For the past 60 years British governments have not had an airport strategy and it is now clear there is vital need for expansion.

For the past 60 years British governments have not had an airport strategy. We have had many reviews but not action, just a series of dithering governments incapable of seeing the nose on their face.

As a result of this political procrastination the situation has got so bad that Heathrow, our only international hub airport, has now been full for a decade.

Gatwick, our second busiest airport, has already reached capacity at peak times and will be completely full by 2020.

In fact, all of London’s major airports will be full by 2030 without a decision in the next year to build a new runway.

With the publication of the Airports Commission’s long-awaited final report, it is clearer than ever that there is a vital need for expansion.

The recommendation is that Heathrow is the preferred option for a new runway.

This follows almost three years studiously examining the evidence in what has been the biggest investigation ever conducted into the future of UK aviation capacity.

Connecting with emerging markets

However, as the report makes clear, fundamentally this is not about aeroplanes or where to build the first full-length runway in the Southeast of England since the 1940s.

It is about securing the long-term economic prosperity of our country.

“Our European competitors must think us fools”

Michael Ward, Harrods

Harrods has always supported airport expansion, whether at Heathrow or Gatwick, for the simple reason that in order for the UK to compete for business with our neighbours, air connectivity is crucial.

If you look at the growth in the balance of trade with new and emerging markets, our surplus (and I stress surplus) has grown from -£10bn in 1997 to +£3bn by 2012, while our deficit in the same period within the EU has gone from £5bn to -£40bn. 

It’s clear from these figures that the real growth in trade is now coming from the emerging markets.

However, continuing to increase our trade with these fast-growth economies will be held back if we don’t expand our international connectivity with them.

The fact is, as an island-nation, that by value 40% of our exports go by air and our trade is 20 times more with countries with direct air links than those without.

So it’s not exactly rocket science – if our only international hub airport remains full this will limit our trade and export potential, as it will limit our ability to increase our international connectivity with new markets.

Jobs and economic growth

Our European competitors, who got on an expanded their hub airport capacity years ago, must think us fools and are rubbing their hands at the prospect of yet another government failing to make a decision that any three-year-old would master the economics of:

Amsterdam, six runways;

Frankfurt, four runways;

Paris, four runways.

It is easy to see how any Asian business would choose any of these as a European hub where time is of the essence, connectivity to key cities across the world is key and flight availability critical. 

“I would urge the government to take the difficult decision”

Michael Ward, Harrods

Paris has 50% more flights to China with room to grow. This, coupled with a more efficient visa system that does not require biometric testing, results in their valuable Chinese retail customers spending eight times more in Paris than in London.

Napoleon recognised us as a nation of shopkeepers. It is unfortunate that successive governments have not. 

So with £147bn in economic growth identified and 70,000 jobs created by 2050 I would urge the government to take the difficult decision, disregard the political consequences of a few chagrined MPs and focus on the facts it has been presented with by the experts.

First and foremost it must be done quickly. You can’t hide behind committee after committee. As one of our brand partners Nike would say, ‘Just do it’.

  • Michael Ward is managing director of Harrods