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Talking point: Thames Island Airport a step closer?

The notion of developing a new airport in the Thames Estuary has been debated for decades. What do you think?

28-Oct-2009


Could most of Heathrow's traffic be moved to a new airport in the Thames estuary? Key Archive

As reported in the December issue of Airliner World, ambitious plans to construct a new airport in the Thames Estuary to ease the congestion at London/Heathrow have moved a step closer after a study revealed that it is technically feasible.

At the request of the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, engineer Douglas Oakervee, who previously helped with the construction of Chek Lap Kok on reclaimed land in Hong Kong, has made a detailed study into the proposal.

In his 64-page report, released in October, he claimed that “the area of the Thames Estuary does not present any insoluble issues regarding weather, geology, hydrography, shipping lanes, fishing activities, leisure services or other physical obstructions”. Mr Johnson has now appointed Sir David King, the former government chief scientist, to head up a steering group that will complete a more detailed study with a strong emphasis being placed on the airport’s possible impact on the area's ecology and bird population.

The £40 billion airport, dubbed ‘Boris Island’ and ‘Heathrow-on-Sea’, will be located several miles off the Essex/Kent coast and will have four 13,780ft (4,200m) runways, possibly increasing to six in the future. The London Mayor believes the project is the only answer to London’s capacity constraints, especially with BAA confirming that it will not now make a planning application for the proposed new runway at Heathrow until after the next General Election. Although the ruling Labour Party support the project in principle, the Conservatives, who are widely expected to gain control, have stated publicly that they will oppose any plans for further expansion at the airport.

According to Oakervee’s Thames Estuary Airport Feasibility Review, the evidence provided by the Department of Transport’s published figures on passenger growth and future capacity of London’s airports shows a shortfall in capacity of about 70mppa by 2030, even when all other potential expansion is put in place. “This puts into perspective the debate on Heathrow and its uses, as well as the need for further capacity in due course,” it says, adding that “even if these figures are optimistic they indicate an order of magnitude that demonstrates the need for another airport by or before 2030.”

What do you think? Post your thoughts below.



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30 Comments

Rod said on the 11-Sep-2009 at 21:26

Solves disruption to operations and surrounding community at Heathrow at a stroke besides reducing
construction time for additional caracity which has long been needed. Well done Boris!

Frank said on the 20-Nov-2009 at 19:49

A Thames estuary airport makes no sense:
(1) there are already FOUR airports east of London: London LCY, Manston MSE, Southend SEN, and stansted STN. Why do we need a fifth?
(2) It is too far away from London and other centres of UK population. Heathrow LHR is the nation's major hub airport (and arguably Ireland's as well) not just London's, hence its location west of the capital.
(3) If an airport so far away from London is required than it's better to use Manston MSE, or Bournemouth-Hurn BOH. Both already have runways capable of taking the largest jets.
(4) An island in the Thames would be an environmental nightmare, expensive to build, and ecologically unsound, and cannot be justified. By the way, who would be paying for it?
(5) Hydrologists will be able to advise on the effect of an artificial island on tidal flows in the estuary, chances are that it is probably more significant than has been admitted.
(6) There could be a threat of serious flooding and surge tides in the area, this why the Woolwich barrier had to built.
(7) The area is haven for livestock especially birds, a birdstrike problem in that area is a major likelihood , which presents safety implications.
(8) Adequate surface transport access will not be ready until long after the airport opens. It's the same all over the world.
(9) High speed rail is not an alternative to aviation, the two complement eachother and will continue to do so as the roads get more congested. More runways at Heathrow can be built much quicker than high speed railways or White Elephant (Bojo) International Airport (WHE?)
(10) It is not a case of "build it and they will come", airlines are falling over themselves to gain access to Heathrow, as demonstarated by the EU-US openskies arrangements, and paying millions in the process to acquire slots, and this will not change. Remember the Montreal-Mirabel YMQ experience, and that airport was much nearer the city centre!

Heathrow needs two more runways, and it needs them yesterday, there is no getting way from it, and it will happen, probably later rather than sooner regretably. Live with it.

keith otto said on the 21-Nov-2009 at 09:46

There has been a lack of vision by successive governments in understanding the aviation needs of the south East of England. Heathrow is a 1960's airport which by the early 80's was clearly stretched and a decision should have been taken then to build an entirely new gateway for London.

Instead successive terminals were added but no new runways to the the point where there is now a mismatch between terminal capacity and runway capacity. The airport has the poorest transfer facilities of the 4 'FLAP' airports be it air-air or ground-air.

I do not think that a 'Maplin' would make any sense either financially or in terms of the environment. A new short runway at LHR would do little to solve the capacity problem. Much better would be high speed rail links directly to the airport and central London

Yurgen said on the 25-Nov-2009 at 12:21

@ Frank:

"Thames estuary airport makes no sense:
(1) there are already FOUR airports east of London: London LCY, Manston MSE, Southend SEN, and stansted STN. Why do we need a fifth?"

Because none of those are appropriate for expanding into an airport of the size London and Britain need - mainly due to constraints of the surrounding areas and flight paths that cross residential areas. An airport where planes take off and land over the sea can be as big as necessary without involving these problems.

"(2)It is too far away from London and other centres of UK population. Heathrow LHR is the nation's major hub airport (and arguably Ireland's as well) not just London's, hence its location west of the capital."

It would apprently be about 20 minutes by high speed rail, which is not far by international standards. Most large city airports are about that far.

"(3) If an airport so far away from London is required than it's better to use Manston MSE, or Bournemouth-Hurn BOH. Both already have runways capable of taking the largest jets."

Planes from manston fly over the residential town of Ramsgate and there are already concerns about plans to expand use of the ONE runway that is there. There is no way it could be developed to the size required without completely destroying the town. And it's a hell of a lot further from London than Boris Island would be.

"(4) An island in the Thames would be an environmental nightmare, expensive to build, and ecologically unsound, and cannot be justified. By the way, who would be paying for it?"

Apparently there are sources of international private finance - particularly from the Middle East and China - that are very interested.

"(7) The area is haven for livestock especially birds, a birdstrike problem in that area is a major likelihood , which presents safety implications."

Maybe so. This is indeed something that needs to be looked into.

"(8) Adequate surface transport access will not be ready until long after the airport opens."

Crystal ball?

The Thames Gateway area is undergoing huge regeneration already, even without the airport. There are new high speed rail links through the Medway towns and Ebbsfleet international and it would be a most logical step to join up this up with a new airport.

"(9) High speed rail is not an alternative to aviation, the two complement eachother and will continue to do so as the roads get more congested. More runways at Heathrow can be built much quicker than high speed railways or White Elephant (Bojo) International Airport (WHE?)"

More runways at Heathrow would mean even more disruption to even more Londoners. What you keep missing is that Boris island is the only solution profferred so far, that doesn't involved noisy pollutting flight paths over residential areas.

Just for the record, I don't like Boris and I didn't vote for him. But on this one I have to admit, he's come up with the logical solution.

Yurgen said on the 25-Nov-2009 at 12:22

Sorry about the repeat posts. The stupid site kept coming up with an error message and it didn't realise it had successfully posted. Doesn't seem to be any way to delete them?

Vincent said on the 25-Nov-2009 at 17:26

I'm with Yurgen - anything I say about Boris would be edited away very quickly, but he's right that Heathrow is no longer the answer.
I stick with my Cliffe thought (see above - type 'Cliffe Kent' into Google Earth and it's pretty obvious). Yes, it has birds, but in the same way that Putney once had cows - the birds aren't stupid and will move elsewhere. Incidentally the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust at Barnes has lots of birds too - that's just 2,000 feet below the LHR approach and they seem to get along just fine.

Gary Parsons (Editor) said on the 25-Nov-2009 at 17:31

Apologies for the duplication of comments - the server at Key towers can be a bit slow at times. I've deleted all the duplicates, so hopefully it looks a bit better. Good debate!

Vincent said on the 11-Dec-2009 at 17:47

Thames Estuary make sense as London's centre of gravity has been moving east for some time. Rather than plant in the middle of the estuary though, why not resurrect the old Cliffe (Isle of Grain) plan? Space for 4 runways, just 5 miles from high speed rail line (20 mins to St Pancras) and same from newly widened A2.

Frank said on the 27-Dec-2009 at 19:17

Comments about Yurgen's about Frank's:

===============
"Thames estuary airport makes no sense:
(1) there are already FOUR airports east of London: London LCY, Manston MSE, Southend SEN, and stansted STN. Why do we need a fifth?"

Because none of those are appropriate for expanding into an airport of the size London and Britain need - mainly due to constraints of the surrounding areas and flight paths that cross residential areas. An airport where planes take off and land over the sea can be as big as necessary without involving these problems.
-----
Yes, it could be massive - and empty! Where's the incentive for airlines and passengers to shift there?
================================
"(2) It is too far away from London and other centres of UK population. Heathrow LHR is the nation's major hub airport (and arguably Ireland's as well) not just London's, hence its location west of the capital."

It would apprently be about 20 minutes by high speed rail, which is not far by international standards. Most large city airports are about that far.
----------
It is fantasy to imagine that any surface journey from Boris airport to London could be undertaken in 20 minutes, in a helicopter maybe.

What about the cost of riding the high speed link? There is a huge premium for travellers on the new "javelin" commuter link to Ashford. The airport link would be a branch line of this. Also, check out the fares on the Heathrow and Gatwick expresses! What about travellers not headed for the middle of London?

Not so, most large city airports are much nearer: Heathrow LHR; Amsterdam AMS; Paris-Roissy CDG; Frankfurt FRA; New York-Kennedy JFK; Hong Kong HKG; Singapore SIN; Bangkok BKK; Mexico MEX; Sao Paolo GRU; Buenos Aires EZE; Tokyo-Haneda HND; Cairo CAI; Bombay BOM, for example, are all within 25 mi. of their city centres (think that's a reasonable selection of "big cities" and/or big airports). Even far-flung airports such as Tokyo-Narita NRT and Kuala Lumpur KUL are nearer than Boris's "white elephant".
====================
"(3) If an airport so far away from London is required than it's better to use Manston MSE, or Bournemouth-Hurn BOH. Both already have runways capable of taking the largest jets."

Planes from manston fly over the residential town of Ramsgate and there are already concerns about plans to expand use of the ONE runway that is there. There is no way it could be developed to the size required without completely destroying the town. And it's a hell of a lot further from London than Boris Island would be.
--------------------
Yes, fair point about Manston MSE, although there is no need to lengthen its existing runway, it is more than long enough already. Bournemouth BOH is a better example, but am not suggesting four parallel runways at any airport other than Heathrow. No other UK airport needs that many. Funnily enough Bournemouth was the London long haul airport before Heathrow was opened. But we don't want such distant airports....do we?
=========================
"(4) An island in the Thames would be an environmental nightmare, expensive to build, and ecologically unsound, and cannot be justified. By the way, who would be paying for it?"

Apparently there are sources of international private finance - particularly from the Middle East and China - that are very interested.
--------------------------
It's probably best to take with a pinch of salt comments about available "sources of finance". Significantly, there are no suggestions of finance from UK sources.....

China is building its own airports as it upgrades its infrastructure as it continues to grow its economy.

As for the Middle East, the countries there that have money to invest in aviation have poured it into their own airlines. They have built up a profitable business model transporting passengers between Europe and Asia/Australasia via their hub airports, offering cheaper fares than the direct services. Qatar Airways/Doha DOH; Etihad Airways/Abu Dhabi AUH; and Emirates Airlines/Dubai DXB are good examples of this. Can't see those governments financing a project that (if it worked) could potentially undermine this.
========================
"(7) The area is haven for livestock especially birds, a birdstrike problem in that area is a major likelihood , which presents safety implications."

Maybe so. This is indeed something that needs to be looked into.
---------------
"looked into"? It will need a lot more than that to get approval from regulatory organisations, and to inspire confidence from the business sector and potential users!
========================
"(8) Adequate surface transport access will not be ready until long after the airport opens."

Crystal ball?

The Thames Gateway area is undergoing huge regeneration already, even without the airport. There are new high speed rail links through the Medway towns and Ebbsfleet international and it would be a most logical step to join up this up with a new airport.
--------------
"Crystal ball"? that's a bit unfair! It's actually based on evidence and observation. Check out all the "new" airports that have opened without adequate public transport links. They are always put in much later. Bangkok Survarnabhumi BKK is the most recent example of many.

Interestingly, the leaders of Essex and Kent County Councils have come out strongly against, despite the apparent Thames gateway regeneration. Planning permission is therefore unlikely, and the same considerations affecting Heathrow expansion (lengthy planning enquiries, for example) will apply here too.
===========================
"(9) High speed rail is not an alternative to aviation, the two complement eachother and will continue to do so as the roads get more congested. More runways at Heathrow can be built much quicker than high speed railways or White Elephant (Bojo) International Airport (WHE?)"

More runways at Heathrow would mean even more disruption to even more Londoners. What you keep missing is that Boris island is the only solution profferred so far, that doesn't involved noisy pollutting flight paths over residential areas.
-------------------
Not so, it will be several years before Heathrow is expanded, even if the public enquiry and planning permission were to be fast-tracked. By the time another runway is opened, legislation, new technology and aviation economics will ensure that aircraft are cleaner, quieter and a great deal more efficient than today's. The new Boeing B787 ("dreamliner") and Airbus A350 are just the start.

Just because Boris airport is "the only solution profferred so far" does not make it right one. Actually it's the silliest one of many, varying plans for expansion at Heathrow, Stansted and Gatwick (after 2019) for example).
=========================
Hope this helps!

David Crouch said on the 15-Feb-2010 at 16:03

Due to warnings of higher water levels in the Thames in the next 20-50 yrs, I think they should build a new airport on a gaigantic floating barge anckherd to fast land I,m sure it can be done
when the best get to work on it,and it will be a lot cheaper

Vincent said on the 15-Feb-2010 at 17:25

if the water level rises that far there will be no people left in London & the south east who need to fly anywhere.

David Crouch said on the 16-Feb-2010 at 14:13

All in all, I find it stupid that no matter where one builds an airport, people always want to build closer to it,not so with railways????? am i missing something? and then the same people complain afterwards, such a crazy world

chris nunn said on the 27-Feb-2010 at 15:22

there are just to many problems with an island airport
expand stansted and manston then bring in high speed train and an outer m25 to link them up

David Crouch said on the 27-Feb-2010 at 20:59

HEY. i,m not talking about an island, i said a floating barge,it would not efeckt the flo of waters or cause enviromental problems or dissturb the flo of waters.
My goodness lets not think into the future.
stansted and manston have already caused enough outcry from those who live inside a 30mile sone, might keep them awake, lets not think that they won,t live for ever

chris nunn said on the 28-Feb-2010 at 08:07

with all the wind farms being built the airport in the thames won't happen anyway
i live right next to stansted and the outcry is from people who have moved into the area
if you dont like aircraft noise dont move next to an airport

David Crouch said on the 28-Feb-2010 at 10:16

Since you mention windfarms, I hope they don,t ever think of building them within 50 mls of any airport as they can cause problems with radarbeams,reflections.
But then again it might stop people moveing close to AIRPORTS

Frank said on the 21-Apr-2010 at 20:13

Rubin asks which planet we are on, it's earth, and does he not recognise it? Heathrow may well have 4 parallel runways one day. Never say never, except to a Thames island airport of course.

Once the battle over the third runway has been won, the fourth will be sneaked in on the back of it. The plans show the proposed third runway is located far from the rest of the airport, it leaves plenty of room for a fourth.

Makes sense: two for take offs, two for landings, larger aircraft on the two existing runways only (they're longer), smaller on any. It's pretty obvious irrespective of which planet we're on.

Yes Boris is an astute politician who allegedly can spell and wants to be prime minister, so what? He knows full well that 5 airports east of London are untenable, but he's had some good publicity out of it, and got this debate going.

As for Bournemouth (BOH) and Manston (MSE), both have one very long runway each, that can, and do take B747s (usually on diversion). The problem is that they are too far away, and don't have the links and destinations available at Heathrow. Hong Kong's airport is a similar distance (or less) from it's city centre as Heathrow is from London's.

Political correctness and emotion do not come into it. If anything, it's the opposite! The politically correct lobby are AGAINST Heathrow expansion.

At the risk of upsetting the the politically correct lobby, forget about high speed rail as an alternative to Heathrow expansion:
(1) they reckon construction will start in 2017 and take 15 years, so there will no relief for existing lack of transport capacity;
(2) it's going to Birmingham, there have been no Heathrow-Birminham flights for many years;
(3) it's city centre to city centre with few intermediate stops, if any. It will be of no use to most: the faster times will be cancelled out by the time taken to get to where it actually does stop;
(4) it's not going to Heathrow;
(5) there may be a premium fare to pay on it, as is the case with the Javelin.

The truth is that extra air and rail capacity is desparately needed to relieve our overcrowded roads. This means new runways at Heathrow AND (not OR) new railways.

No emotion, no political correctness, no space travel: it's plain common sense and blindingly obvious.




David Crouch said on the 22-Apr-2010 at 15:54

Having read all these mails, i would like to follow up with some more.
no mater how much is said or written on this subject, i don,t think many of us will live long enough to experience any of it.
It will take forever to plan and twice as long to effect it, so lets just put it in the bottom draw and dream on.
And whats wrong with FARNBOROUGH it has a LOOOOOOOONG runway, and a good transport structure. thanks

chris nunn said on the 22-Apr-2010 at 17:26

I agree with frank and david
it will never happen
what you have now we will keep it will just be bigger with second runways at stn-lgw
exec traffic will be given fab-biggin hill
and lhr will get its third runway
it might sound harsh but thats life

Frank said on the 3-Aug-2010 at 19:19

Don't worry chaps it will NEVER happen! It's an old recycled idea from the 1970s - anyone remember Foulness/Maplin? It was abandoned in favour of Stansted, and so this scheme will be as well (quite soon in fact), in favour of Heathrow. Looking forward to the day Heathrow has 4 parallel runways. You know it makes sense.

Frank said on the 20-Aug-2010 at 19:36

Farnborough...there's an idea.

What about Northolt for short haul, it's 6mi. from Heathrow and has a railway nearby. It would however need a decent surface link to Heathrow (perhaps a skytrain above the A312?)

Other airports have civil and military together: Belfast-Aldergrove, Newquay, Bangkok-Don Muang...

It could serve as a stopgap till the 3rd and 4th runways are available at Heathrow.

David Crouch said on the 3-Sep-2010 at 14:46

OK. we seem to think in the same direction, but i also think that when it comes to the final points the amount of aircraft in the skys will be the desiding factor, even today it looks scary on a radar screen, or if your ever lucky enough to have a clear sky, look up, not a lot of space.
good luck.

rubin said on the 4-Sep-2010 at 19:19

I wonder what planet some of these people live on. Heathrow will never have four parallel runways. Manston and Bournmouth are impossibilities as they have neither the space nor runway length, let alone transport links. People mock Boris and his ideas, but he is one of the canniest, constructive and down to earth politicians that we have. He speaks with common sense and without bias. The new Hong Kong airport was constructed with imagination and foresight and such radical and lateral thinking is needed when planning a new gateway for London. Boris also is literate and spells correctly, a talent not present in many these days.
Of course I shall be derided, but common sense and proper planning need to be employed when addressing such projects as a new London airport, not emotion and political correctness. Such a facility is key to our country's future prosperity and will be a credit to the country, rather than an unavoidable and disliked place which is Heathrow today.

chris nunn said on the 4-Oct-2010 at 13:46

with gatwick and stansted still underused and plenty of room for second runways there is no chance of building a very expensive island
The biggest problem is leaving these things to politicians who to be honest I would not trust to walk across the road on their own
in the end the cheapest will win

rubin said on the 4-Oct-2010 at 15:33

Maybe the new owners of Gatwick will mount their own plans and Stansted will get its second runway eventually. The point about Heathrow, though, is that it is a hub where passengers change planes to fly out to the spokes without leaving the airport. Stansted doesn't offer that possibility and Gatwick only to a limited extent.

Frank said on the 20-Jan-2011 at 12:50

Interestingly, Boris has started banging on about this nonsense again - what 's it a diversion for?

frank said on the 24-Jan-2012 at 14:47

Ho ho ho, this one's out of the woodwork again, must be election year! Consultation in March, voting in May, how convenient.

D. Crouch said on the 24-Jan-2012 at 15:27

I think anyone putting a huge bet on a new heathrow runway within the next 20yrs would be very rich

frabk said on the 22-May-2012 at 20:14

....and close to motorways.

let me know when you find a booky!

David said on the 4-Oct-2012 at 19:15

Ok, all of you out there, seems that we all have lots to say about new runways, or new airports.
But I think we all know that none of it is going to happen.
Why the hell are polititions so involved in anything to do with AIRPORTS
Don,t remember them getting so involved in our ports and harbours.
Its time to let those concerned to do what they think is the right thing to do, to get the UK economy growing.
Im trying to find a booky to place my bet.
It,s worth a few thousend quid.
To finnish, WHY the hell, do outhorities, alow people to build houses close to Airports??????

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