In the second part of a Post special looking at the West Midlands 'air war', Paul Dale considers the case for the expansion of Birmingham International Airport
The planned expansion of Birmingham International Airport holds an almost unique place in aviation history for the widespread local political approval that the £1.5 billion plan has attracted.
At Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted where new runways have been proposed, public opinion is largely hostile.
It would be a brave member of Berkshire County Council, for example, who spoke out strongly in favour of more flights from Heathrow.
This can be partly explained, of course, by the still relatively moderate use made of BIA. Although a record 9.3 million passengers passed through Birmingham International Airport last year, the airports of the South-east and Manchester Airport are far busier. Birmingham, therefore, has some catching up to do.
BIA's management must be thankful for the pragmatic attitude displayed by the seven West Midlands councils, including Solihull which is the planning authority for Birmingham Airport.
As things stand, the region's local authorities are firmly behind BIA's plans for extending the existing runway and building a second runway by 2020.
Agreement about the importance of the airport is seen as one of the driving forces behind the West Midlands bid for city region status, with council leaders seeking to demonstrate to the Government that they can handle contentious strategic transportation and planning issues without falling out.
It should be pointed out that the seven West Midlands councils retain a considerable financial interest in BIA, jointly holding 49 per cent of the airport company's shares.
The remaining shares are split among private sector companies, with Aer Rianta holding 24.1 per cent, Macquarie Airports Group 24.1 per cent and the remaining 2.75 per cent in the form of an Employee Share Trust.
Expansion of the airport is seen as a vital factor in trig-gering inward investment and economic growth across the West Midlands.
Without the runway extension, by 400 metres, it will remain impossible to take direct long-haul flights to the other side of the world.
This is because the runway is too short to handle the weight of fully-fuelled planes.
Flights destined for South-east Asia, the Far East, the Pacific Rim, together with the mid-west and west coast of the USA and Canada, have to stop to re-fuel.
The benefit that Birmingham would gain from a fully-functioning international airport on its doorstep has not been lost on city council leader Mike Whitby, who has consistently warned the region cannot afford to miss out on emerging markets in China and India.
He is leading the campaign to convince BIA to extend the runway sooner rather than later, possibly to take advantage of passenger demand triggered by the London Olympic Games in 2012.
Earlier this year Coun Whitby (Con Harborne) warned his cabinet colleagues: "We need to bring forward the runway extension in order to take advantage of the growth in international long-haul flights.
"The private sector investors in Birmingham International Airport need to realise how important this is.
"Certainly, the leaders of the seven metropolitan authorities are very much behind the extension of the runway."
BIA's Master Plan, setting out its expansion aims, will be submitted to Solihull Council later in the year.
Naturally, despite the best efforts of the West Midlands councils to present a united face, not everyone is in favour of the expansion of BIA.
A Solihull Council scrutiny committee warned of the noise impact that the new runway would have on hundreds of families living close to the flightpath, while the Campaign to Protect Rural England has warned that the economic benefits of expanding BIA have been overstated.
CPRE's Gerald Kells believes the growth of the airport will be unsustainable, leading to more greenhouse gas emissions, congestion on the roads and railways and pollution.
Responding to an airport consultation exercise, the CPRE said the present runway was less than half full and the case for a second runway had not been made.
Mr Kells said: "Birmingham International Airport provides an important service to the West Midlands, but we should not give it a blank cheque for unlimited expansion at the cost of the environment.
"We favour more moderate, balanced growth which will still support the regional economy but reduce damage to the environment and enable roads and public transport to take the strain." ..SUPL: