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I wonder if Sir Roger Gale MP understands aviation. He says that "the new Secretary of State for Transport, Justine Greening, needs to take a long, hard, look at the available and under-used facilities that already exist. That must, of course, include Manston." And then what? What does he think will happen after this purposeful looking?

The top end of the aviation industry is characterised by huge budgets and small margins. The successful players continually examine and re-examine every opportunity the market has to offer. It is a very pure form of market-driven capitalism, and as his ex-Boss once said "You can't buck the market".

The major (and minor) players in the aviation industry have been examining, and then rejecting, Manston for over a decade. In addition, throughout that time, each owner of Manston has been doing their utmost to attract business. Does Sir Roger really think that a thoughtful stare from a Secretary of State is going to transform a history of hard-headed rejections into a future of warm-hearted embraces?

Knight vision

I wonder if Sir Roger Gale MP understands aviation. He says that “the new Secretary of State for Transport, Justine Greening, needs to take a long, hard, look at the available and under-used facilities that already exist. That must, of course, include Manston.” And then what? What does he think will happen after this purposeful looking?

The top end of the aviation industry is characterised by huge budgets and small margins. The successful players continually examine and re-examine every opportunity the market has to offer. It is a very pure form of market-driven capitalism, and as his ex-Boss once said “You can’t buck the market”.

The major (and minor) players in the aviation industry have been examining, and then rejecting, Manston for over a decade. In addition, throughout that time, each owner of Manston has been doing their utmost to attract business. Does Sir Roger really think that a thoughtful stare from a Secretary of State is going to transform a history of hard-headed rejections into a future of warm-hearted embraces?


Since the application of the jet engine for civilian aircraft use, London’s Heathrow airport has been the dominant inter-lining facility within Europe and has been used by passengers changing planes to fly to just about every country in the world.

That international standing has been worth, over more than half a century, hundreds of millions of pounds and tens of thousands of jobs to the United Kingdom.

That World Class position is, though, now under threat. Heathrow Airport is bursting at the seams and the construction of Terminals Four and Five and the refurbishment of the older Terminals One, Two and Three cannot disguise the fact that LHR only has two runways and that, therefore, the capacity for aircraft movements is very strictly limited.

Other European airports – Paris Charles de Gaulle, for example, and Frankfurt — have four runways and Schiphol is snapping at London’s heels and eager to steal the business. If we are to retain our national position as a premier player in global aviation then, as I said in a ‘View’ back in February 2009, to do nothing is not an option.

It is not so very long ago that I presided over a Commons debate during which the Aviation Minister ruled out a new London airport in the Thames Estuary or in Kent.

Now, with government having eliminated the possibility of a third runway at Heathrow from the equation, ‘Boris Island’ or, more probably a ‘Grain Island Airport’ is back on the agenda and will go out to public consultation. There are, of course, those who would like to see the skies clear of all aeroplanes. For those people the answer is simple; never mind the cost to the economy, never mind the loss of employment, no more airports and no more runways. Let others launder the dirty linen of global travel. For the rest of us there is a harsh reality to be faced. If not Heathrow, then where?

Whether we like it or not international travellers do not wish to find themselves relegated to some peripheral location. Heathrow has been successful in part because of its proximity to Central London and to the global Financial Services located there.

In 2009 I Wrote that “I do not believe that ‘Boris Island’ is either desirable or politically achievable” and, broadly, I hold to that view. The Mayor of London has said that “sovereign funds”, by which he presumably means Middle and Far Eastern money, are available to provide the billions of pounds necessary in long- term investment to build a brand new London Airport.

Provided that airlines could be persuaded or compelled to relocate from Heathrow to ‘New London’ rather than to mainland Europe then he may well be right. Boris Johnson also says that “given the political will” a new airport could be built not in decades but in short order. That, I personally doubt. Our planning and consultation and necessary legislative procedures all take time and even with the necessary political will I would doubt that a new airport and the supporting rail infrastructure is likely to be up and running, if it is approved, inside 20 years.

The need for additional airport capacity in the South East is, though, immediate. I believe that the time has come for the new Secretary of State for Transport, Justine Greening, to take a long, hard, look at the available and under-used facilities that already exist. That must, of course, include Manston.

I have said before and can only repeat that while I do not suggest that Manston offers either the space or the location to serve as another London Airport it could relatively easily, with enhanced rail transport links, prove to be a viable regional airport capable of taking passenger traffic from Gatwick. That, in turn, would release slots. at Gatwick that could help to take some of the pressure off Heathrow.

Manston, with its job creating potential in an area that needs inward investment and employment, ought to be a more affordable and more immediately achievable contribution to the solution than the construction, at some time in the future, of a new facility in the Thames Estuary with a consequent transfer of work from the West of London to the East.

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No comments

  1. Maurice Byford

    Chicken or egg? what comes first.For Manston to be viable as a hub it needs an extremely fast rail or road service to London and other hubs airports. The faster service to London from Manston only shaves 10 to 15 minutes of travel time and still leaves London too far away to be viable.So how are you going to justify the expense of improved transport links when there is no current viable airport to link to?Most regional airports are poorly placed geographically for extensive onward transit principally because as regional airports they service remote geographical areas.The cost of creating the necessary transport infrastructure would exceed that of Boris Island by a sizeable factor. So Boris Island makes a cheaper option.Also consideration needs to be given to location of throughput traffic. For instance one of the appeals of travelling to Heathrow for foreign transit passengers is akin to the Hong Kong stop off. See London or stay in London overnight will almost certainly be more appealing than a stop over at the Travel Lodge Margate!No, nice try Roger. Boris Island is a huge cost and ridiculous expense when there are other better alternatives but the regional option is unlikely to be successful and could result in serious damage to our aviation industry.And for that reason, I'm out!

  2. Not to worry. According to todays gazette, TDC have now conveniently decided they are powerless to stop Infratil operating night flights so the way is clear for Manston to become the thriving hub of airtravel in the South East we all knew it would be. Who needs rail? We can have a big car park built on agricultural land nearby. I'm sure there will be some philanthropic landowner who cares about full employment and the Thanet economy, willing to make just a few quid out of the sale and then Thanet will have no one out of work and we will all be rich. Yaaay!

  3. M.S.Lockwood

    I have written to Mr Gale viz his views on Manston taking up the 'slack' of Heathrow and Gatwick expressing my views which are most contrary to his. I have pointed out that perhaps he should consider the views of his constituents who have chosen to live away from major airports. I think that the majority of his constituents do not want to have their lives disturbed by aircraft and all the supporting paraphenalia of an airport. Boris Island would bring us here in this part of Kent as much grief as developing Manston. Therefore, the option(s) are simple expand Heathrow or Gatwick or develop RAF Northholt which is only some 4 miles away. The latter due to its proximity must be the 'least cost' option in every way.

  4. Michael Child

    Just added you to thanetpress.blogspot.com blogroll, reciprocal link appreciated but not essential.[HBM says: Done. And thank you, Michael.]