Unsurprisingly the Standard has picked up on Boris’s Magic Stealth Airport, but unusually there’s actually a picture.  Whether this was done by a Standard graphics bod or crayoned by Malthouse in City Hall I have no idea.  I hope it’s the former, since it’s got High Speed 1 in the wrong place, but it does help get some handle on which option they’re looking at ; the eastern (Marinair, and where Boris’s dredger went) or the western (off Sheerness, where I thought it would be based on the original ‘two miles off Sheppey’ quote).

Basically, it’s the eastern option.  The rail link to HS1 is exactly where the Marinair option puts it, even if HS1 isn’t where reality puts it.  The terminals are on land, one in Essex (actually, at Foulness, where the 1960s/70s project was going to be) and one at the eastern end of Sheppey.  This explains why the transit times are shorter than we expected – they’ve separated the plane from the terminal by about 7 miles, and the headline figures are the transfer times by high-speed rail from London to the Sheppey terminal.  They quote 7 minutes transfer time to the actual runways.  The Essex terminal would presumably connect to Crossrail via Shenfield rather than Abbey Wood – that requires a rather more modest 8 or 9 mile electrified railway line plus the possible closure of Southend Victoria to make room for the trains.  Extending c2c services from Shoeburyness is also possible, of course, which is only about five miles.

The runways are out at sea.  A long way out at sea.  In fact, they appear to be actually at the point the Brabo reached last Friday, which clears that one up – he really did go to see the white elephant.  The further out they are the less birdstrike risk and environmental damage they cause, but there are limits – RAF Dogger Bank was a Cold War joke, not a suitable place for an airport.  The further out you go the less protected you are from the weather, for instance, and this is a sea that eats towns.  The location thus envisaged is further out than Cambridge, Milton Keynes and Basingstoke and possibly east of Colchester and Ashford.  At least this means they avoid the SS Richard Montgomery by a good ten miles.

What does this mean?  First, you’ve got a huge job on your transit system within the airport – at existing airports, once you’re checked in you can usually walk to the plane, give or take.  At Stansted there’s a short shuttle train to most of the stands, but again it’s not far and rather a low-tech trundly thing.  Heathrow T5 likewise has remote stands reached by underground train.  However, here we’re talking 7 or 8 miles, quoted at 7 minutes, implying a start-to-stop average of 60mph.  That’s fast.  It’s quite possibly uncomfortable, too, depending on the peak speed and the deceleration required.  Untried technology again, Boris?

Presumably you have to shuttle people’s bags out separately, if you really are building the terminals on land as opposed to just a transit facility between road/rail and shuttle (there are security advantages in having the tunnels airside, of course).  That also requires an innovative solution – a 7 mile conveyor belt isn’t going to cut it.  So you have baggage handlers at each terminal to load the bags onto baggage shuttles, which follow their owners out to the islands where (assuming they’re on the right island) more baggage handlers pull them off and put them on the aeroplane.  Some transit system.  Some job creation scheme.

Which brings us to another issue – how do you get workers out to the airport?  Heathrow employs tens of thousands of people, who have an entire city on the doorstep to live in and direct bus, rail and tube connections from a large area of west London.  Obviously here we’ve got two coastal towns in Southend and Sheerness, but that’s still a mighty old commute, and there’d have to be a substantial building programme, remembering this is way outside the Thames Gateway area.  They can also only come in with the travelling public on the transit tube, as well, so you’ve got scale it for that as well as the baggage.  That suggests that you’d want to keep as much of the jobs onshore with just baggage handling, marshalling, fuelling etc. offshore, which does beg the question whether travellers are expected to trundle out to the island just before or two hours before the flight.  If the latter, you need the catering and shopping out there too, so your transit tube now has to be big enough to ship all the stuff for the shops, bars and cafes, with appropriate logistics staff at each end.  Either way, everything has to be duplicated – it really is two airports with a terminal and two runways each.

In short, this is still fantasy stuff – is there really nowhere else in London that could use a 15-mile underground railway?  Is there nowhere else in London that could use investment in new high speed rail infrastructure?  Is there any appreciation of how people are expected to cross London and how much this will add to their journeys in terms of time and cost?  Faced with a flight from Borisport at £50 with a £30 rail fare on top or a flight at £60 from Luton with a £15 rail fare, which will they go for?  Which airline will do better, the one from Luton or the one from Borisport?

Basically, give it up now, Boris.  You’ve been had again.  You really must do something about your lack of any kind of experience or ability to judge truly loony schemes before you cost us a fortune.  Get a proper transport advisor now.

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18 Responses to Airport PR : Finally A Picture

  1. Mark Lee says:

    You’ve neglected another big gaping hole – air cargo. Heathrow does operate air cargo services – how would this work from Borisport? (NB: I wonder if he’s chosen two islands to shrug off the ‘Boris Island’ nickname?)

    Arguably the freight is containerised, but you would still need a transport mechanism to get the freight from the shore to the island. Presumably the transport mechanism won’t get you to the plane itself, so you then need to unload the containers onto an airside vehicle to the aircraft. Anyone who knows even a little about freight logistics will tell you that the most costly part of any freight operation is any ‘break of bulk’ points – where goods are transferred from one vehicle to another. Having the planes take off from an island with no road links therefore creates another ‘break of bulk’ point, making air cargo from the site more costly.

    How would the whole Kent / Essex terminal shebang work? Would you be able to check in at either terminal, regardless of flight? If so, *bam*, you have airlines doubling their cost, as they have to run two sets of check in desks. If not, “sorry love, you need to go to the Kent Borisport, this is the Essex one.”

    Then think of the tourists – who just want to get to London without fuss or confusion. They’ll have to decide whether to head for the Essex side or the Kent side, making the whole thing unnecessarily complex. “Airport Hilton mate? You must be joking, that’s on the Essex side, you’re in Kent.”

    Finally – security. OK, so plenty of countries do have airports that are on reclaimed land, and survive quite well. But I would imagine that they would need to have pretty good security, otherwise no doubt Greenpeace would launch an invasion from the Rainbow Warrior before long. It would also only take one person to try and evade immigration by swimming across the Thames before the Daily Mail would turn against Boris…

  2. Tom says:

    All thunderously good points. I see the Standard printed your comment, but not mine. They’ve taken against me recently. Perhaps I’d have better luck if I took up sockpuppeting. I reprint in full in case they bin it:

    “This is even more stupid than I thought it was – two terminals, two runway islands, miles of undersea tunnels down which everything has to travel (workers, bags, passengers, fuel, food, drink…) with no obvious technological solution off the shelf, let alone in eight years. Hijacking the Southend Victoria rail line, blithely reworking Crossrail to include an extension before it’s built – this is not the product of serious engineers but inexperienced politicians with big egos.

    Also, those people saying ‘great idea Boris’ – you haven’t bothered to look at it. For instance, ‘St’, it’s miles *downstream* of Tilbury, so of course ships are going to go past it! Use some common sense, please.”

  3. Mark Lee says:

    Yours ended up there in the end – the Standard have taken to blocking a couple of comments of late (most bizarrely, including one saying that I thought the TOCs were using the downturn as an excuse to get approval for layoffs)

    The split terminal idea is mad – the more I look at it, the more I spot flaws. The next one is the Essex terminal – it’s far closer to vast swathes of London than the Kent one. But it has only a couple of A-roads linking it. Good luck with that one… It would be interesting to see what Essex CC have to say about it.

  4. Tom says:

    The original Maplin would have had the M12 and possibly later on the M13.

    There’s also the problem of getting people on and off the islands in emergencies – do you have hospital facilities, police, fire etc. on the individual islands? You’d have to have at least an airport fire service, so presumably a port for shipping the fire tenders out with would have to be included. The transit tube being effectively a proper railway requires proper railway depot infrastructure, too.

  5. The real killer for Boris is a much, much simpler one; it doesn’t have to be a castle in the air; even an airport built on sand will fail.

    The cost of underpinning both (all three?) runways to the seabed, at one pile every twenty metres or so, will make costs astronomical, and put building times well into the cathedral class.

    Even a Low Tide Only Airport will need to be raised some 15 – 20 metres *above* the level of the migrating sand, and firmly anchored 15 – 20 metres *below* it .

    It Ain’t Gonna Happen.

  6. Mark Lee says:

    Nice to see that some of the Standard commentators have been at their crack pipes this afternoon – “Awesome idea, Boris. About time the loony left who haven’t spent a penny on infrastructure for twelve years, had a major project forced upon them. Coupled with the high speed rail links we will finally have a tory generated, infrastructure related, recovery program.”
    Would this be the same “loony left” whose transport schemes Boris has decimated?

  7. Tom says:

    You know, if I was a suspicious sod, I’d suggest there was some astroturfing going on there…

  8. Daniel says:

    I don’t even know where to begin with how silly this idea is becoming.

    The impact on airspace management within South East England and Western Europe (because it will affect them too!) doesn’t bear thinking about! Not to mention the extra positioning flights by aircraft needing to get from one island to the other!

    Another thing to consider is the impact on the London taxi industry – the new airports would be firmly outside the area within which black taxis are allowed to ply for hire. With the airport split in two, it’s going to be a gamble as to where the work will be!

  9. Tom says:

    It’s the positioning thing that makes me call it two airports, really.

    The taxi drivers should love it – ‘£140 and an overnight stay to you guv – on expenses, is it?’.

  10. Daniel says:

    One of the reasons that taxi fares outside the Metropolitan Police District are so expensive is that London Taxis are not allowed to ply for hire once they get out there (eg Gatwick – you can take a black cab there (and most drivers will be most grateful!), but they have to come back empty).

    To cut a long story short, you’d be able to hire a London cab to get out there, but for the trip back, you would have to use a private hire company – with a totally different charging model.

    Unless stage 2 involves a takeover of Kent and Essex Police ;o)

  11. Guano says:

    We’re talking about pirate radio territory here, aren’t we, outside territorial waters?

  12. tommy says:

    like i said the other day, its going to be so far out to see it might as well belong to Schipol,

    I’ll remind every of another engineer feat, involving megastructures, generating power and Estuaries….its taken years to…well not get off the ground….


    so in reality considering how long it takes, why is he wasting his time, does he expect to be mayor for the next 25 years whatever it would take to get a project like this remotely feasible.

    Ok so if this was proposed in America or \China i would believe it, but even they only undertake this kind of thing when they really have to, and we don’t have to we’re a small island that has existing infrastructure in place that could be improved upon for much much less……errrr third runway at heathrow……..second runway at stansted maybe?

    The airline industry have pledged to reduce CO2 emissions by 30% by 2050, so cant they just stop this nonesense

  13. […] selected journalists. The whole ludicrous scheme has been carefully taken to pieces by Tom at Boris Watch, whose posts someone at City Hall would do well to […]

  14. Tom says:

    I believe territorial waters have moved, but it’s very near Red Sands Fort, which was used for pirate radio.

    Most of the Standard commenters still appear to be sockpuppets, morons or both, but the odd sane person slips through:

    “Please excuse my ignorance but it was my understanding that the Thames Estuary is bordered by Essex and Kent. If that is the case, and I believe it is, then what on earth is the Mayor of London doing sticking his grubby nose in areas beyond his domain? He knows this ridiculous scheme will probably never get the go ahead and is only pursuing this to gain brownie points from the Londoners currently blighted by aeroplane generated pollution. I think South Essex and North Kent are way over-developed already and it’s about time somewhere else ‘benefited’ from the second-rate and greed-driven type of regeneration that we have had to endure for the past 20 years.”

  15. Mark Lee says:

    Fortunately Boris does seem to have had the initiative to avoid an international dispute, by keeping the airport well away from the Principality of Sealand

  16. PA SKOM says:


    Report 1> http://www.king-marduk.de/viewtopic.php?t=109
    Report 2> http://www.king-marduk.de/viewtopic.php?t=108

  17. […] Oakervee’s report into the estuary airport proposed by Boris Johnson’s Deputy Mayor For Policing, failed  airline tycoon Kit Malthouse, […]

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