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Mayor of London

A new hub airport for the UK

Mayor of London Boris Johnson is campaigning to ensure London has the aviation connectivity to meet its future economic needs.

Airports Commission interim report

The Airports Commission was set up by the UK Government in September 2012 to examine the need for additional UK airport capacity and recommend how this can be met in the short, medium and long term.

In December 2013 it published an interim report stating that a detailed analysis of the Mayor’s proposals to build a new hub airport in the Thames Estuary are being carried out during the first half of 2014.

The report described the estuary proposals as offering a ‘scale of benefits potentially greater than for any of the other options that the Commission has considered’.

In addition to announcing a full study of the Mayor’s Thames Estuary option, the Commission shortlisted two separate proposals to build a third runway at Heathrow and another for a second runway at Gatwick.

The Mayor is strongly against expanding existing airports. He said: ‘The creation of a monstrous Heathrow on a constrained site won’t solve our capacity crisis and would inflict untold misery on hundreds of thousands more Londoners through the din of many more jet engines in parts of the Capital and home counties that have not so far experienced it.

‘A new hub in the inner estuary can be built for the same cost as a four-runway Heathrow, and would bring new jobs, homes, and long-term competitiveness.’

Aerial view of LondonSufficient aviation capacity is vital for the UK's future economic needs.

Message from the Mayor

London - and the country at large - depend on aviation. The connectivity it provides is vital for the success of our businesses and enriches both our economy and society.

Demand for flights, and the range of destinations to which people want to fly, is set to grow considerably in the coming years.

Only an efficient effective hub airport serving London will be able to consolidate the critical mass of demand which will enable airlines to offer the range of routes and frequencies our economy needs.

I find the evidence compelling. Even before I became Mayor of London, it was clear to me that expanding Heathrow was not the solution to the Capital's pressing need for increased hub capacity.

A constrained site too close to thousands of homes, which already affects 28% of those in Europe affected by aircraft noise, was never going to provide us with the full-service, round-the clock, multiple-runway hub airport that so many of our competitors now boast.

Every moment we delay, our rivals are improving their connectivity. They are doing so at our expense.

We are facing a huge challenge and need to come up with the right response.

The Government has established the Airports Commission, led by Sir Howard Davies, to try and do this.

I remain deeply concerned that the Commission schedule is unnecessarily unambitious, and that the time for action is now, not 2015.

My focus is to provide both solid evidence of how we are losing out to our competitors and the steps we must take to prevent this.

We must not become a mere local station on a branch line connected to one of the major airports on the other side of the Channel.

We cannot allow that to happen if we wish to see London and the UK prosper in the future.

The Government has made an overriding resolution to 'drive growth and create jobs right across our country'. A new hub airport has a key role to play in realising this.

Government must take the lead in enabling delivery of a new hub airport and safeguarding the UK's economic prosperity for many years to come.

Since 2010 I have published two reports, 'A New Airport for London' parts 1 and 2.

They make the case for the vital role played by aviation in the UK economy and the economic benefits that a new hub airport serving London could bring.

When the Airports Commission was established by the Government I asked Transport for London to lead an accelerated work programme to inform and complement the work of the Commission.

A detailed assessment has been made of potential sites for a new hub airport to the East of London, and this analysis underpinned the three submissions I made to the Commission in July 2013.

London and the UK need a new hub airport, and I am setting out some of the key pieces of evidence here.

The Mayor's hub airport proposals

As a result of work undertaken by us, the Mayor believes there are three strong options for a new hub airport serving London located to the east of the Capital.

In July 2013, the Mayor submitted detailed technical proposals for each of these three sites to the Airports Commission.

Read the Mayor's three hub airport proposals.

Technical supporting evidence

We’ve published a number of technical reports providing a greater level of detail in support of the Mayor's three submissions to the Airports Commission.

Why London needs a new hub airport

London's international economy depends on access to a comprehensive global network of flights.

This in turn relies on a fully-functioning hub airport.

Without an efficient hub, vital access to new markets will be limited.

  • Heathrow is currently operating at 98.5% capacity, undermining its effectiveness. Its route network is already surpassed by those of its rivals
  • The situation will only get worse. The only new runway in London for over 40 years has been the short strip at London City and the strain on the Capital's airports system is showing. London's hub could accommodate more than 170 million passengers per year by 2050, while honouring the UK's climate change commitments
  • Expanding Heathrow is not the answer and would have dire consequences for hundreds of thousands of people. We need an alternative that ensures the UK has a fully-functioning hub airport that maximises our economic potential and maintains London's status as a global city

The issue is urgent. We need to respond, or London and the UK risk being sidelined by countries that are investing in their airport networks for future economic prosperity.

The Mayor is working hard to ensure that the Airports Commission and the Government are able to make the right decisions based on robust, credible evidence.

Who travels by air?

People fly for a range of personal and business reasons.

They take holidays, visit friends and relatives, study or work abroad, attend conferences or client meetings and do company business in international offices.

Planes move freight as well as people, serving worldwide markets and their supply chains.

Although much cargo is price-sensitive, it is regularly carried on passenger services, particularly where time is critical.

In London, a higher proportion of the market travels for business purposes than elsewhere, a result of the international nature of its economy.

Key economic sectors like financial services, heavy industry and innovation and creativity rely on aviation to do business and stay competitive.

There are also higher volumes of trips to visit friends and relatives from London airports because of the higher proportion of London's population with overseas family and social ties.

Why is aviation so important?

London is dependent on aviation for most of its international connections (80% of trips to and from the UK are made by air) and many of its domestic ones.

There are two main reasons why this is particularly important for London:

  • Competitiveness - These connections are part of an integrated system of transport networks that allows London to compete as a leading global city and a powerful engine of wealth and opportunity. Good air links are key to attracting foreign investment. Foreign-owned firms created 42% of London's economic growth 1998-2004 and investors from other countries contributed £52bn to London's economy in 2008 alone. London's aviation links play a critical role supporting business and manufacturing, not just in London, but all over the UK.
  • Inclusiveness - About one-third of London's population was born overseas and many others have family roots outside the UK. Maintaining links with family and social networks overseas is important to them.

What is a hub airport?

A hub airport is one which airlines are able to draw on a critical mass of 'point-to-point' and 'transfer' traffic to support a greater range of routes and frequencies.

The characteristics of an effective hub airport

For a hub airport to work effectively, it needs to have a strong catchment area as well as being optimised to support passengers and cargo transferring between flights.

Spare capacity is important to minimise delays on the ground and in the air and ensure resilience in the face of severe disruption.

It also means flights can be organised in waves of arrivals and departures, offering passengers the widest possible range of flight connections.

The benefits of a hub airport

A hub airport enables airlines to serve a greater range of routes and frequencies than its local traffic could on its own.

As the UK's only hub, Heathrow is a key connection point.

Heathrow accounts for 40% of UK scheduled air passenger traffic - yet 80% of direct long-haul traffic.

Without the transfer traffic Heathrow attracts, 80% of these long-haul routes would suffer a reduction in frequency or be lost altogether.

Business could suffer without an effective hub airport

London attracts more international business passengers than most cities, but even so, many services cannot be sustained unless demand is consolidated.

With more passengers travelling via an efficient hub airport, it can serve more destinations more often, meeting the needs of business and leisure travellers alike, helping sustain trade and inward tourism and investment.

London and the UK are losing out

Currently operating at 98.5% of its maximum capacity, Heathrow is becoming increasingly focused on a smaller number of markets.

Meanwhile, larger European airports have the capacity to serve far more destinations than Heathrow.

AirportRunwaysCurrent max flights per hour
Future max flights per hour
Current runway utilisation (%)
Destinations served (June 2011)


 2 87 87 98.5 192
Amsterdam 6 110 120 70 277
Paris Charles de Gaulle
 4 114 120 (2015)
 73.5 257
Frankfurt International
 4 83 126 (2015)
 74.5 291
Madrid 4 98 120 n/a 191

Heathrow is falling behind

Heathrow now serves fewer destinations than its European rivals.

Twenty years ago, Heathrow served more than 200 destinations, and Paris Charles de Gaulle fewer than 180.

The situation is now reversed. Today, the hub airports serving Paris, Amsterdam and Frankfurt all serve more than 250 destinations.

Heathrow lacks the capacity to expand to a greater number of destinations.

It can no longer compete for new and emerging markets without reducing existing frequencies or by eliminating one route to establish another.

This is encouraging a shift of hub operations away from congested Heathrow towards European rivals, who can operate more flights to more destinations.

Heathrow's dire state of affairs can be seen in the lower number of seats per week offered to mainland China compared to other European hubs. 

Seats per week to mainland Chinese airports from European hub airports

HeathrowAmsterdamParis Charles de GaulleFrankfurt International

Source: OAG flight schedules for the week commencing 20 June 2011.

The situation will only get worse

According to the Department for Transport's figures published in 2011, projected demand for Heathrow is forecast to more than double to 2050 - an increase of more than 100 million passengers per year.

Capacity constraints at Heathrow already mean that we are losing out on trade worth £1bn per year with fast growing emerging markets alone.

With London's economy so closely tied to its aviation connections, significant losses in international connectivity relative to London's competitors can be expected to have a profoundly negative economic effect.

Significant room for aviation growth

The Committee for Climate Change (CCC) has recommended that passenger demand growth should be limited to a 60% increase on 2005 levels to 2050.

UK-wide, this would allow for growth of around 150 million passengers per year on current levels.

The problem with Heathrow

With its runways operating at 98.5% capacity, Heathrow it is unable to recover quickly to its normal operating schedule in the wake of delays and disruption.

Runway usage at other European hubs is much lower, at less than 75% at Amsterdam, Paris Charles de Gaulle and Frankfurt International.

Heathrow could never meet our needs

Even with a third runway - there would be little scope for future growth, and this would worsen its impacts.

Of all the people in Europe currently affected by aircraft noise, almost one-third are affected by Heathrow, which also has severe air quality issues.

Limited Heathrow expansion wouldn't solve the problem

A third runway at Heathrow would not even be a viable stopgap.

It is likely that it could only be delivered two to three years in advance of a brand new airport.

The problem with the alternatives

A combination of airports

No city in the world operates a successful network of hub capacity that links separate airports.

To attract passengers, airlines need to be able to transport them - and their baggage - quickly from one airport to another.

This would present considerable engineering and security challenges and would still be less attractive than changing planes in a single location, as rival airports would offer.

It would cause delays for international transfer passengers and make flying via the UK unattractive.

High Speed Rail

Rail will never be a replacement for air travel.

High Speed Rail could complement a hub airport by expanding its catchment area and by providing more connections and delivering more capacity to the hub.

Currently, a maximum of 10% of Heathrow's air services could feasibly be provided by a rail alternative.

Regional airports

Growth at regional airports can and should take place but this will not replace the need for a fully functioning London hub. 

It is unlikely that regional airports will ever be able to support routes to more than a small number of long-haul destinations.

Our Aviation publication spage includes all the documents we publish including:

Next steps

The Airports Commission published an interim report in December 2013 setting out which locations will be taken forward for further development. Their final recommendation to the Government will be made in the summer of 2015.

The Mayor is calling on the Commission’s work to inform a National Policy Statement.

The necessary powers to build a new hub airport – most likely delivered through a Hybrid Bill – could be in place by 2020, at which point construction could begin.

A new hub could be open by 2029.

Contact us

For more information about the Mayor’s plans for a new hub airport, please email us.