The publication date for the long awaited white paper on airport expansion will probably be 16th December, which has a certain irony because it is the anniversary of the Wright brothers first flight 100 years ago. It seems increasingly unlikely that it will be a cause for celebration among those who hoped Gatwick would be a contender for expansion
Stanstead would appear to be the option that will win with Heathrow and Gatwick possibly paying the cost via increased landing charges. Network airlines are already lining up to condemn the decision as a mistake before it is even announced. Certainly the fact that Heathrow is the world’s busiest two runway airport means that it will play a limited part in accommodating the anticipated increase in demand for UK air travel from the current 117m passengers today to 301m over the next 25 years.
Industry analysts fear that not expanding either Gatwick or Heathrow – both of which can service London easily – will just hand a competitive advantage to European hubs. Amsterdam Schipol, for instance has five runways, Paris Charles de Gaulle has four and Frankfurt has three and a fourth on the way.
Plans to build a completely new airport (suggested sites included Cliffe, Sheppey and Thames Reach) were largely abandoned early in the planning process because of massive objections from a variety of well organised lobby groups. British Airports Authority (BAA), which operates Gatwick, Heathrow and Stanstead has not endorsed any one site for expansion. Rather they have asked the government to consider an additional short runway at Heathrow, a second runway at Gatwick and two more at Stanstead.
Tough new environmental emission regulations have made Gatwick and Heathrow appear to be unsuitable (see earlier story in Knowledgebase) but airline operators argue that the strict standards imposed by the EU could be reached by trimming secondary emissions e.g. from vehicles used on site, by widening the M25 to reduce congestion and even by road tolling to reduce the number of private vehicles visiting their airports.
The problem created for Brighton by not expanding Gatwick is less one of reduced employment opportunities (generally Gatwick is not attractive to Brighton workers) but rather reduced opportunities for long haul tourism and business connections to other UK cities. Regional airports rely on good links to the capitol but these tend to be sacrificed by airlines in favour of more lucrative long haul flights.
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British Airports Authority