Regional aviation policies still up in the air

Lord Foster's design for the super-airport in the Thames Estuary Image copyright Foster and Partners
Image caption Lord Foster's design for the super-airport in the Thames Estuary

So far the debate about the future of Britain's major airports has been dominated by London and the South East.

Is a "Boris Island" super-airport in the Thames Estuary the answer? A new runway at Gatwick or Stansted? Or a third runway with extra developments at Heathrow, to the west of the existing terminals?

So when will those of us who live and work beyond the magic circle of the M25 have our say?

Answer: right now.

Aviation hub

On Monday, the Midlands' biggest international airport will present its submission to the commission being led by Sir Howard Davies.

His final recommendations for the UK's aviation strategy is not due until June 2015, a month after the planned date of the next general election.

But his interim proposals are promised before the end of this year and he has said he aims to narrow the discussion down to three or four serious propositions and lift any potential blight from other areas not in serious contention.

The commission is widely expected to recommend a solution involving between three and six airports.

Image copyright bbc
Image caption Birmingham will put itself forward to be an aviation hub

Birmingham Airport's recommendations are likely to chime-in with this: its managers are known to favour a multi-hub system such as the one they have in Germany, easing the pressure on the country's main gateway at Frankfurt.

Birmingham will call for three hubs outside London. Not surprisingly, Birmingham would itself be one of them. The others would be Manchester and either Edinburgh or Glasgow.

But Birmingham believe they have one unique selling point. The Birmingham Interchange on a high-speed rail system would bring it within forty minutes of the capital and within less than one hour's journey time of half the population of England.

New terminal

The centrepiece of Birmingham airport's plan would be the construction of a new terminal incorporating the high-speed railway station which would help raise the airport's capacity to around 37 million passengers a year. Managers estimate this would also generate nearly a quarter of a million new jobs.

But they also acknowledge that their vision is dependent on high-speed going ahead. HS2, as we know, has triggered a storm of protests along the proposed routes and the business case has been repeatedly downgraded.

Environmentalists including the Green Party, who won seats off the Tories in Warwickshire in last month's council elections, are opposed to both high-speed rail and further airport development. UKIP are against HS2 as well.

Bold and brave

And what if the expected growth of aviation does not materialise? Forecasts have been notoriously wide of the mark in the past.

And is it really the job of airports to be engines of regeneration, or should they merely respond to existing economic conditions?

Some local political leaders in all three main parties urge Birmingham's airport managers to respond to their critics by being bolder and braver still, to make a real contribution to the mantra of "rebalancing the economy".

How exactly this might be achieved will be revealed exclusively on this weekend's Sunday Politics Midlands from 11.00 on BBC One on Sunday, 9 June 2013.

The vision is certainly ground-breaking.

Which is another way of saying it is controversial too. I hope you will be able to join me on Sunday's programme to find out all about it.