Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Small is beautiful

Luton airport wants to expand in time for the London Olympics. The airport always had great ambitions. It called itself London Luton although it is more than 50 miles away from the capital, about the same distance as Southend. It used to be a regional airport for charter plane and private aircraft, but with budget airlines littering the landscape offering flights to far-off holiday destinations for less than the cost of the car journey to the airport it started expanding. With the expansion came arrogance. Luton, like many other former regional airports in the UK does not want general aviation aircraft around any more and discourages them by charging exorbitant landing fees and handling charges. Thus an important part of the infrastructure disappears.
Travel by small piston and turbo planes is point to point and economically most efficient, unlike commercial air travel which is only cheap because it is heavily subsidised. Airlines pay no duty nor VAT on their fuel and are exempt from lots of other charges. In the long run all this is unsustainable and the bubble will burst. Then Luton will go the way of the only recently developed Sheffield City airport which initially banned single engine aircraft in the hope to become rich from budget airlines. When those airlines, however, preferred other locations, Sheffield airport became almost dysfunctional and had to try hard to invite private flyers back to retain some reason for its existence.
Luton might expand in time before the 2012 olympics, but there is no certainty it might survive as a viable operation much beyond then. Transport policy in Britain is very short-sighted.

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