London is to have a third international airport to cope with a huge expansion of air traffic in and out of the British capital in the next 15 years. Despite opposition from members of Parliament of her own Conservative Party, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher has got her way with a plan to develop Stansted, Essex, to supplement facilities at Heathrow and Gatwick, the two existing airports serving London.
Mrs. Thatcher has also gained support for another of her pet projects: privatization of the British Airports Authority which runs Britain's seven leading airports.
To push through the project to develop Stansted, set in attractive countryside more than 30 miles north of London, the Thatcher government has had to overcome protests by conservationists and other pressure groups unhappy about the prospect of passenger traffic that is projected to be as high as 15 million people a year.
The Stansted decision means there will be no fifth air terminal at Heathrow and no second runway at Gatwick for the time being.
The plan to privatize the British Airports Authority has been attacked by the opposition Labour Party, who speak of another government sell-off of a valuable state asset. Within the ruling Tory party there is controversy about the way the government intends to proceed.
The plan is to sell the authority as a single entity, in the form of a holding company that would administer smaller companies serving particular regions.
This will probably produce maximum revenue for the treasury, but a study by the Institute for Fiscal Studies speaks of the need to have individual airports separately owned. This would lead to greater competition between airports and a wider geographical spread of passenger traffic, the institute says.
The rapid buildup of air traffic in and out of southeast England is going to put heavy pressure on passenger facilities, already at the bursting point at Heathrow during busy periods. Road and rail access to London's three airports will also have to be upgraded substantially.