Reduced need for hubs ‘may let London remain aviation capital’

The introduction of longer-range point-to-point aircraft may save London from losing its status as Europe’s aviation capital, the ITT conference was told this week.

Former Labour transport secretary Lord Andrew Adonis said that if Heathrow’s third runway did not go ahead there was no plan B for additional hub capacity in the city.

He claimed the delay in expanding Heathrow is due to prime minister Boris Johnson’s constituency being close to the airport and predicted Heathrow would lose its position to rival airports.

“There is no plan B for additional hub capacity in London. Plan B is Britain becomes a poorer country because it has less aviation capacity.

“London is still the largest aviation centre in Europe by virtue of it having so many different airports.”

Lord Adonis said the slack is likely to be taken up by Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport or Istanbul airport, both of which have six runways to Heathrow’s two.

However, he said that aviation technology enabling longer flights on smaller aircraft might reduce the need for hubs.

“Without having had a conscious plan B, Britain may end up remaining the major aviation centre in Europe,” he said. “But if hubbing is still important in the future then places like Istanbul could be the future.”

Istanbul airport has been the biggest infrastructure development in Europe for a decade and the facility is projected to carry 100 million passengers annually when it is completed.

Lord Adonis said transformational investments and emerging transport technology will continue to shape the future of travel, citing the recently opened Elizabeth Line in London.

He also highlighted a new maglev (magnetic levitation) train that has been given the go-ahead in Japan that will travel at twice the speed of existing bullet trains which were first developed in 1964 for the Tokyo Olympics.

But he warned that public money will be harder to come by due to the pandemic and political decisions, adding the cancelling of parts of HS2 and the north-south Crossrail will constrain progress.

“The pace of change is still there. It’s not necessarily been affected by the pandemic,” he said. “The new normal looks like it will evolve and will now combine working in a workplace and from home.”

Despite changing behaviours, transport networks must still cope with peak traffic. London had its busiest ever travel volume day two weeks ago, higher than pre-Covid in 2019, said Lord Adonis.

And he said despite the “decimation of the industry” during Covid when the government failed to provide direct support other than the furlough scheme, travel was in “good health”.

“It looks as if we have come though the worst of Covid. We still have plenty of demand for travel and transport.

“It does look to me as if being in business today on the basis of new technology and brilliant business ideas is as great an opportunity as it has been in the past.”

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