Transit passengers behind third runway demand

Transit passengers

Last week the Sunday Times carried an editorial by the former head of British Airways, Bob Ayling, in which he called the third runway a "costly mistake". He argued that the government's attempts to impose a 'hub-and-spoke' model onto the UK's airports was outmoded thinking, based on a disproven theory of air traffic control which almost bankrupted the American airlines which first tried it.

This week the Times has revealed just how damaging the hub-and-spoke model really is. Not only does it force people to fly further than they need to by routing them all through Heathrow instead of flying direct, but the number of international transfer passengers is rising so fast that they will take up most of the new capacity from the third runway by the time it opens in 2020 - and all of it by 2030!

One in four passengers passing through Heathrow has flown in from abroad to change to another international flight, three times as many as did so in 1991. Unlike other passengers, people transfering between two international flights are a net drain on our economy, spending no money while in transit and depriving the Treasury of considerable amounts of taxation. The Times has calculated that if every international transit passenger were replaced by someone arriving or leaving the UK, it would raise £500 million every year.

Norman Baker, the Liberal Democrat transport spokesman, said: "These are devastating figures which show that the third runway, for all its massive cost and environmental damage, is being built to help international transfer passengers who never leave the airport. If the number were reduced, we wouldn’t need a new runway and we would have more space at Heathrow for people from this country. With ever-increasing demand from British passengers to use Heathrow, we don’t need foreign transfer passengers to make routes viable. They are there simply to satisfy the greed of BA and BAA."

Mild jingoism aside, Baker has a good point. I don't like regional airports, but surely it makes more sense to let those people who have to fly go directly from one airport to another, not ship them all off to Heathrow only to send them off again. And when aviation is the fastest growing cause of climate change, it makes no sense for the UK to expand its airports just so that people can fly in from abroad and fly straight out again. If the government wants more capacity it should order the airlines to stop shuttling people through Heathrow like some glorified sorting office, instead of turning West London into Airstrip One.