Just because BIA runway extension is in a plan doesn't mean it will happen
My exclusive story a week ago revealing that Birmingham International Airport's ÃÂ£120 million runway extension plan is in deep trouble represents something of an inconvenient truth for West Midlands' political elite.
It is always embarrassing for politicians when people begin to realise that local government's grand plans and strategies are nothing more than meaningless words if the money and the will to deliver major infrastructure projects like the BIA runway simply does not exist.
And let's be absolutely clear about this. Birmingham Airport does not, at the moment, have the money to build a longer runway and even if it did have the funding in place the BIA board remains to be convinced of the business case for doing so.
This is not something that I have made up. It is a statement of fact from Paul Kehoe, BIA chief executive, whose assessment of the runway plan as reported in this newspaper - "at best it's marginal, at worst it could be loss-making" - caught the seven West Midlands district councils off guard.
The councils, owning pretty much a half share in the airport, have succeeded in talking up the runway proposal in such a way that most opinion formers in the region and business leaders tend to lapse into a messianic trance while repeating the mantra "we must have the runway, we must have the runway".
They assume the project is in the bag. They have been convinced by the argument that the regional economy will benefit from inward investment worth hundreds of millions of pounds if BIA is able to offer non-stop flights to India, China and the west coast of America.
But is this really likely to be the case given the financial and environmental pressures facing the aviation industry as we move into the second decade of the 21st century?
Let me again quote Mr Kehoe: "Even if we build the extension, we can't be certain that the airlines will come."
The point the airport is making is one that really does have to be answered convincingly by our political leaders. Put simply, Mr Kehoe is asking why BIA's private sector shareholders should be expected to carry most of the risk for a scheme where the business case is, at best, marginal.
The longer runway would, as he points out, do far more for the regional economy than it would for the airport company assuming of course that you sign up to the claim that airlines would actually use the longer runway in large numbers rather than continuing to fly from Manchester and the London airports.
There is, according to Mr Kehoe, "no clear financial advantage" for BIA from plodding on with a huge infrastructure scheme which would swallow up most of the airport's available cash reserves for years to come.
He puts it like this: "The airport could just as easily spend the money it does have on improving passenger terminals. The board has to look at this with a cold towel on its head and consider the company's best interests."
I have left it until now to comment on a letter to the Post from Birmingham City Council chief executive Stephen Hughes because his words are barely worth commenting on. A text book exercise in self-serving obfuscation, Mr Hughes wishes our readers to know that the runway extension remains on track because it is a high priority for the region's councils and is at the top of some spending plan strategy or other.
Mr Hughes, on top of his growing portfolio of duties which already includes masterminding regeneration in Birmingham, has taken personal responsibility for delivering the runway extension and he has the total backing of city council leader Mike Whitby.
Well, that's okay then. Brum's answer to X Factor's John and Edward are on the case, charging around with unbridled enthusiasm in an attempt to convince the electorate that all is well, when the opposite is clearly the case.
Mr Hughes does not mention Mr Kehoe in his letter. It is as if the BIA boss's comments never existed, airbrushed away in order to re-write history.
It is not only the BIA board requiring a cold towel, Whitby and Hughes could do with one as well.