Heathrow's two runways (the last was built in 1946!) are full and the airport is creaking. I've been a critic on many occasions of the airport's owner, BAA, for its standards of customer service, but processing 68 million passengers a year in facilities built for 45 million would clearly cause problems for any company. For good or ill, Heathrow is our gateway to the rest of the world. If this was any other country we might now be looking at building a world beating replacement to Heathrow, but no one apart from the Mayor of London seems to possess that degree of ambition or imagination.
The expansion of Heathrow is unlikely to lead to more flights until around 2020 due to our tortuous planning system, but no doubt more protests will take place in the coming months and years. I note with a wry smile that the latest celebrity to join the anti-Heathrow bandwagon, the actress Emma Thompson, took part in a photo call urging people to stop flying just hours before, ahem, flying off to L.A. for the Golden Globes.
Anyway, I'm sure the third runway will become a hot political issue all the way to the next election. But it really shouldn't be. It's easy to chase votes in a small number of marginal seats near to the airport, but in reality the good people of Brentford or Richmond Park will more likely choose their MP on the basis of their views on the overall performance of Gordon Brown, tax, the health service or the quality of education in their constituencies. Very few MPs get elected on single-issue NIMBY protests such as this. And in any case, more than 100,000 people around Heathrow rely on the airport for their jobs.
Regardless of your views on Heathrow specifically, I still wonder how Theresa Villiers has persuaded the party leader to support a policy which says no to all airport expansion, anywhere in the UK, under any circumstances. It's easy to criticise the aviation industry as being self-interested in pushing for more runways, but harder to explain away the support of the CBI, British Chambers of Commerce, London First, the Institute of Directors, as well as every major player in the City.
The party has made the wrong decision in siding with Greenpeace, and one that may I suspect may well come back to haunt them in government.