Will 'Open Skies' clog Heathrow?

A passenger arrives at the International Arrivals in London, England.

TEXT OF STORY

KAI RYSSDAL: American Airlines has company in the maintenance hangar. Delta announced it's going to cancel almost 300 flights just like American did yesterday. The two carriers are inspecting wiring at the suggestion of the Federal Aviation Administration.

There is some airline news you might actually want to hear: This weekend a new Open Skies agreement between Europe and the U.S. goes into effect. It'll let all carriers fly the lucrative transatlantic routes not just a select few airlines being allowed to land at a couple of European airports.

Today, Heathrow outside London took the wraps off a brand new terminal to handle all the extra passengers. But Marketplace's Stephen Beard reports they might not be welcomed with open arms.


QUEEN ELIZABETH: So, today it gives me great pleasure to open Terminal 5, this 21st century gateway to Britain . . .

STEPHEN BEARD: That's the Queen giving her blessing to Heathrow's gleaming and spacious new terminal. The nine billion dollar facility opens for business today. It's expected to handle 30 million passengers a year and cut check-in times to just 10 minutes. British Airways boss Willie Walsh is cooing with delight.

WILLIE WALSH: It is fantastic. I think people will be genuinely wowed when they get an opportunity to come through Terminal 5.

But they'll only get that opportunity if they fly British Airways. Passengers on all the American carriers won't see the inside of the new facility. Many of them are likely to wind up in Heathrow's most notorious terminal.

MICHAEL RILEY: We're now in the Terminal 3, which is the major international terminal of Heathrow.

Michael Riley is a retired businessman and anti-Heathrow campaigner. He's against any further expansion of the airport. He says it is already too big and too busy. He's eager to point out the hassle awaiting American passengers using Terminal 3.

RILEY: Just to say to the Americans: Don't expect to enjoy the experience of coming through Heathrow.

Why not? I mean, what are they're going to find when they come here?

RILEY: Because, it's full. Basically it's full.

The airport is already so congested it can take three hours to check in and get through security here. Riley says Open Skies, which could brings tens of thousands more American passengers across the Atlantic, will only make matters worse.

RILEY: All it will do is put a gallon into a pint pot.

Heathrow says the airport must expand even further to cope with Open Skies. But 16 local authorities in London, the Mayor, several national newspapers and half a dozen protest groups say no. No more expansion. They argue the airport's in the wrong place -- in the middle of a heavily built up area. Two million residents suffer from the noise. Margaret Thorburn lives four miles from Heathrow.

MARGARET THORBURN: There's one every minute at least. And we have this one after the other for half the day at the moment. Here we go, here comes another one.

(sound of plane roaring overhead)

BEARD: Living close to an airport you can't really complain about aircraft noise. Aircraft noise is inevitable, isn't it?

THORBURN: It's the sheer relentlessness of it. It's the fact that they just don't let up. And here comes another one>

(Sound of another plane roaring overhead)

BEARD: You're not keen on this Open Skies agreement then, which looks as if it's going to bring a lot more air traffic over your home?

THORBURN: I'm afraid I'm not. I understand that there's something important business-wise. I think I'll have to stop again, I'm afraid.

(Sound of another plane)

Thorburn and other protesters are calling for Heathrow traffic to be capped and for a new London airport to be built well away from where people live. But Heathrow's expansion seems unstoppable, whether Londoners like it or not. Plans are afoot for a third runway. Heathrow is set to remain Americans' top destination in Europe.

In London, this is Stephen Beard for Marketplace.


RYSSDAL: Here's the unanticipated epilogue to Stephen's story: If you're flying into Terminal 5 at Heathrow, you might want to limit yourself to carry-on bags. The baggage handling system crashed today and dozens of flights were canceled.

About the author

Stephen Beard is the European bureau chief and provides daily coverage of Europe’s business and economic developments for the entire Marketplace portfolio.

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