Heathrow was a poor locational choice for a new major airport even when it opened in 1944 and replaced Croydon and Hendon airports. Also the land for this new London Airport was forcibly purchased by the national government under special powers – the Defence of the Realm Act – without compensation to the landowners specifically to avoid public opposition.
A similar approach is happening today. Notwithstanding, the impact of an enlarged airport on noise, air and ground pollution the proposed airport expansion does not make economic sense. The assumptions used in the Davies report – discount rates for investment, payback periods and PFI rates etc could be considered designed to ensure that the recommendation of the report could only be Heathrow.
If it is considered that south-east England needs extra airport capacity then it should be in the Thames estuary if at all and while such an airport is being built then perhaps Gatwick could be expanded as a less dreadful choice than Heathrow.
At present Heathrow is running at too high a capacity – far higher than other airports. Heathrow should have the number of flights reduced so that it ordinarily runs at 80% capacity. At such capacity the amount of stacking would be reduced, thus dramatically reducing air pollution and noise (saving fuel too) and also the airport would be able to cope better when the weather is not so favourable.
To do this the national government – with one year’s notice – should randomly withdraw six slots (flight movements in or out) a month (a week would be better but more unsettling for the industry). The reason that withdrawn slots should be randomly chosen is to avoid any possibility that airlines could be seen to affect the choice of slot to be removed. At the same time four of those slots would be leased by auction for, say, five years to the highest bidder. The revenue would not go to the airport but to the state. The revenues could be partly used to either compensate those who lived near the airport before it was built or to develop better landside connections to reduce air pollution from arriving road traffic or both.