Stansted fuels the low cost dream

WAITING at Stansted airport for an early morning flight nine days ago, I was surprised to see that of the first 40 departures that Sunday, 36 were operated by either Ryanair or easyJet.

WAITING at Stansted airport for an early morning flight nine days ago, I was surprised to see that of the first 40 departures that Sunday, 36 were operated by either Ryanair or easyJet.

The remarkable growth in low cost airline proves that despite the dire warnings on the damage to the environment of aircraft emissions, we are as a nation hooked on foreign travel and refuse to pay the high prices demanded by national carriers British Airways, Lufthansa, Air France, SAS and the like.

Our love of heading overseas for weekend breaks and holidays could seal Stansted's fate – the Essex airport has been a willing accomplice for the no frills carriers, which have enormously boosted the numbers of passengers journeying through Norman Foster's stunning, award winning airport terminal and have made the British Airports Authority such an attractive proposition for overseas predators.

Like most people reading this column, I am guilty of using Stansted for frequent flights. easyJet's daily service to Tallinn was cheaper, and certainly far more convenient, than using Air Estonia's services.

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Without the no frills carriers, there would be no talk of Stansted needing a second runway. They are the prime reason for Stansted's soar away growth and unless there is the political will across the European Union to slap a tax on aviation fuel, the growth will just go on and on until the case for digging up hundreds of acres of prime Essex countryside becomes unarguable.

WHILE Tony Blair dithers on a new generation of nuclear power stations, our European allies have no such qualms.

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The prime ministers of the three Baltic states which joined the European Union in 2004 – Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia – have announced their support for the construction by 2015 of a nuclear plant at Ignalina in Lithuania, currently the site of a Soviet-era nuclear facility scheduled to be fully decommissioned by 2009.

All three states are concerned about being held to ransom by Russia for energy supplies, especially as the price of gas is escalating, but they also believe the new plant makes economic sense. Under a special deal, the Baltics receive natural gas from Russia for half the price paid by other European states, but that preferential tariff is unlikely to last much longer.

One thing is certain – the three Baltic states can't afford to build the plant themselves. Their economies are still emerging from decades of brutal repression by Moscow after they were annexed into the Soviet Union. At an estimated cost of between two and three billion euros, private cash will be needed, and so will support from the EU – British taxpayers, whether or not they like nuclear, will be forking out for a new power station before their own Government decides whether to invest in Sizewell C in Suffolk.

Meanwhile, the Statue of Liberty is going green, with its famous torch soon to be lit by renewable wind power. Some 27 million kilowatt hours needed to supply the statue, together with New York's Ellis Island Immigration Museum, are to come from windmills up to twice the height of the 150-foot statue will supply the power.

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