Your chance to be an Airport Idol!


Fresh from the awesome Colin Matthews: one night only comedy gig (now touring the Edinburgh Festival), Plane Stupid Events Ltd. is proud to present our latest collaboration with BAA, which gives thousands the chance to project manage their own imaginary runway. It's the hottest reality TV programme of the summer!

Airport Idol: any runway will do! pits members of the public against each other to find out who's got what it takes to be the Big Kahuna, and who's just another piece of lost luggage. Competitors will be tested on their knowledge of "strict environmental limits" and consultation rigging, before battling it out for the covetted Airport Idol jackpot: up to £100,000 a year to design a runway that will never happen.

Sign up for Airport Idol: any runway will do!

We did ask BAA why they advertised their new jobs in an issue of the Guardian whose front page splashed with the news that the runway was all but cancelled, but they were too incadescent with rage to answer. Instead they agreed to forgo the usual job application malarkey and launch a new reality TV show to find their newest Head of R3 consultation and Head of Surface Access Strategy.

Places are limited, so act fast! Don't worry, you'll be able to download the theme music on iTunes later this week.

Heathrow and Stansted expansion even less likely as BAA posts record losses

Have you been wondering why BAA has gone quiet on its plans to expand Heathrow and Stansted? Just a few months ago it was keen to stress that both airports would have new runways as soon as the tarmac could be poured, but their latest financial reports shows that BAA is so broke that it is reusing teabags* in the staff canteen.

So far this year BAA has lost over half a billion pounds from the three London airports, with passengers down by 4 million. The biggest decline was at Stansted, which lost 14% of passengers. Domestic flights fell 10% across the airports, with flights to the EU down 8% and international flights down 6%. So what need for the new runway - or for the increase in passenger numbers they twisted arms for last year?

In other BAA news, Gatwick still hasn't sold. BAA wants £1.5 billion, down from £2 billion last year, and has challenged the Competition Commission's demand that it sell Stansted, Gatwick and either Edinburgh or Glasgow within two years. There's some complicated leveraging thing going on with bonds and stuff, but basically it's overvalued the airport and can't sell it.

No cash means no expansion, whatever spin BAA chooses to put on it: bulldozing villages doesn't come cheap, especially when we're digging in to resist. It's perhaps a little too early to start celebrating, but let's face it: we've won**, even if the other side hasn't conceded defeat just yet.

* I am reliabily informed that reusing teabags is a perfectly sensible thing to do. However the image of BAA's staff fighting over a second-hand Tetley while outside the offices hordes of angry residents and anti-expansion campaigners wave placards and chant slogans is so heartening that I thought I'd share it with you.

** Given that I've started doing these little notes, I may as well continue: there plenty of regional airport battles to fight and win, but passengers and profits are down across the sector. Perhaps that iconic symbol of the fight against climate change won't be in Sipson and Harmonsworth, but at Newquay, Doncaster or Birmingham airports instead...

Hayes Carnival shows strength of community

We may not have had Blur, but the event of this summer was most definitely the Hayes Carnival. With colourful floats, brilliant music (all thanks to the wonderful Bicycology boys and their beautiful sound system) and entertainment for all the family, the Hayes Carnival was a thriving hub of community spirit.

With a float in the procession and a stall at the fair, Plane Stupid was on hand to provide a colourful reminder of the anti-expansion campaign facing BAA's ludicrous plans. We danced our way through the streets of Hayes with our carnival queen (local resident Linda) at our head, handing out 'No Third Runway' flags to the people on the streets, and even the odd lucky copper...

As with all the Adopt a Resident events so far, the reception we received was one of welcome and gratitude. The ladies of Hacan and NoTrag were out in force, but more than that we had a real chance to see how supportive the majority of those directly affected by the airport are for what we do... truly heartwarming stuff!

Tired from carnivalling, we wrapped up at our stall in a nearby park, spending the rest of the afternoon chatting to locals about Adopt a Resident, and indulging in that old family favourite 'Splat the Rat', but with a twist: the rat was a plane, and the weapon of choice none other than the parliamentary mace, all in honour of local MP John McDonnell.

We even managed to persuade him to pose for a cheeky photo, 'alternative' mace in hand...

Chamber of Commerce gets its sums wrong


Business leaders are supposed to have a head for figures, and certainly pretend to be  anti-ideological and just dealing with facts (when they aren't giving 110% that is). So why did the British Chamber of Commerce put out a report yesterday which massively overstated the case for the third runway?

The BCC are about as unreformed as capitalists get; never happier than when they're plundering our future and ferretting the proceeds into offshore bank accounts. But their report, entitled 'Why destroying Sipson and Harmondsworth will make me millions', makes a number of very basic errors which a GCSE media studies student would have been failed for. Stand by for a techie, economics-jargon filled discusion of monetised benefits...

Firstly, the BCC report claims £30bn benefits from expansion, but forgot to include any costs. This includes the cost of climate change, noise, air pollution, and congestion and is a bit like saying asbestos is great at stopping fire without mentioning that is also highly toxic. It also means that the report failed to take into account the value of time lost by executives sitting in traffic on the M4 and M25 as they try in vain to get to the airport (see below).

Secondly, those £30b benefits are predominantly aggregated time savings, not actual money. To work this out, the BCC has worked out how many people will save how much time once the runway is built and multiplied that by the value of each minute they're saving. Famous critic of time saving valuation John Adams once worked out that the best place to put London's third airport, given the extent that economic benefits favour time savings, was Hyde Park. However BCC has gone further, using a figure which is 40% higher than the Department for Transport uses. I know business leaders have inflated sense of their own worth, but that's ridiculous.

Thirdly, they calculated the relationship between economic growth and investment in infrastructure according to the figure in the Eddington report, of 0.2% increase in GDP per 1% increase in capital spend. Never mind that Eddington was the former head of British Airways and trying to justify airport expansion; this figure has always sat at odds with the most comprehensive study of infrastructure investment, the Standing Advisory Council on Trunk Road Assessment (SACTRA).

The 1990s studies by SACTRA found that there was little or no link between investment in infrastructure and economic growth. If you can force yourself to read 300+ pages of economic-speak, you'll discover that: non-transport factors in a region (such as the availability of skilled labour) were usually a more critical factor in regenerating a region than transport infrastructure, and there would be winners and losers when new transport infrastructure was built - competitive areas may gain improved access to weaker areas, which in turn may suffer job losses.

Next the BCC made loads of claims about the benefits of transfer passengers. Former BA boss Bob Ayling dismissed this, saying that transfer passengers only benefit the economy by buying a cup of tea and a biscuit. CE Delft challenged the view that, if Heathrow does not expand, firms will locate to other cities in Europe which have large and expanding airports:

"Although the access to good aviation links is one of the location factors for new companies, it should be noted that currently London is already ranked number 1 for its transport links with other cities and internationally. Notably, the impact of the location factor ´access to air services´ is of greater importance with regard to companies’ decisions on where to invest within the UK, than on the decision regarding the country in which first to locate……. One may ask oneself the question what additional effects could be expected from further adding to the capacity of the airport."

Finally, the BCC forgot an age old adage of economics: people like to spend money. Their report assumes that if we can't buy an airline ticket, we'll hoard our money under the bed and never, ever spend it. This is nonsense of the first degree: if flights to the Bahamas are too expensive, we'll go to France or Italy (or Blackpool) instead. CE Delft: "It is clear that the money currently spent on aviation would be spent in alternative ways in other sectors if there had been no aviation, or in case of restrictions on runway capacity. Thus it would also contribute to GDP and employment, and have indirect and induced effects."

So dodgy facts, omissions and outright untruths: pretty much what we've come to expect from the aviation industry. And to think that the authors of this report are the very people the Government keeps going to for economic advice. Could that be why we're in such a bloody mess?

Adopt a Resident visits Hayes Carnival

Last Saturday Plane Stupid popped along to the Hayes Carnival to talk about Adopt a Resident.

Local MP and staunch wielder of the Parliamentary Mace John McDonnell filmed this little video of our bike-powered sound system and special guest: the Queen of Sipson.

Check out the photos on our Flickr photostream.

Taxpayers could end up paying for third runway

The airlines are collapsing. Air traffic is down 11%. BA can't afford to pay its staff. Airports are looking more and more like ghost towns. It's bad news all round - and UK tax payers could be asked to bail out the third runway should (or rather, when) BAA and Ferrovial bite the financial dust.

The Government has been planning a belt-and-braces plan to take over BAA's airports should it go into administration. MP John McDonnell - wielder of maces, defender of Hayes and Harlington - discovered that we'd end up spending tax revenue on the expansion itself.

"We know the Government is going to have to pay for the collateral damage in terms of the impact on the local communities, the shift of populations, the new schools, the creation of new communities elsewhere for these people to live," he told the House of Commons.

"We now believe there will be direct subsidy as a result of BAA's precarious financial position and the precarious financial position of Grupo Ferrovial globally (BAA's parent company) and that we will have to actually subsidise the development itself, the construction of the runway and the terminal."

No, said Transport Minister and runner up in the 2004 Medway bullfrog lookalike competition Paul Clark. Heathrow was so awesome we just had to have more of it. He did make one concession though: Heathrow expansion should not come "at any price".

Given that the price is already the communities of Sipson and Harmonsworth, the undermining of our carbon reduction targets, the breaching of EU NOx levels, the health and wellbeing of most of London and more bloody flights to nowhere, just what price does the amphibious Minister think is too high to pay?

Plane Stupid goes guerilla gardening

Bank holiday Monday, the noise of airplanes passing overhead, Heathrow airport casting its long shadow and the roar of diggers in Sipson. Is it all over I hear you ask? Did BAA slip their nefarious plans for a third runway through despite the weight of public opposition? Fear not, for this bank holiday heralded not the destruction of the Heathrow villages, but the arrival of Guerilla Gardeners on BAA's doorstep.

In the aftermath of the Chelsea Flower Show, the left over plants have found themselves an illustrious new home. Armed with trowels and hoses, and with the expert guidance of Chelsea gardener Tom Hoblyn, we descended on Sipson, Harmondsworth and Harlington on Monday for a spot of illicit gardening, transplanting the horticultural stars of Chelsea into new homes under the shadow of the flightpath.

Check out the photos on Flickr

Together with residents from all three villages, activists from the Climate Rush, guerilla gardening experts and, of course, Plane Stupid spent a sweltering bank holiday beautifying the very villages BAA would like to decimate to build a third runway at Heathrow. The mood on the day was, despite the government giving the go-ahead to the plans, one of hope. We were working together, united in our opposition to the economically and scientifically unviable plans.

We were investing both time and energy into the future of the Heathrow villages, comfortable in the knowledge that the third runway will never be built. And if they try, we won't be gardening Sipson when we go back, but fortifying it. We'll swap strawberry plants and lilies for superglue and lock-ons, but the message will be the same, resident and activist alike: we don't want your runway, we don't want your runway, na na na na, na na na...

Colin Matthews: sneak preview!

So yesterday we were proud to announce a collaborative comedy performance starring none other than BAA's Colin Matthews - a man known throughout the business community as a bit of a laughing stock. Colin is performing his one man show at City University on Tuesday the 19th of May - and hundreds of you are eagerly preparing to cancel some pretty hot dates to make it there.

But while the activist community was getting itself nicely worked up, Colin thought you weren't excited enough. After a quick chat with our event department, he decided that what you needed a little more encouragement. So we arranged for a special sneak preview of his forthcoming show on the Guardian's blog site, comedyisfree. A taster, if you will, of all the mirth and merriment that is to come next Tuesday.

And what mirth! What merriment! Who could fail to laugh their socks off when Colin quipped that a third runway was needed because "Leeds/Bradford and Durham Tees Valley airports both lost their links to Heathrow as airlines shuffled their slots"? What a joker: they lost their links because - wait for it - the flight was more expensive and took longer than a nice trip on the train! And I hear that his punch line, "we should all be concerned that Frankfurt has direct links with six Chinese cities" brought the house down in many a West London community.

So cancel your dinner date and ignore that anarchist meeting you were going to attend. Hop on your private jet and fly into City University, Tuesday 19th of March for a one-night-only comedy extravaganza. Tickets are free, but be quick! 

One night only: BAA's Colin Matthews to star in secret comedy performance

OK people, get your diaries open. Following extensive talks between Plane Stupid and BAA, we can exclusively reveal that we've arranged for an exclusive gig by none other than all-time comedy legend, Colin Matthews, next Tuesday, at City University. Tickets are free, but strictly limited, so register early (and often!).

To get your free tickets, email eventsrsvp@city.ac.uk. These are dangerous times, so they'll be checking ID on the door, so don't go leaving your driver's license at home!

Colin is BAA's supremo, and well renowned as an excellent wit. We knew he'd be up to a real challenge, so we've asked him to talk about - wait for it - "the planned delivery of a £4 billion capital investment and construction programme and the development of a third runway at Heathrow, built within strict environmental limits", or, as one bright spark put it "the runway I would have built, before it all went so very, very wrong".

Of course, trying to build a runway within strict environmental limits will be hilarious in itself, but we're sure that Colin will bring that extra spark of genius to the table. After all, BAA are known for their hilarious press releases, including "why we tried to stop 5 million people using the Picadilly line" and "sorry our staff got caught impersonating Stansted residents".

So don't miss your once in a lifetime chance to laugh long and hard at Colin Matthews. You can sign up online, and tell your mates! It's guaranteed to be the best stand up performance by any BAA CEO on a Tuesday in May - or your money back!

Government to nationalise Heathrow?


It's not a good month to be an airport operator. First we heard that everyone who wanted to buy Gatwick had turned out to be chancers with n'ary a penny to rub together; now a small clause buried in the sort of document no one ever reads (BAA's financial report) reveals that the Government is so worried about BAA's finances that it's ready to take control of the airports should BAA or Ferrovial go bankrupt.

BAA almost went to the wall earlier this year, but scrapped together the mother of all refinancing deals. It's also just narrowly avoided making less than it expected, which would have worried investors no end. Last October BAA predicted that its "adjusted EBITDA" would be no more than 5% below £1,015m, or at least £964m. It only just scrapped through with an adjusted EBITDA of just £968m. Failing to do so would have spooked creditors and lead to loans being withdrawn at the earliest opportunity.

The Department for Transport has been reviewing how it regulates the airport owner, and BAA told its investors that it expects to be subject to a "new duty on the regulator to ensure that licence holders can finance their activities". No money, no license, no airport. Not only does BAA have no money, it owes £11.4 billion to various creditors - the equivalent of at least three bankers' annual bonuses.

People of Britain: you remember the seventies. Rubbish pilling up in the streets, oil shortages, strikes, the three-day week and bloody ABBA. A nationalised airport would clearly be exactly the same. There's only one thing you can do to stop it: fly early, and fly often.