8th October 2013

Airports Commission: tainted process – dubious conclusion

Stop Stansted Expansion (SSE) is disappointed that the Airports Commission has formed the preliminary view that extra runway capacity is needed in the south east of England.

In his speech yesterday [7 October 2013] the chairman of the Airports Commission, Sir Howard Davies said that his Commission had not been persuaded by the arguments against expansion.

In SSE’s view, the arguments for more runway capacity in the south east are dangerously weak and we will be taking up Sir Howard’s invitation to comment on his preliminary conclusions in the course of the coming month. SSE will continue to argue the case that the UK, as a whole, already has more than enough runway capacity to meet the Department for Transport forecasts to 2050, and well beyond.

In the meantime SSE notes that the only member of Sir Howard’s Commission with first-hand knowledge and experience of the aviation industry, Geoff Muirhead, continued to work for the Manchester Airport Group (MAG), the owners of Stansted Airport, right up to the time when he was appointed as a Commissioner and indeed beyond that. Mr Muirhead, who has long been a keen advocate of airport expansion, resigned from the Commission less than three weeks ago ‘by mutual consent’ with the Secretary of State when the issue of apparent bias was raised.

SSE Chairman, Peter Sanders, commented: “In view of Mr Muirhead’s position we can have no confidence that the work of the Commission has been free from bias. We had already decided to mount a legal challenge relating to the sift criteria – i.e. the selection criteria which the Commission would use if and when it considers the comparative merits of different options for expansion. We shall be continuing with this challenge and expect to be able to say more about this next week.”


  • Apart from Manchester, MAG owns three other UK airports, including Stansted, and after retiring as chief executive of MAG, three years ago, Mr Muirhead was appointed as an ambassador to the Group and seemingly paid £164,000 per annum – a position he held until earlier this year. In addition he was in receipt of a MAG pension of £95,000 per annum.
  • As the former chief executive of MAG, Mr Muirhead was a strong advocate for building new airport capacity. Indeed, one of his main achievements was the development of a second runway at Manchester Airport.
  • See also the SSE press releases of 19 August and 20 September.

Campaigning to ensure Stansted Airport's authorised operations stay below harmful limits