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London's other air show

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Monday was the first day of the Farnborough Airshow, and the aviation world's attention was squarely focused on the bustling, famous site south of London where aircraft hummed overhead as lucrative business deals were struck below. But upon returning to London Monday evening from the show, I saw that the real action of the day may not have taken place at Farnborough. Here in London, the row (as they say in the UK) over expanding Heathrow intensified with charismatic London mayor Boris Johnson throwing down the gauntlet against any kind of expansion at London's lead airport.

Reacting to indications that the UK government is considering “mixed-mode” operations at Heathrow—allowing takeoffs and landings to occur on the same runway—Johnson said, according the London Evening Standard: “Of all the bad ideas for expanding aviation capacity, this is the worst. I will oppose this using all powers available to the mayoralty. I will oppose it on air quality grounds and because it will mean more noise pollution. Above all I will oppose it because it is the wrong solution for London—a noisy and smelly intellectual cul-de-sac.”

And don't bring up any other “half-baked” Heathrow expansion proposals with the mayor, such as adding a third or even fourth runway. “Heathrow is already full and it is in fundamentally the wrong place for further expansion,” he said, according to the Evening Standard.

What's Johnson's preferred option to increase London's airport capacity? He wants to build an airport with four runways on a man-made island in the Thames Estuary. The mayor's critics deride the proposed airport as “Boris Island.”

Richard Deakin, CEO of UK ATC provider NATS, told The Telegraph newspaper on Monday in blunt terms that Johnson's idea for a new airport is unworkable: “If you have four runways in the Thames Estuary, the approach and departure pattern would be right over the middle of London … [Consequently], you couldn't have both an estuary airport and Heathrow at its current [air traffic] level. The two together just wouldn't work. I'm not looking to pick a fight with Boris [but will provide honest answers when asked about London airport plans … The Thames Estuary airport] wouldn't mean Heathrow has to close. But Heathrow would have to reduce capacity and that would be a difficult conversation for the airlines based there. Hands up, who wants to reduce capacity at Heathrow? There's a huge amount of investment going in there at the moment with new terminals. It's British Airways' hub … To say to NATS, ‘We want you to manage a four-runway airport in the estuary and keep Heathrow at its current volume because that's going to be the UK's planning assumption,' would give us cause for concern because I don't think we would be able deliver that.”

Conservative member of parliament Kwasi Kwarteng told The Telegraph: “Building new runways at Heathrow would take about a third of the time as Boris Island and cost far less. Boris Island is grotesquely expensive.”

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