By Rob Gray,
Did you know there are more US astronauts than BA Concorde pilots? Well, you do now. When the longest-serving Concorde pilot dropped in to Back Heathrow on Monday evening, we thought we’d give him a warm welcome. So we invited around 100 of our friends.
In his time, Captain Jock Lowe has been responsible for the day to day operation of the entire British Airways fleet of 300 aircraft worldwide and served as Chief Pilot of British Airways. He has also been President of the Royal Aeronautical Society. But his latest project is rather different.
Jock is the front man for Heathrow Hub which is an independent proposal to extend Heathrow’s existing runways. Some expressed surprise when this option was shortlisted by the Airports Commission as a potential solution to the UK’s airport capacity problem - but not those of us in the Back Heathrow cockpit. A man used to piloting the world’s most famous supersonic aircraft at cruising speeds of 1350mph can handle the odd technical question or two about runways.
Local residents gathered at the Marriott Hotel on the Bath Road, a short hop to the UK’s hub airport, to hear Jock run through his plans allowing Heathrow to grow. They also had the chance to question Andrew Macmillan, Heathrow’s Strategy Director, about the airport’s own expansion plans, which are also on the Airports Commission shortlist. It’s fantastic for our campaign that two options for growth at Heathrow are still in contention. We don’t mind which one emerges as the winner – so long as one does!
But whilst our 100+ supporters were delighted to see Jock, they were less happy to hear about the Mayor of London’s plans to build a Thames Estuary Airport and close Heathrow. They had come to offer their backing for our campaign which has now attracted tens of thousands of supporters. As these determined residents-turned-activists hoovered up the campaign posters, balloons, car stickers and petitions, I thought that if I was Boris, I seriously wouldn’t want to mess with them.
Yet it’s not just about preposterous plans to close Heathrow and build Boris Island, or Fantasy Island as Jock refers to it. The vast majority of local residents are genuinely proud of Heathrow and recognise the benefits this national asset brings to local communities. They want a successful UK hub airport in west London and many are prepared to campaign hard to get it.
There will be turbulence ahead but there are signs that the powers-that-be are starting to listen. Before Christmas, one prominent local politician said that she never heard from pro-Heathrow constituents. She doesn’t say that any more. Perhaps, too, she has seen the polling which shows that the majority of residents will vote for local politicians who back Heathrow expansion.
Supporters of Back Heathrow won’t win everyone round but they are beginning to unveil the true picture of resident opinion in the boroughs surrounding the airport. And it’s looking good.