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Meeting skyhigh demand

Airport capacity is one of the most pressing infrastructure challenges faced by the UK, but what is the best way to improve our existing aviation facilities and expand capacity?

 Debate has often focused on the importance of airport capacity for Britain’s economy, but the issue reaches beyond our borders. London is a major hub connecting indirect destinations, providing a busy transfer point for connecting flights. This international hub status enables the UK to compete with other European cities, most notably Frankfurt and Amsterdam, and benefits the UK economy through better connections to the rest of the world.

There are different approaches to improving capacity, which broadly fall into two categories: expansion or improved use of existing facilities.

The dramatic expansion of Rome’s Fiumicino Airport provides a prime example of thinking big. The main objective is to develop the area north of the existing facilities, increasing the number of runways from three to five. The plan includes the creation of a new 650,000sq.m terminal providing the highest levels of efficiency, energy saving, technology and architecture. The impetus for this ambitious project arose from the importance of tourism to the Italian economy. Air traffic growth is currently constrained because Fiumicino is already running at full stretch. The redevelopment will increase passenger capacity, in stages, from the 35 million recorded in 2010 to 85 million by 2044.

This is the scale of ambition against which the UK must compete. Passenger demand and industry expectations are undoubtedly rising. According to the Civil Aviation Authority, UK airports handled 228 million passengers in 2013, the third consecutive year of increase. As an industry, aviation contributes around £18bn per annum of economic output to the UK and directly employs around 220,000 people while supporting many more, according to the British Air Transport Association.

With passenger demand rising as the economy improves, the pressure on the UK’s airport capacity and resilience will intensify, particularly in the south-east of England. The government has recognised this by establishing the Airports Commission, chaired by Sir Howard Davies, to examine additional needs and how to meet them in the short, medium and long term at a national, regional and local level.

The Airports Commission’s Interim Report, published in December last year, concluded that there will be a need for at least one additional runway in the south-east by 2030, as well as demand for a second additional runway by 2050 – perhaps sooner. The commission is taking forward two different proposals for Heathrow and another focusing on Gatwick.

The green light cannot come soon enough. A long-term policy framework that provides stability and clarity for industry is greatly needed.

The Interim Report also contains recommendations to the government concerning immediate action to improve existing runway utilisation. While new runways will provide the best long-term solution, there is also a pressing need to relieve congestion in the meantime.

Fortunately, there is a range of practical initiatives that can be swiftly taken up, as the Davies Commission has noted. Better technical design, utilisation of new technology and modelling of passenger flows in terminal buildings using computer simulation could improve efficiency and resilience. Even the time that aircraft spend queuing and taxiing on the ground can be reduced through the use of surface guidance technology such as that used by Kuala Lumpur International Airport, which helps ensure that aircraft take the most efficient route from runway to gate.

However, while all of these initiatives will help, they are only small pieces of a much bigger infrastructure picture. Ultimately, a more holistic approach is needed if the UK’s capacity shortfalls are to be properly resolved in the long term. This requires a collaborative, unified approach so that the UK’s infrastructure needs are planned and met at a national, regional and local level across all modes of transport.

Kevin Harman is the aviation business line director for Europe, Middle East and India at URS

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Owen Smith is naïve if he thinks misogynist abuse in Labour started with Jeremy Corbyn

“We didn’t have this sort of abuse before Jeremy Corbyn became the leader.”

Owen Smith, the MP challenging Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour leadership contest, has told BBC News that the party’s nastier side is a result of its leader.

He said:

“I think Jeremy should take a little more responsibility for what’s going on in the Labour party. After all, we didn’t have this sort of abuse and intolerance, misogyny, antisemitism in the Labour party before Jeremy Corbyn became the leader.

“It’s now become something that is being talked about on television, on radio, and in newspapers. And Angela is right, it has been effectively licenced within the last nine months.

“We’re the Labour party. We’ve got to be about fairness, and tolerance, and equality. It’s in our DNA. So for us to be reduced to this infighting is awful. Now, I understand why people feel passionately about the future of our party – I feel passionately about that. I feel we’re in danger of splitting and being destroyed.

“But we can’t tolerate it. And it isn’t good enough for Jeremy simply to say he has threats too. Well, I’ve had death threats, I’ve had threats too, but I’m telling him, it’s got to be stamped out. We’ve got to have zero tolerance of this in the Labour party.”

While Smith’s conclusion is correct, his analysis is worryingly wrong.

Whether it is out of incompetence or an unwillingness to see the extent of the situation, Corbyn has done very little to stamp out abuse in his party, which has thus been allowed to escalate. It is fair enough of Smith to criticise him for his failure to stem the flow and punish the perpetrators.

It is also reasonable to condemn Corbyn's inability to stop allies like Chancellor John McDonnell and Unite leader Len McCluskey using violent language (“lynch mob”, “fucking useless”, etc) about their opponents, which feeds into the aggressive atmosphere. Though, as I’ve written before, Labour politicians on all sides have a duty to watch their words.

But it’s when we see how Smith came to the point of urging Corbyn to take more responsibility that we should worry. Smith confidently argues that there wasn’t “this sort of abuse and intolerance, misogyny, antisemitism” in the party before Corbyn was voted in. (I assume when he says “this sort”, he means online, death threats, letters, and abuse at protests. The sort that has been high-profile recently).

This is naïve. Anyone involved in Labour politics – or anything close to it – for longer than Corbyn’s leadership could tell Smith that misogyny and antisemitism have been around for a pretty long time. Perhaps because Smith isn’t the prime target, he hasn’t been paying close enough attention. Sexism wasn’t just invented nine months ago, and we shouldn’t let the belief set in that it did – then it simply becomes a useful tool for Corbyn’s detractors to bash him with, rather than a longstanding, structural problem to solve.

Smith's lament that “it’s now become something that is being talked about” is also jarring. Isnt it a good thing that such abuse is now being called out so publicly, and closely scrutinised by the media?

In my eyes, this is a bit like the argument that Corbyn has lost Labour’s heartlands. No, he hasn’t. They have been slowly slipping away for years – and we all noticed when Labour took a beating in the last general election (way before Corbyn had anything to do with the Labour leadership). As with the abuse, Corbyn hasn’t done much to address this, and his inaction has therefore exacerbated it. But if we tell ourselves that it started with him, then we’re grasping for a very, very simple solution (remove Corbyn = automatic win in the North, and immediate erasure of misogyny and antisemitism) to a problem we have catastrophically failed to analyse.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.