Floating Alternative In The Thames Estuary


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My 2nd yr's project on the possibility of constructing London's new airport in the Thames Estuary. Outlines the historical aspects of building a floating airport as well as touches upon feasibility of such undertaking in the London area.

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Floating Alternative In The Thames Estuary

  1. 1. 398145066675<br />Floating Alternative in Thames Estuary<br />Coursework<br />CA1008C – Airport Design<br />Magdalena Anna Fas<br />No. 07021435<br />Table of contents:<br /><ul><li>Introduction
  2. 2. Heathrow Hell – Or Why It Is Not Willie Walsh’s Fault
  3. 3. Made in Japan – Off-shore Airports
  4. 4. Megafloat – Floating Airport
  5. 5. Thames Estuary Enterprise – Never-ending Story
  6. 6. Historical perspective
  7. 7. Project development
  8. 8. Economic feasibility
  9. 9. Socio-political constraints
  10. 10. Environmental issues
  11. 11. Day-dreamers or Realists – Thames Estuary Project’s Viability
  12. 12. Bibliography
  13. 13. INTRODUCTION</li></ul>Dynamic growth of travel experienced worldwide in past decades has had a multiplying effect on the airports around the globe – long ago had travel lost its charm and glamour; inconvenient access, giant and overcrowded airports, lengthy security checks, delays and the likeliness that your baggage will miss your departure are today commonplace. Due to the adoption of hub-and-spoke type of networks by almost all of the legacy carriers, the major exposure to the congestion problems is experienced by the hubs. Effectively, expanding these airports was the way to follow by the airport operators in order to avoid loss of their customers. Airports are becoming even larger yet, reaching monstrous dimensions and shapes as if taken out of a Le Corbusier’s dream. Nevertheless, not all airports have the privilege of being built from scratch like Atlanta Hartsfield, nor enough adjacent space to build six runways as was the case of Amsterdam Schiphol. Some (probably the most evocative example is Heathrow) are hostages of their own designs and locations – airports with outdated and inefficient facilities and with no place for further expansion. <br />Given these constraints and bearing in mind the forecasted growth in air travel (up to 5% yearly until 2026 according to Airbus Industrie), this paper aims at assessing the viability of a new airport located in Thames Estuary that would serve London and resolve current logistic problems occurring in the South-East area. A summary of the today’s situation at Heathrow airport will serve as a starting point. Secondly, the project of an offshore airport should be examined, followed by examples of similar undertakings stemming mainly from the Far East, where such infrastructure is in common use. Accordingly, the idea of a floating airport (as opposed to those founded on man-built islands) will be studied so as to illustrate available technical tools. The estuarine project for London shall be then scrutinized in terms of historical perspective, project development, possible location, environmental issues and socio-economic constraints. Somehow futuristic visions of the new development will be presented just before I move to the main conclusions and the general conclusions.<br /><ul><li>HEATHROW HELL – OR WHY IT IS NOT WILLIE WALSH’S FAULT</li></ul>Often spoken of as a Third World gateway to a First World country, Heathrow Airport has been moving across uncharted waters since its conception. Although the first paved runway was laid in 1946, the first permanent terminal building was not finished until 1955 and ever since then new termini were added not to anticipate the traffic growth but to alleviate its effects. Additionally, their location in the centre of the site has become a constraint to expansion – as the traffic increased, the originally huge access tunnel developed into a bottleneck. <br />Nowadays, facilities designed for 45 millions of passengers per year are used to serve close to 70 million and 99.9% of available slots are in use making the capital’s airspace one of the most congested in the world. As mentioned earlier, the airport’s inconvenient location minimizes the scope for growth. Dense residential areas are located all around the site and the approach pathway is situated above the city centre (due to prevailing winds) resulting in high levels of noise and air pollution in the area as well as in further dangers in case of an accident or aircraft hijacking. Access to the airport is relatively time-consuming, either by road (the ever-congested M-25 and the above mentioned tunnel) or by rail/underground (slow and overcrowded Piccadilly Line, slightly better but expensive Heathrow Express). <br />Aimed at combating the lack of farsightedness of their predecessors, BAA and British Airways set upon construction of a new facility, which would improve the passenger experience of Heathrow and make it unforgettable. Terminal 5 managed to achieve this goal, although not exactly in the desired sense. Baggage handling system breakdown resulted in thousands of pieces of delayed baggage in the days just after opening and although the situation is improving, it caused a long-lasting damage to both BA’s and the airport’s brand. <br />Figure SEQ Figure * ARABIC 1: Planned 3rd Runway Location, LHR.Source: Department for Transport1981200261620Despite this drawback, further developments at Heathrow are lobbied for. These include a new runway and a sixth terminal. The government, British Airways, BAA and airline business in general opts in favor of Heathrow’s expansion. Importantly, also the capital’s financial community supports an extended Heathrow. The reasons are fairly simple – Heathrow is critical to the national economy and apart of being one of the biggest employers itself, it also sustains thousands of work places created with respect to the airport’s presence. Thus, the main argument is that Heathrow – as a major driver of economy – needs to be expanded. Nevertheless, the opposition on behalf of both the citizens and environmental activists alike is formidable. The line of argument on this side involves unavoidable increases in air and noise pollution, the fact that hundreds of houses would have to be demolished and people to be relocated. Also, the opponents claim that any further expansion will not improve the situation, yet undoubtedly worsen the quality of life in West London. The upcoming mayoral election in London is not necessarily beneficial, as many (e.g. Boris Johnson) try to achieve their purely political aims by means of populist statements while addressing Heathrow’s future.<br /><ul><li>MADE IN JAPAN – OFF-SHORE AIRPORTS</li></ul>Although listening to the Heathrow expansion debate it may seem so, West London is not unique in its scarcity of free space available for airport development. First design of an airport that would be located off-shore was proposed by an American architect Norman Bel Gedeles as early as in 1930. However, the project of a rotary airport for Manhattan was never realized. Later in the century and because land availability was so limited, cities located near coast constructed semi-offshore airports to overcome the land use constraints (i.e. Boston, Singapore). In the 1960s, the English came close to raise a novel phenomenon – an offshore airport located on new artificial island off the coast. Nevertheless, the concept of a Third London Airport to be built in the North Sea (interestingly, although to be located at Foulness, the site was promoted as Maplin) was rejected by the Roskill Commission as too costly and difficult to access. In the 1990s, the idea reappeared in the Far East with Hong Kong being the first to deliver in 1998. Nowadays, island airports seem to be particularly popular in Asia, particularly in densely populated areas – five of such constructions were raised up to date in Japan only (i.e. Osaka, Nagoya). Worldwide, airports hold two general roles – firstly, they connect to a global network creating revenue for both airlines and airports and secondly, generate benefits for the contiguous region. Offshore airports prove a solution in places where airports would be otherwise unaffordable. <br />Figure SEQ Figure * ARABIC 2: Effects of new airport infrastructure.Source: Nijkamp & Yim (2001)2266950-1279525Nijkamp and Yim (2001) analyzed the critical success factors of offshore airports by means of the so-called pentagon model, grouping them into five areas:<br /><ul><li>Hardware – the physical and technological side of the infrastructure and its sophistication – complimentarily to the usual facilities, also specific facilities are required, i.e. transport possibilities during emergencies, development of a logistic base at the airport.
  14. 14. Software – the informational and communicational side, network connecting potential – advanced facilities to support all forms of traffic to and out of the airport, i.e. wind shear detection systems, route-guidance system for road traffic.
  15. 15. Orgware – the organizational and regulatory side provided to enhance the passenger experience – may be divided into supply and demand, i.e. formulation and execution of clear goals in the construction phase, airport’s ability to attract customers (airlines) without harming its competitive position.
  16. 16. Finware – the financial side – particularly high cost and long lead time in obtaining revenue; it is mandatory to adequate levels of capital and avoid attracting new customers to the airport by lowering airport charges.
  17. 17. Ecoware – the environmental side – need to favor environmental awareness and be clear about the airport’s policy in this area, i.e. effects on marine and terrestrial ecology caused by land reclamation.</li></ul>An offshore airport is an enormous investment and although helps to overcome land shortages, has its own downsides. Here belong weak links with the mainland and need for expensive evacuation systems, sound and strict financial agreements due to the cost involved and processes needed to alleviate the airport’s impact on the surrounding ecosystems. Probably most importantly however, off-shore locations are unlikely to attract customers for purposes other than travelling (reducing income from retail) and may experience financial difficulties if the old mainland airport is not shut down (as in the case of Nagoya).<br /><ul><li>-57150227330MEGAFLOAT – FLOATING AIRPORT
  18. 18. Figure SEQ Figure * ARABIC 3: Megafloat - conceptual drawing.Source: OkamuraFigure SEQ Figure * ARABIC 4: Megafloat project schedule.Source: Suzuki (2004)27432004435475Given the high costs and long lead time of the off-shore airport construction, some projects have been turned down in the middle- to short-term (i.e. Amsterdam, Tel Aviv). With a prospect that in long term such a choice could be feasible, the Japanese attempted to meet the demand. Megafloat, as the structure was named, is a very large floating surface moored to the seabed. Its advantages are numerous, including the easiness of artificial land development even in deep waters or on a soft seabed, its ability to isolate earthquake motion and relative environmental and ecological friendliness. The world’s first full-scale field trials of a large floating structure commenced in Japan in 1995 and were coordinated by the Technological Research Association of Megafloat. Although successful, the program was abandoned in 2000 due to the economic downturn. As showed by Mr Suzuki (University of Tokyo, Department of Environmental and Ocean Engineering), all the technical, environmental and regulatory issues have been overcome in the course of the experiment. In 2005, Japan and the US announced a new airport to be built making use of the Megafloat experience. Although it was never to be accomplished, the Megafloat might yet be to make the history as the available technology gains on quality and sophistication.
  20. 20. Historical perspective
  21. 21. The idea of a new London airport surfaced in the late 1960s, when Roskill Commission was appointed with an aim to examine various possibilities of airport infrastructure development in the South-East. The project assumed that a man-made island in the vicinity of the town of Maplin be built and the airport constructed. However, the Commission voted against and Stansted Airport’s development was agreed upon instead. As the air traffic grew over the years, the proposal kept bouncing back to the infrastructure planners. At least three reasonable proposals were made during past thirty years and a web-engine search returns dozens of web pages of companies whose main activity is to develop and promote the off-shore airport infrastructure to be located on a man-made island in the Estuary. Moreover, as the problems at Heathrow escalate, similar concepts are increasingly being recalled as the sole solution; even more so given their Far East success.
  22. 22. Project development
  23. 23. 1238251579880Figure SEQ Figure * ARABIC 5: Proposed Locations in Thames EstuarySource: DfT (2003)Building of a new airport involves a huge amount of investment to be made in front of the project’s completion and the return on investment is not clear in the sense that firstly, it is not sure whether the new facility will be able to attract enough demand and secondly, any delays during the construction phase reduce the project’s viability. Unsurprisingly, a vast amount of market and project research has been done in the case of the Thames Estuary project so as to define the most suitable location in terms of accessibility, specific infrastructural components, regulatory issues, levels of capital and environmental impact (reflecting the pentagon model).</li></ul>The following table, constructed from the Department of Transport data, summarizes various locations and describes their main characteristics.<br /><ul><li>LOCATIONOFF-/ON-SHORENUMBER OFRUNWAYSCHARACTERISTICSCLIFFEon-shore2 East-West close parallel pairssufficient land availablepotentially good transport links to London and the rest of the UKrelatively few people to be displacedrelatively few affected by the noisepossible 24-hour operationcontribution to regeneration policies in the Thames GatewayMARINAIRoff-shore2 East-West close parallel pairsshallow water away from tidal flowsrequires extensive developments of transport linkspotentially good transport connections24-hour operationTHE CANToff-shore2 East-West close parallel pairsshallower waters than in Marinaira better solution in terms of river hydrologyproximity of London – potentially short journey times THAMESREACHoff-shore2 East-West close parallel pairssimilar to The Cantcloser to London – better connectionspublic transport given priorityrail link to London (CTRL), Essex and Kent SHEPPEYon-shore1 East-West close parallel pair2nd after 2030no major earthworks needed before 2030fast links to London by railGOODWINSANDStwo off-shoreislands2 East-West close parallel pairsdevelopment in two phasesa 24-hour passenger and freight hublong journey times to Londoncomplicated transport links to London, other sites in the UK as well as between the two components themselvesMAPLINoff-shore1 East-West close parallel pairairport and seaportup to 60mppa of capacityno development since the Roskill Commission verdict
  24. 24. Economic feasibility
  25. 25. From a strictly engineering point of view (as we saw in parts 3 and 4), there are no obstacles to prevent airport development at any of these sites. Thus, the decision would be dependent in great measure on factors of convenience such as cost of construction, its capacity and accessibility. Cliffe Marches and Thames Reach seem particularly suitable for the purpose. Estimated cost of the investment equals £8-10 billion and includes the site formation, additional off-shore construction and surface access infrastructure. However, more conservative estimations put the number closer to £20 billion and the overall cost would obviously be adversely proportional to the airport’s proximity from London. The question of the role played by sound and strict financial arrangements in a new airport development was raised earlier. In the case of London, it is apparent that Heathrow (and possibly Gatwick) would need to be closed down in order to attract the customers to the new facility. Should it be otherwise, the return on investment could never truly materialize and potential investors would be well aware of this fact. Also, it should not be forgotten that Heathrow’s closure would have a negative impact on thousands of companies that are located in its proximity. While relocating the airport itself, a solution for its neighbours would have to be found.</li></ul>OptionCost £bnBenefits £bnNet Benefits £bnBenefit:Cost RatioEstuarine airportsThames Reach7.62517.43.3:1Sheppey9.119.510.42.1:1Goodwin Sands9.711.61.91.2:1Cliffe13.924.510.61.2:1Other airport options1.2:1LHR+1, STN+17.524.617.13.3:1LHR+1,LGW+1, STN+1932.823.83.7:1London Oxford11.328.116.82.5:1Redhill2.<br />Figure SEQ Figure * ARABIC 6: Economic appraisal for various development projects.<br />Source: DfT (2003)<br /><ul><li>Socio-political environment
  26. 26. While the opposition to the development of Heathrow is strong, many seem not to realize what the consequences of its close-down would be. The London’s main airport would migrate from the west to the east and major changes in employment structure would be required. Eventually, some might (too lately) acknowledge the benefits of having a large hub around the corner. For the new airport, the social impacts would be relatively low given its location.
  27. 27. In political terms, an off-shore airport still belongs to the long-term future, because of the investment and process sophistication involved. Lack of support on the City’s behalf also contributes to a general conviction that development of current assets rather than novel facilities is the right choice.
  28. 28. Environmental issues
  29. 29. Although it is widely recognized that the airport would meet all current norms required for developments of this kind, there is an important concern about the facility’s impact upon the environment. Some (i.e. contribution to global warming, noise pollution) would be only relocated to the east; other are project- and location-specific (i.e. impact on marine and terrestrial ecosystems, on tidal flows). The sole fact that the Estuary is home to large numbers of birds means not only that there is a fierce opposition of environmental activists, but also that a significant possibility of bird hazard occurs. Decided means needed to be undertaken to alleviate the airport’s influence on its intermediate environment.
  31. 31. Rotary floating airport conceptualization1914525408305As stated earlier, the technology to accomplish the project already exists. One could venture into even more sophisticated concepts – a logistic node comprised of a port, seaplane base and an airport with state-of-the-art surface transport links (both by rail and road); a floating airport capable of rotating around its vertical axis in order to align its runways with the prevailing winds; or an off-shore facility located away enough from the coast so as to avoid any negative impacts on coastal ecosystems and connected to London by means of tunnel-based four-track very high speed rail – all this could be dreamt of.
  32. 32. The reality is somewhat more prosaic and little more than goodwill is showed in the case of Thames Estuary Project. Surely, the surest option is to be followed – further expansion of existing airport, with an additional runway at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted. However, the goal should be not only to increase the capacity but also to improve the passenger experience and make the air travel a more seamless experience.
  33. 33. BIBLIOGRAPHY BIBLIOGRAPHY Airbus Global Market Forecast 2006-26. (2008). Retrieved March 27, 2008, from Airbus Industrie: http://www.airbus.com/store/mm_repository/pdf/att00011423/media_object_file_GMF_2007.pdfHalcrow Group Ltd. (2003). DfT. Retrieved March 13, 2008, from Department for Transport: http://www.dft.gov.uk/results?view=Filter&t=Thames+Estuary&pg=1Gordon, A. (2004). Naked Airport. New York: Metropolitan Books.n/a. (n/a). Floating Airport, Patent 5398635. Retrieved March 12, 2008, from http://www.freepatentsonline.com/5398635.htmlNijkamp, P., & Yim, H. (2001). Critical success factors for offshore airports - a comparative evaluation. Air Transport Management , 181-188.Okamura, H. (2004). Retrieved March 14, 2008, from Realizing the world's first floating airport.