Birmingham’s long awaited direct gateway to the West Coast of America and China could be delayed six years or longer if the Government calls in a £130million runway extension scheme.
The ominous warning was issued by new Birmingham International Airport chief executive officer Paul Kehoe in his first public interview since taking the reins at the airport.
Mr Kehoe said Government intervention could mean a delay on a decision of up to three years – in advance of an anticipated three-year building programme.
But if Solihull Council planning committee members approve the scheme before Christmas – and the Government Office for the West Midlands nods it through – building could be under way as soon as the middle 2009.
Mr Kehoe, who started work in his £200,000 a year job this week, said: “It is absolutely critical we get our plans spot on. There is a lot of emotion around this – it is a very important decision. It is critical we get it right.
“If I was a betting man, I would say we should get planning permission. It makes great sense – but you never know. Nothing is a given – it could be three months, six months, three years.”
Mr Kehoe warned the scheme could be delayed if the Government chose to call in the project for a public inquiry, delaying the airport’s hopes of offering long haul flights to locations such as the US West Coast and China.
And he suggested a change of administration if the Tories took control could throw a spanner in the works, with the potential for the Conservatives to oppose large scale airport expansion.
“This is going to be a tough call for the Secretary of State. It is a three-year plan to build and £130 million of money.”
If the extension is agreed, the runway at the airport will increase from its current 2,600-metre length to 3,000 metres, putting it on a par with the facilities at nearby East Midlands Airport.
The runway extension, which has been in the pipeline since 1995, requires around £45 million of extensive realignment work to the adjacent A45, plus the provision of a new control tower.
But business leaders have long advocated its importance to the region, opening up vital and potentially lucrative access to the likes of California and burgeoning Far East markets such as China and India.
The scheme has already met with local opposition, with anti-expansion campaigners claiming the move would vastly increase noise nuisance and carbon emissions.
But an early start in 2009 could synchronise neatly with the London Olympics in 2012 and the massive revamp of New Street Station.
Mr Kehoe comes to the West Midlands from his previous role at the helm of Bristol Airport and former managerial positions at airports in London, Luton and Belfast.