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Aviation and Politics: Will Heathrow Grow?

On May 12 this year, here on KJM Today, The Aviation Oracle questioned whether or not the planned expansion of London’s Heathrow Airport would actually happen.

Since then (and it was only just under two months ago yet still KJM Today was the first to raise it) a number of things have happened to emphasise the matter further.

Above - Heathrow sees more Airbus A380 flights than any other airport (Kevan James)

The most significant was the departure of Theresa May as leader of the Conservatives, thus opening the way for a successor to be chosen by the party. Once that has been done, a new Prime Minister will take office and lead the country. The problem is of course, who that person will be.

Having narrowed the choice for Tory party members to choose one from to the final two, it is one of those men who hold the future of the UK’s air transport and its supporting infrastructure in their hands.

Of the two final candidates, Jeremy Hunt has, up until now, not made any comments regarding Heathrow’s expansion, although his opponent, Boris Johnson, has. Johnson of course made his now infamous remark about ‘lying down in front of the bulldozers’ to prevent work starting on the airport’s new runway then absented himself from the House of Commons when the time came to actually vote on it.

Transport infrastructure has never been a simple matter of an operator, be it a railway company or an airport owner (local authority or private owner) deciding to build something and then getting on with it. To build a rail line or an airport runway has always required an Act of Parliament. Consequently, developing any kind of transport network has also always been subject to politics and political games. This is a point that has featured heavily in the story of Heathrow since the idea was first conceived during World War II.

(The full details can be found in my book, ‘Heathrow Airport, An Illustrated History’, published in 2016. This edition has almost sold out now but an updated second edition, ‘Heathrow Airport 70 Years and Counting’ brings the tale up to date, to 2019. The second edition is due out this year).

The problem with politicians holding sway over transport is that rarely, if ever, are they experts in the field. Indeed, one can go further and suggest that real knowledge and expertise has never been found in them. As a consequence, their decision making is heavily influenced by those around them in the form of civil servants, adv