Britpave: The British In-Situ Concrete Paving Association

Air travel forecasts need concrete decisions

BRIT156 - 31st August 2011

The UK’s three busiest airports will be filled to capacity in just 19 years according to new forecasts from the Department of Transport. This underlines not only the need for a new south east airport but also supports the expansion plans of regional airports reports David Jones, Director of the transport infrastructure group Britpave.

The report UK Aviation Forecasts, updated to take account of the Government’s decision to stop airport expansion at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted, predicts that these airports will be full by 2030 as the number of passengers flying through Britain could reach 335 million. Demand for international business travel is expected to rise by 80 per cent by 2030.

London airports will become increasingly congested with longer passenger queues and delays, stacking of aircraft and intense pressure on airport infrastructure. The Government hopes that passengers will increasingly use regional airports. However, this is questioned by the British Air Transport Association, who like Transport for London, are calling for a new hub airport in the Thames Estuary.

And at lot is at stake. The value of the aviation sector to the UK economy is significant. In 2007, it directly generated £8.8 billion of economic output. When you add the economic activity of the aviation supply chain, the total economic footprint equals £18.4 billion or 1.5% of the UK’s economy. In addition, there is the economic issue of how aviation connectivity and efficiency encourages trade and investment by both UK and overseas companies.

Whilst the debate for a new airport in the south east or a re-examination of expansion at Heathrow, Gatwick or Stansted continues, regional airports have stepped up their plans for expansion. Bristol has been given the go-ahead by North Somerset Council for £150 million expansion scheme that includes an extended airport terminal, increased car parking and new aircraft stands to accommodate a predicted 60% increase in passengers. It is believed that the expansion will allow the airport to deal with 10 million passengers a year by 2019 and could create 4,000 jobs and inject £340 million into the local economy. Lydd Airport in Kent has been granted planning approval for a £25 million extension of the runway and building of a new terminal building. Meanwhile, expansion plans of £28 million have been approved for Leeds Bradford Airport. Plans for a runway extension at Birmingham Airport have the backing of Birmingham City Council. East Midlands, Liverpool John Lennon and Farnborough airports all have plans to increase flight and passenger capacity.

The ambition of regional airports is demonstrated by Southend Airport in Essex. During the 1970s it was the third busiest airport in the UK. However, the introduction of larger jet-engine aircraft and tougher runway regulations saw its status downgraded to becoming primarily a site for aviation maintenance and repair. A new expansion plan hopes to place Southend firmly back on the aviation map. A 300m runway extension will allow the airport to handle larger aircraft such as the Airbus A319 and the Boeing 737. The new railway station, opened in August 2010, runs direct to Liverpool Street via the Stratford Olympics Park and a new air traffic control tower and passenger terminal is due for completion in 2011. The airport plans to provide a strong alternative to Stansted and Luton.

The concrete sector, affected by the delay or cancellation of many public transport infrastructure projects, is encouraged by the plans of airport expansion particularly as concrete paving offers unmatched benefits airport infrastructure. The long-term, maintenance-free performance of concrete pavements makes them particularly well-suited to runways, taxiways and aircraft stands due their resistance to fuel spillage damage, resistance to heat from engine blast, reduced runway water due to slipform slot drainage and high bearing capacity to cope with new and heavier aircraft. The long-life performance of concrete pavements means reduced unplanned maintenance, an important issue for airports which are frequently running close to full capacity.

With an average planning to construction time of 10 years for runways, the clock is ticking. Concrete decisions need to be made now if the UK is to meet the demands of increased passenger numbers and the expectations of national and international business.