FERROVIAL, the new Spanish owner of BAA, has had an interesting introduction to the vagaries of British political decision-making on airport matters. Heathrow is the jewel in Ferrovial's crown but in addition to a new terminal already under construction it also needs a third runway if it is to maintain its position as a major European hub airport. In a White Paper published three years ago, the government said that a second runway at Stanstead airport should have priority over Heathrow's needs. However, in his Pre-Budget Report this week, Chancellor Gordon Brown indicated that the expansion of Heathrow is crucial to maintaining London's position as Europe's financial centre but made no reference to Stanstead. A similar view was expressed in Sir Rod Eddington's recent report on the future of Britain's transport system.
If, as seems likely, Heathrow is to get the goahead for its third runway it will mean an extra 500 flights a day passing over London and a further expansion of road traffic in the area. The environmental campaigners are promising the mother of all battles during the planning inquiries. The new runway will take aircraft over Acton, Chiswick and Fulham and some 700 homes will be demolished to make way for it. The potential for conflict over global warming issues is huge. Ferrovial may not yet know just how long all this can take in Britain: 2017 is the target date for the first flight to take off from the new runway.