This PSL Position Paper is written at the time of a final decision to go ahead with the Heathrow Airport expansion, although this decision may only be apparent, the site is nowhere near "shovel-ready" and the plan faces stiff and well-informed resistance. So it may yet fail, but even if it proceeds, exponential growth in UK airport demand will continue to increase during the foreseeable future and this demand will include more and expanded regional airports, in UK and across the world. At the same time, the international Aviation and Space Industry continues to be extremely dynamic, subject to rapid change and an industry in which the UK needs to remain at the leading-edge. Future anticipated technical developments need to allow for such rapid design changes as V/STOL for commercial aircraft. Also, in the Civil Engineering field, the long-established concept of a floating airfield has re-emerged and is gaining popularity amongst the many nations where landing-space is at a premium.
In the interests of brevity, this initial paper makes bullet-points only and the attached list of references leads to the conclusion in favour of additional airport capacity in the South Wales/Severnside area. The principal objective is to optimise economies of scale by building an offshore, state-of-the-art floating airport within the approved Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon, which could be self-supporting in green, cleantech energy. PSL seeks further discussions with centres of excellence and technical advice to UK Government: STFC, NPL
and Surrey University, CAA, MOD, QinetiQ
, Welsh Government, etc.
1. The UK is one of the world's leading centres of leading-edge Research and Development, especially in Aviation and Space, where many of the world's most famous aircraft have been developed and often exceeded their design specification (Mosquito, Spitfire, Harrier, Concorde, MARS-Lander, etc.). The attached reference from the New York Academy of Sciences concerning V/STOL for commercial aircraft states:
"Problems of research and design remain. Some of these are fairly serious; nevertheless, they appear open to concerted attack by readily forecasted programs of development and applied research. Feasibility concept has been demonstrated by such programs as theX-14, the SC-1, and the P-1127".
2. The concept of floating airports is not new, was seriously considered by UK Government to plug "the Atlantic Air Gap" which threatened strategic convoys during WW2 and has led to recent major R&D investment by the Japanese and other well-qualified Governments.
3. The UK potential economic policy shift from monetary to fiscal, with the evident need to invest in more major infrastructure projects, is supported by well-researched statistics. One of the BREXIT effects will probably be to make the UK less London-centric, so major regional infrastructure projects like this South Wales proposal may well find favour at Westminster.
4. The Swansea Tidal Lagoon: taking the positive view that this will proceed, the ideal merging of a number of major infrastructure projects is proposed. The economic advantages to the South Wales economy are self-evident, at a time of urgent need.
5. Setting a world example of energy-harvesting from a number of tried and tested sources, the Severn Estuary having some of the highest tidal ranges in the world.
6. A detailed technical analysis of the Swansea Bay geological structure is obviously needed, and this has been done. The opportunity for several COTS (commercial off-the-shelf) solutions during this proposed project also becomes self-evident.
7. A detailed and proven case for exponential growth in UK airport capacity needs to be presented and this again has been done. In very high-cost infrastructure projects, any opportunity to "kill several birds with one stone" needs to be optimised, so the possibility of an airport within the safe offshore tidal lagoon needs to be investigated.
8. One of the biggest Logistics and Supply Chain problems for the UK is a shortage of landing-slots, adversely affecting both passenger and goods traffic and falling-behind our major trade competitors. The cost-per-slot for landing aircraft in UK can vary between $50 and $75M, so this proposal would be a major source of much-needed revenue to the Welsh and Severnside economy.
9. The concept of building an artificial island, to be used as a safe landing-site, is also fully tested and proven, almost to the point of destruction by one of the UK's major industrial competitors: Korea. A significant investment in R&D for a floating airport has also been made by competent Engineering Scientists in Japan and USA. So once again the high value of a COTS solution becomes evident, but with scope for considerable improvement and finding least-cost/most effective solutions.
10. No airport site will be identical to another, but the recent and proven investigative geological, engineering, scientific, regulative and financial planning work (in UK and abroad) to support this Swansea Bay project presents a potential saving of several £Bns. The IP
status of pioneering work successfully completed in Korea and elsewhere needs to be thoroughly investigated, but the excellent working relationships with these friendly-nations should help to complete successful commercial negotiations.
11. In 10-30 year mega-projects of this nature it is necessary to take an exceptionally long-term view of engineering progress, the rapid growth in worldwide demand for high-speed trains being a typical example. It is therefore feasible to expect the journey time from Swansea to London to eventually be comparable to that for Heathrow and Gatwick (30-45 minutes). In the case of the planned Heathrow airport expansion (which may not happen, and will anyway be insufficient to meet anticipated slot-demand) many critics are very concerned about such a large airport being so close to such a large, busy and highly-congested city as London. Accidents have so far been very rare, but at this time of terrorist threat, the breach of the Queen Mary reservoir by an exploded aircraft, or a similar major incident, would be catastrophic, causing multiple deaths within no more than a few minutes.
12. A further critical factor during mega-projects is manpower and job-creation and in South Wales this factor is particularly acute, due to the loss of its major local industry (coal-mining) and the current serious threat to the long-established Steel Industry. Swansea and the Gower Coast is one of the most attractive areas of the UK in which to live, so finding the right calibre staff for this new airport project should not present a major problem.
13. The construction of the necessary coffer-dams has been very successfully completed elsewhere and this rapid-building is clearly a field in which the UK should ensure it remains world-class. There is also a unique opportunity to gain first-mover advantage, despite COTS solutions having been completed by UK competitors: no other country has yet combined an offshore airport construction with "clean-energy" supply from all available sources: tidal, solar, wind and nuclear, the overall energy management system being potentially sited at a 24/7/365 sophisticated ICT control-room, in the newly-approved Hinkley Point nuclear power-plant in North Somerset.
14. STFC work in Cryogenics and Magnetics is world-class, so the technical solutions to the twin problems of energy storage and distribution should not present a major hurdle: investment costs would inevitably be high, but a large part of the enabling R&D has probably been completed.
15. Superconductivity is now a well-established and accepted technology, although progress has been slower than anticipated. This project is an excellent opportunity for the UK Science and Engineering community to show world-leadership and to set a standard by which others may be judged. This new airport construction may also provide a model for the way ALL airports should be built in future, not least because they need to be safely apart from major urban centres, but with rapid, reliable, and low-cost access; also being energy-neutral, to the greatest extent possible.
16. Rutherford Cable is an example of a British invention that has received insufficient publicity and would be an important engineering component of this major project.
17. This proposal envisages the Swansea lagoon breakwater being capped by large solar-panels which can be automatically positioned to optimise solar power by Telematics technology, using a sun look-up table. This design has already been proven in an energy-harvesting system already developed by PSL and UK-Gov approved, also having won an EU R&D funding-grant. Useful UK engineering and scientific experience has been gained in the driest area of the world, the Atacama Desert in Chile, where enabling UK Cryogenics technology has also been installed.
18. This project also envisages wind energy towers being installed at regular intervals along the breakwater, so that the Swansea area could become one of the world's leading examples of optimum use of clean, green energy. The city and airport could become areas where IC-engined vehicles, particularly diesel, could be banned, as multiple plug-in points would be provided.
19. CSP (Concentrated Solar Power) is another well-tried and tested technology, is expanding rapidly across the UK and improving on a regular basis, especially on cost-reduction. The large number of panels needed would provide more professional and highly-skilled jobs for the South Wales/Severnside regional economy and all the enabling technologies involved in this new project would provide long-term R&D work for the UK's post-industrial work force.
20. Latest research on the worldwide Automotive Industry indicates that a radical sea-change is taking place, due to the rapid development of EVs (Electric Vehicles). Fuel Cell and non-plug-in vehicles will be sidelined as we approach peak internal combustion engine, peak car and even peak plug-in pure electric vehicles in the next two decades. It is likely that the new 48V mild hybrids forecasted will acquire EV modes of operation within ten years so that the total EV market will approach one trillion dollars. EVs leveraging navigational autonomy and/or energy independence will hugely assist the young, the old and emerging nations in particular. UK has the opportunity to demonstrate how a "smart-city" of the future (Swansea) can be developed in a well-managed way, to include driverless, carbon-neutral, accident-free vehicles operating in a cleantech environment.
Democracies rarely engage in 20-30 year mega-projects because they are re-elected too soon and new governments all too often have a knee jerk reaction of destroying what their predecessors agreed. However, Japan did it with an airport. The UK has studied a Severn Barrage for 100 years, knowing it can provide 10% of UK electricity from its record levels of tidal lift and it is now proceeding with a modest part of the dream, the Swansea Tidal lagoon. It is sad that so-many environmentalists conflate such fabulous wildlife sanctuaries with "kill everything" agriculture and concreting over the countryside for roads and cities.
However, the recent UK decisions to build a troubled design of French nuclear power station and expand 100 year old Heathrow show a paucity of vision and lack of the concern for the environment. The last place you have an airport is upwind of a city, because the pollution hits the city and the planes coming in can hit the city too. But it is low up-front cost. Building a troubled design of nuclear power station add danger of accident, of pollution from keeping coal powered electricity going much longer as problems are sorted and later problems of nuclear fuel disposal. But it helps meet pollution targets in the near term.
The smart city idea is great. Swansea is an under-invested place in a beautiful countryside that could become a major tourist destination, hugely benefitting the Welsh economy and the local standard of living. Care is needed with smart cities, now all the rage in China, India and elsewhere. For example, with the Internet of Things
, the assurances about security from the systems and software people sit awkwardly with the ongoing security breaches, the results of which, in applications like transport and healthcare, could be terrifying. The potentially most secure IT systems are likely to be operationally closed ones (eg not on the internet), not using open standards and with few points of entry. When such systems are poorly executed, the billions-of-nodes-connected scenario implies billions of entry points for the bad people on the internet at the other side of the world. See the new IDTechEx report, Internet of Things 2017-2027
The opportunity to take a lead with the inevitably pure-electric future of transportation is excellent. See the new IDTechEx report, Electric Vehicles Will Change the World 2017-2027
which roadmaps such things as autonomous taxis, silent construction and delivery vehicles working at night instead of jamming up the roads in the daytime and silent aircraft, some vertical takeoff, allowed to fly anytime easing airport congestion. See the IDTechEx, Industrial and Commercial Electric Vehicles on Land 2017-2027
and Manned Electric Aircraft 2016-2026
EVs will sharply reduce deaths from air pollution and harassment from noise pollution, make poor people and poor countries improve their situation, empower the elderly and much more besides. IDTechEx was first to identify and publicise the megatrend of Energy Independent Electric Vehicles EIV by land, water and air and they are now acknowledged as the end game. The societal and business opportunities are awesome. See the IDTechEx, Energy Independent Electric Vehicle Technology Roadmap 2016-2036
Top image: Heathrow T4, Mario Roberto Duran Ortiz, Wikimedia commons