The Government has today announced the terms of reference and membership of the independent Commission tasked with identifying and recommending to Government options for maintaining the UK's status as an international hub for aviation.

Interestingly the terms of reference do not prohibit the Commission considering any particular options. Therefore, it is likely that the Commission will consider the possibility of a third runway at Heathrow and a new airport in the Thames Estuary amongst other options.

The Commission will publish a guidance document no later than January 2013, setting out how and when proposals to meet the UK's international connectivity needs can be made, and the factors that the Commission will wish to take into account in considering them. The Commission also intends to appoint an External Advisory Panel, which will include key experts in relevant areas.

It is envisaged that an interim report will be published by the end of 2013 setting out:

  • an assessment of the evidence on the nature, scale and timing of the steps needed to maintain the UK’s global hub status; and
  • recommendations for immediate actions to improve the use of existing runway capacity in the next five years – consistent with credible long term options.

A full report is expected in summer 2015 which will set out:

  • an assessment of the options for meeting the UK’s international connectivity needs, including their economic, social and environmental impact;
  • recommendations for the optimum approach to meeting any needs; and
  • recommendations for ensuring that the need is met as expeditiously as practicable within the required timescale.

Together with its final report the Commission will also publish materials to support the Government in preparing a National Policy Statement to accelerate the resolution of any future planning application for major airports infrastructure.

Sir Howard Davies will chair the commission alongside five other individuals. These are:

  • Sir John Armitt CBE, the former Chairman of the Olympic Delivery Authority;
  • Professor Ricky Burdett, Professor of Urban Studies at the London School of Economics and director of the LSE Cities research centre;
  • Vivienne Cox, the former CEO and Executive Vice President of BP Alternative Energy and a former member of the BP Executive Management Team;
  • Professor Dame Julia King, Vice Chancellor of Aston University and a member of the Committee on Climate Change, with a background in the aerospace industry; and
  • Geoff Muirhead CBE, former CEO of the Manchester Airport Group.

The Airports Commission Operating Protocol can be accessed here.

The written statement by the Rt Hon Patrick McLoughlin MP released today can be accessed here.