Submission to Transport Select Committee underlines Manston Airport’s potential as a reliever airport for congested London airspace.
Re-opening Manston Airport in Kent would provide specialist reliever runway capacity for the increasingly congested London airspace, in emergencies and when diversions are required, confirms a study commissioned for RiverOak Investment Corp.
The report, by Northolt Aviation, has been provided to the Transport Select Committee as part of RiverOak’s submission to the ‘Inquiry into Smaller Airports’ session which took place today (Monday 2nd February). RiverOak Investment Corp is seeking to become Thanet District Council’s commercial partner in a CPO process in order to revive Manston as an operating airport.
The report outlines how Manston is ideally placed to take the strain off Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted during times of severe congestion or disruption. 415 diversions were made from London airports in 2013 and the number is growing year on year as air traffic increases.
Giving evidence at the hearing, at Portcullis House in London, Squadron Leader Angela Sutton, who spent 33 years as an air traffic controller and was in charge of all emergencies in the air at the London air traffic control centre, said diversions were her “speciality” and that reopening Manston Airport was “essential”.
She said: “If Heathrow gets fogged in or if there is a problem on any one of runways, and of course Gatwick only has one, Manston is the instant diversion. It has the capability to cope with anything.”
She said that aircraft are currently diverted to Stansted in the event of a hijack, but added: “It just destroys Stansted. It brings it to a halt totally. In Manston we have got enough space to get it out of the way, get it into corners, to surround it almost and to deal with it properly.”
Sir Roger Gale, MP for North Thanet, said Manston Airport was a “major diversion field and a resource un-replicated in the South East.”
RiverOak’s report highlights that incidents in recent years which have required a reliever runway have included heavy snowfall, volcanic dust, aircraft emergencies and flooding at Gatwick. A more severe human incident that closed a London airport, or air traffic computer failure similar to that which occurred at the end of 2014, would also leave the South East in desperate need of reliever space.
Manston Airport’s 9,000ft (2743m) runway is the only non-military runway of that length in the South East outside of Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted. It can cater for all long haul aircraft types, including the Airbus A380, and is located in an area which benefits from high-speed rail links and motorway access to both London and France.
Manston, formerly known as Kent International Airport, played a critical role as a base for the RAF during the Battle of Britain. It was abruptly closed in May 2014. However RiverOak Investment Corp has prepared a detailed plan to run the airport primarily as a major cargo hub, with an aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) facility and has confirmed interest from cargo carriers and aircraft manufacturers as part of their planning.
The report also highlights the airport’s 24-hour availability and relatively low levels of passenger air traffic as supporting its suitability as a reliever airport, as is its location close to London but outside the capital’s air traffic control space. Manston is also adjacent to the coast enabling aircraft to easily fly over water to dump excess fuel before making their landing.
In addition, Manston Airport would represent an ideal reliever airport due its large apron space for equipment handling, extensive aircraft parking facilities, pre-existing passenger terminal and ground transport convenience via high-speed rail or major carriage way.
RiverOak’s submission to the Select Committee concludes: “Were the airport to be purchased, re-licensed and re-opened, as is RiverOak’s firm intention, our proposition is that it could take on a specialist role for London air traffic reliever purposes, alongside our other plans for the airport. In a relatively short space of time we could ensure that there is an asset that can provide reliever capacity over the long term to serve the London system.
“Its potential serves to underline how ill-considered it would be for the South East airports system to lose such an asset as Manston Airport, particularly before any new runway is built, and when Heathrow and Gatwick are running so close to theoretical maximum capacity and with the prospect that Stansted – and even Luton – will be approaching such capacity by the time a new runway is open.
“Of course, even after a new “London” runway is built, the additional volume in the system will, we believe, further underline the long-term strategic value of an airfield such as Manston.
“It seems important, therefore, that the Government should not remain agnostic on this issue, and as such would be grateful for the Transport Select Committee support in advocating Manston’s value.”
RiverOak has already proposed to the Transport Select Committee’s inquiry into smaller airports that there should be an amendment to existing legislation obliging owners who intend to close an airport to consult with the interested parties as mentioned in the Civil Aviation Act 1982; the imposition of a cooling off period of 12 months to enable further consultation to take place and, during that time, the prevention of asset stripping or other disposal of key airport equipment.