As Boris Johnson enjoyed an aerial tour over Hong Kong’s Chek Lap Kok airport he was showing us that his plan for a Thames Island airport also known as Boris Island is structurally achievable. Chek Lap Kok airport was built on land reclaimed from the sea and although only completed in 1998 is the world’s busiest cargo airport and not quite in the top 10 for passenger numbers. It was planned and designed by British companies – the architectural practice of Lord Foster, engineering group Mott MacDonald and structural engineers Arup.
In a report in the FT, while still in Hong Kong, Boris Johnson said ” It is hugely impressive yet also devastatingly depressing when you consider that, as long as the vision for aviation in the UK remains steadfastly wedded to Heathrow or make-do solutions, we will not be able to access many of the mega-airports opening here or in the many other dynamic economies building new airfields around the globe.”
Lord Foster’s practice has already produced designs for an inner estuary airport on an artificial island on the Thames. The mayor’s most recent proposal is for a giant outer estuary airport on the Isle of Grain. The proposal includes an international railway station which would take passengers to Waterloo in 26 minutes, infrastructure improvements such as extending Crossrail and widening the M25 an extra lane in each direction for 36 miles. The entire project would cost around £65 billion and open in 2029.
Sir Howard Davies was appointed by David Cameron, the prime minister, to head up an independent Airports Commission to review the options for the expansion of UK airport capacity. An interim report is due in December this year and will list a handful of possible runway sites to be studied in more detail from more than 50 submissions. The final report will not be published till after the 2015 general election.
Sir Howard Davies has said that the provisional conclusion is that we will need some net additional runway capacity in the southeast of England in the coming decades and that the UK needs a hub airport where passengers transfer from short-haul aircraft to wide-body jets to ensure that airlines can profitably operate a broad range of long-haul routes. In an FT report he said “The big question looking forward is how big a hub do you need and how will the aviation market develop?”
Some of the options under consideration are:
- Building new runways at Heathrow and Gatwick.
- Building new runways at Gatwick and Stanstead but not Heathrow.
- Rebuilding Standstead and turning it into a hub.
- Building a new four runway hub on the Thames estuary.
With Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted, there are already problems such as being too close to built-up areas or requiring aircraft to fly low over London. The expansion of Heathrow would require the demolition of parts of West London and an increase in noise and atmospheric pollution across the whole city. Conservationists are not keen on the proposal for the Thames estuary and if it went ahead then Heathrow is likely to close.
Will Boris Island ever come to pass? It may well do. The Airport Commission may favour his bolder project simply because it is so hard to predict future requirements. Regardless of which proposal succeeds there will be opportunities for architects, structural engineers, aviation experts, project managers and finance professionals.
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