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The Practical, Cheap Alternative to New Runways - and a Fast Boost for the Economy

We can easily and very quickly solve our capacity problems at Gatwick and Heathrow in order to boost our economy. But it needs government intervention and imagination.

We don't have enough runways for jumbos or immigration processing hubs to make it easy for the people we need to attract to do business here. For example, the UK has no direct flights to and from China's largest city, Guangzhou and its 40m people, let alone all the other places hoping to do business with us. Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Paris all have many direct flights there for the Chinese to choose from. I expect the same situation exists for most other fast growing cities in India, Vietnam, South Korea etc. The UK is stuck in the past with respect to where we make it easy to travel to and from - and look where this got Greece, Spain and Portugal (once great trading nations).

If we are serious about encouraging trading relationships with the world's richest nation (China now has over $3 trillion in reserves to spend abroad - 20 times more than the US) as well as every other growing economy, we must make it easier for them to get here, and for us to go there to sell to them. We also have to make it easier for their increasing numbers of wealthy people to holiday here. It's that simple. Make it harder, and our competitors will win (like the French selling inferior fighters to India). Would you book a connecting flight when you can fly direct? It's not rocket (or jet) science.

But allocating land for new runways does not appear to be that simple. It also takes decades to happen thanks to our planning procedures (bless them and damn them) and our 'fair' tendering processes (bless them and damn them). But one thing that won't wait for all this is competition. You can bet your last euro that our chums over the channel are making new chums far faster than us. We can't rely on history to drive the future. We have to fight for it.

So how can we quickly increase the number of flights to developing nations without building more runways? Obvious answer, by reducing the number of flights we provide to nations that cost us money rather than earn it.

Instead of allowing airlines to bid for slots that don't contribute to our export drive, the government should allocate our airspace according to export potential. Stop flying direct from our main airports to places where our money goes the wrong way (like holiday destinations - unfortunately), and free up slots to places where money can roll in.

How easy was that? We can always reach our holidays in Spain and Italy via short-haul airports with shorter runways and no capacity problems, like Southampton and Cardiff. Just don't fly there from Gatwick and Heathrow. Stop thinking about them as ways for BA and their kind to make money by flying us to where we want to go, and make them exclusive gateways to our growth markets. The British people should own our major airports, not BAA shareholders.

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