All options for airport expansion are “back on the table”, the man charged by the Government with recommending future aviation policy said yesterday.
There was “no clear consensus” on the best way forward for UK airports, said Airports Commission chairman Sir Howard Davies.
He said his commission would try to produce a final report by summer 2015 which would give the government of the day the opportunity to make decisions quickly.
Speaking in London as he introduced his five other commissioners, Sir Howard said he was aware of the criticism of some, including London Mayor Boris Johnson, that the commission’s 2015 timescale was too long.
Sir Howard said: “The arguments are well understood. Some are political, some are not.
“What we are trying to do is to make sure the work we do is useful and allows decisions to be made more quickly.”
He went on: “The coalition Government is prepared for us to look broadly at all the options on the table as well as some that are not on the table so that a government can come to it after the General Election with an open mind.”
Labour had been keen on a third runway at Heathrow Airport but on coming to power in 2010 the coalition Government ruled this out.
Mr Johnson supports a new Thames Estuary airport while architect Lord Foster has submitted his own estuary airport plan.
Asked if everything was back on the table, Sir Howard replied “yes”.
He said options his commission would be looking at in addition to the main ideas included.
Possible further use of Birmingham Airport if the HS2 rail link goes ahead.
A so-called Heath wick plan, in which a fast rail link between Heathrow and Gatwick would enable the two airports to be regarded as a twin hub.
Cardiff Airport to be regarded as Heathrow’s “sixth terminal” when fast rail links are completed.
A plan to “move” Heathrow westwards which includes putting part of the M25 in a tunnel.
Sir Howard has been charged with bringing out an interim report by the end of next year which will include recommending actions to improve the use of existing runway capacity to cover the period of the next five years.
He said yesterday that this first report would include a narrowing down of options “that look credible and worthy of further examination”.
Sir Howard said that since his appointment by the Government in September, “we have seen a flooding of (aviation) ideas and initiatives from all over the place”.
The commission members include former Network Rail and Olympic Delivery Authority chief Sir John Armitt as well as Manchester Airport Group boss Geoff Muirhead.
Sir Howard said he very much hoped Labour would co-operate with his commission, that no members of the commission had any particular airport expansion preferences and that it was “a bit harsh” to say the commission was “business-biased”.
He went on: “I don’t think there is a good enough consensus on aviation policy for the Government to make a decision now.
“Maybe I’m being a bit indulgent towards them (the Government) but this is a very difficult subject. There is a strong case for a commission which tries very hard to rebuild a consensus for what we need in this country.”
Sir Howard promised that before the commission brings out its first report it would publish the first of what are expected to be a series of consultation papers – with the first being about aviation demand forecasts.
He said other papers could include the subject of airport noise and compensation for it, and climate change.