The British government has kicked the proverbial can down the road yet again, deferring the decision on the Heathrow Airport expansion until October of this year. The latest excuse? The Brexit, of course.
Prime Minister David Cameron was expected to make a decision this month on whether or not to expand either Heathrow or Gatwick airport month. However, his sudden decision to resign on the day the U.K. voted to leave the European Union has thrown this contentious decision – and many others – into a kind of post-Brexit political limbo.
Instead, the conclusion will likely be deferred until a new leader from the Conservative Party is chosen. ITV News reported that U.K. Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin announced that, “given recent events, I cannot now foresee an announcement.”
The deferment comes as especially unpleasant news to freight forwarders who have long complained of congestion at Heathrow. The Freight Transport Association’s (FTA) York Aviation report found that Heathrow is currently operating at 98 percent capacity. The report also found that airfreight accounts for nearly 40 percent of U.K. imports and exports by value. Approximately 95 percent of the nation’s air cargo is carried in the bellyhold of passenger aircraft, with Heathrow handling twice the passenger capacity of Gatwick, the U.K.’s next-largest airport at 70 million and 34 million respectively in 2012.
Stakeholders have been quick to respond. “The Government’s deferment of a decision on airport expansion in the southeast is bad news for the economy and will further erode confidence in Britain’s ability to compete in global markets,” read an FTA statement released yesterday, arguing that the Brexit vote made an airport expansion more necessary to the U.K. than ever, and that the delay was sure to hurt the national economy.
Chris Welsh, the FTA’s Director of Global and European Policy, condemned the decision, saying, “This is the third time a decision has been put off since the Davis Commission report was published last year. Increased airport capacity in the southeast has become a political football, and the situation must not be allowed to continue. Britain needs connections with the world now [that] it has walked away from the EU.”
Welsh called on the government to “get on with its job and protect British industry – exporters and importers are crying out for leadership on this issue.”
The response from Airport Operators Association (AOA) CEO Darren Caplan was equally unequivocal. “The AOA is deeply disappointed that a year on from the Airports Commission’s Final Report will be delayed until at least October.”
Caplan expressed disappointment that “this additional delay comes at a time when all are agreed that clear action is needed to demonstrate the U.K. is open for business and confident about its future. At this time of increased uncertainty, the government should be putting its foot on the accelerator of the U.K. economy – not delaying making important infrastructure decisions that can help it succeed. We continue to urge the government to make a decision on airport capacity as soon as possible.”