Chinese Heathrow

By | Category: Travel rumblings
Heathrow Terminal 3

Heathrow Terminal 3

Yesterday the Chinese premier, Li Keqiang, flew into London with 200 Chinese businessmen intent on business deals. But even before his arrival, the ambassador, Liu Xiaoming, had raised an eyebrow or two with his comment that the Chinese wanted to see an increase in capacity at Heathrow so that the three Chinese carriers currently flying in could increase the number of flights that they offer.

The ambassador is also reported by the news agency, Reuters, to have said that he expects Heathrow to have a third runway. Is this a political hunch that the British government will give way? An application of political pressure by the Chinese?  Or maybe it is to boost the clout of the airport as the Chinese government via its China Investment Corporation owns part of Heathrow?

Why didn’t the ambassador suggest that Gatwick could be used? Or Stansted? These are London airports at least in name. Getting from Gatwick to central London doesn’t take that much longer so why couldn’t Chinese airlines use Gatwick instead of Heathrow and relieve some of the pressure on Heathrow?

Throughout this debate over capacity in the south-east of England, the premise seems to be that Heathrow is the vital airport and all others play second fiddle. If an airline or people can’t fly into Heathrow then they won’t come to the UK at all. This is palpable claptrap yet senior airline bosses like those of British Airways and Qatar Airlines adopt this mantra. Now the Chinese have taken it up as well. Given their political and business clout, who says no to them these days?

Yet it is quicker to travel by rail from Gatwick to London Victoria than it is using the tube from Heathrow. Admittedly, the Heathrow Express is faster but more expensive but the tube is the preferred choice of travel by most people.

I am not advocating that Gatwick be expanded, just that as part of the debate that has to be held that the other solutions to over-capacity at Heathrow are considered.

The Airport Commission is due to make a final recommendation on where and how to expand London’s airport capacity by next summer which,  as us cynics know, means after a general election so any government won’t have to face the electorate for another five years. So with any decision made the government will be hoping that the whole issue will have blown over by the time they face the polls again.

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