the airports in the South East.
Today’s interim report acknowledges that London’s major airports will need major expansion within a decade if they are to meet soaring passenger demand caused by the continued growth in international air travel.
Without an increase in air capacity, London’s position as a global financial and business centre will be jeopardised. Yet any airport expansion will have a huge environmental cost – and could have major political consequences.
Mr Sinclair said: “During what will clearly be a long and controversial process, it is important that Government does not lose sight of the role airports outside London can play in meeting demand for air travel in the regions.
“Bristol Airport has planning permission in place to develop and enhance facilities to serve 10m passengers per annum – an increase of 64% compared with the present day.
“The environmental effects of this development, which will be phased in line with passenger demand, have been fully evaluated and a range of controls and mitigation is in place to manage its impacts.”
He said more than 6m passengers travelled from the South West and Wales last year to fly from an airport in the South East.
By reducing the reliance on the London airports for short-haul point-to-point travel, Bristol could provide a more convenient alternative for many passengers and, at the same, time free up capacity during the decade or more it will take to deliver a new runway in the South East.
“With the latest aircraft technology likely to increase the range of destinations available from Bristol, this claw-back will extend to long haul flights as well,” he said.
“The Commission’s recognition of the importance of investment in surface access to airports is particularly welcome.
“The recently approved South Bristol Link, to which Bristol Airport will contribute up to £4.1m, is an example of how improved transport links can extend the catchment area of regional airports by making them more easily accessible.”
He said he was also pleased to see that the “unrealistic and undeliverable” Severnside Airport and Western Gateway proposals had been dismissed. “This is clear recognition that Bristol Airport is best placed to meet demand from passengers in the South West and South Wales,” he said.
Today's interim report shortlists three options: A third runway at Heathrow, a second runway at Gatwick, or lengthening an existing runway at Heathrow. It does not completely rule out a wholly new airport east of London on the Isle of Grain, North Kent – an idea backed by London Mayor Boris Johnson but likely to be five times the cost of the three shortlisted options.