Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Branson Wants Heathrow Airport Expansion

Sir Richard Branson, the chief executive of Virgin Atlantic, has become the latest senior airline industry figure to throw support behind the government's proposals to develop London Heathrow Airport.

Speaking to the Sunday Telegraph, Branson said: "it is more important than ever that London expands its capacity".

Echoing comments made last week by a pro-Heathrow development support group called Future Heathrow, the Virgin boss said that the government must approve the building of a third runway and sixth terminal at Heathrow for the continued economic well-being of the capital and, by extension, the entire country.

Branson said: "Businesses will move their global headquarters elsewhere in Europe, and they will take thousands of jobs with them if a third runway [is not built] at Heathrow".

He added: "Business travellers need an airport that flows seamlessly, not one that seizes up due to lack of space on the runways".

The Virgin chairman is just the latest senior figure within the aviation and business communities to claim that further expansion at Heathrow is needed to help the economy. Willie Walsh, British Airways' chief executive, has made similar comments previously - and last week the leaders of the CBI, a business lobby group, and the TUC, a trade union, both claimed the plans were vital to continuing economic success.
Heathrow Airport Consultation Ends 27th February

Branson's comments came just days before the government's three-month consultation into the Heathrow expansion closes, on Wednesday 27th February.

As such, the sides on either side of the development plans have become ever more vocal in their views.

On the anti-expansion side, campaigners are due to hold a rally at Westminster Central Hall on Monday evening.

On Wednesday, the day the consultation closes, a delegation of children from the area surrounding Heathrow is set to deliver a plea to the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, which will argue that the noise impact of Heathrow will worsen if the development goes ahead. The Evening Standard, a London newspaper, claimed that 100,000 schoolchildren would be affected by increased noise levels.

Councillor Barbara Reid from the 2M Group, a lobby group of 12 local authorities surrounding Heathrow who are opposed to more development at the airport, said: "The government is planning to embark on the biggest ever programme of airport expansion the country has ever seen. It is clear to everyone that this will mean more planes, more noise and more pollution".

Meanwhile, the three candidates for the new Mayor of London - including the existing mayor, Ken Livingstone - have all strongly opposed the proposals.

Last week, Livingstone said: "On every test, the argument for expanding Heath­row has not been made and I don't believe it ever can. We have a duty to protect our environment."

In his interview, Branson dismissed the claims of Livingstone and the other mayoral candidates, saying: "All of the mayoral candidates should be protecting jobs in London and promoting growth. That means supporting a third runway which will deliver the economic expansion London needs in the years ahead".
Greenpeace Stage Heathrow Airport Expansion Protest

A further illustration of the depth of feeling about the Heathrow airport expansion proposals came on the morning of 25th February, the day after Branson made his comments supporting the expansion.

As reported elsewhere on Airport International, Greenpeace activists staged a protest by climbing on top of a British Airways Airbus A320 and draping a banner around the aircraft's tailfin which read "Climate Emergency - No Third Runway".

This is yet another indication of how high feelings are running regarding the issue.

Source - Airport International's London Reporter

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