Socialist Worker

Terminal Five: The sky has no limits

by Theresa Bennett
Issue No. 1777

The decision to allow Heathrow airport to build the new terminal five is just about 'money and shops', said the Labour MEP Robert Evans. His words came after Stephen Byers, New Labour's transport secretary, allowed the highly contested terminal five to go ahead 'in the national interest'. 'It will bring benefits to the British economy both locally and nationally,' he said.

But the main concern for hundreds of thousands of people in west London is the increase in noise and danger attached to the new terminal. After the third disaster at JFK airport in recent years people will be terrified that, instead of a plane crashing into houses in Brooklyn, one will crash into an estate in Hounslow or elsewhere.

Living near Heathrow ruins people's lives. Many people are woken early in the morning by flights, causing them to suffer from sleep deprivation. All 11 local councils opposed the plans for the new terminal. So strong is the opposition that it led to the longest ever planning inquiry in British history, which took place from 1995 to 1999, costing around £80 million. According to Paul De Zylva of Friends of the Earth, 'Millions of people will soon find their lives blighted by this monstrous new airport. The only winners are the massive corporations of the British Airports Authority (BAA) and British Airways (BA). This is no ordinary terminal. It will almost be the size of the current four terminals put together.'

In an attempt to buy off opposition Byers announced that the number of flights from Heathrow would be restricted to 480,000 per year. These controls are a sham. Peter Brown, a spokesperson for the councils opposed to the terminal, said, 'We want the conditions enforced and we do not want a repeat of the Heathrow terminal four situation when promises on the number of flights were broken within a matter of months.'

The terminal will cost between £1.8 billion and £2.5 billion. The work will begin in April or May of next year for it to open by 2007. Surrounding wildlife and plant life will be damaged. BAA, which proposed the terminal, claims it will either bring about or safeguard around 16,500 jobs. Each job will cost £290,000. All will be in the south east of England, an area which does not have high unemployment. And they will be mostly low paid jobs in shops and fast food outlets.

Lack of affordable housing in the area means many low paid workers are unable to afford to live there. Traffic congestion and poor public transport blight the lives of people who live and work in the area. This will now get worse. The new terminal will also increase pollution.

Aviation fuel is the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming and climate change. Yet aviation fuel is exempted from the level of duty paid on either car or heating fuel. This provides a massive state subsidy for airline companies in Britain of £6 billion a year.

Powerful airlines have used predicted increases in air travel to push for increasing the size of British airports.

Estimates are that passengers travelling by air will go up to 140 million by 2010-11 in London. Terminal five will supposedly increase the number of travellers using Heathrow from the current 65 million a year to between 85 million and 90 million. However, BAA compiles these predictions, and they are widely inaccurate. Passenger numbers have fallen despite the predicted increase. This has sparked a crisis in the industry.

This crisis has been compounded by the events of 11 September in the US. Just two months ago Bush gave the US aviation industry a huge financial bailout of $24 billion. New Labour granted similar handouts to the British airlines. Airline companies have slashed around 100,000 jobs, using the events in the US as an excuse. BA itself has sacked 7,000 people and is withholding the Christmas bonus from the rest of its workers.

Major national carriers like Sabena in Belgium and Ansett in Australia and New Zealand have gone to the wall in the last few months. After their victory over terminal five British airline companies are pushing for even more expansion of Heathrow to include a third runway. Once again New Labour has bowed to pressure from big business. When it comes to profits, the sky has no limits.

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Sat 1 Dec 2001, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1777
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