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News - 15 November 2013
James Colman. Gatwick's Director of Corporate Affairs and Sustainability.

Economic Partnership hosts Gatwick Airport

Following on from a presentation at the June meeting of the Economic Partnership, Gatwick's Director of Corporate Affairs and Sustainability attended a working lunch for Partnership members and other interested parties to answer questions about the plans for a second runway at Gatwick.

With 134m passengers per annum flying into and out of London, it is the best connected city and the largest single market for aviation on the planet. Demand for air travel is growing steadily; the UK Department for Transport’s (DfT) latest UK Aviation Forecast predicts that passenger numbers at UK airports are set to increase from 219m in 2011 to 315m in 2030 and to 445m by 2050.

Extra capacity in the south east will have to be identified if this growth is to be accommodated. There are four proposals on the table:

  • To build a third runway at Heathrow
  • To build a completely new airport east of London [five locations are being explored]
  • To convert the RAF Northolt military air base to civilian use and to link it to Heathrow with a rapid transport system.
  • To build a second runway at Gatwick to be open by 2025 and costing between £5bn and £9bn funded by the private sector.

Although no expansion could start before 2019, Gatwick, the busiest single runway airport in the world, is proposing an airport constellation model for London with three facilities - Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted - each with two runways. There are a number of precedents for this model in other cities that are served by more than one major airport e.g. Paris, Frankfurt, New York, Washington and Istanbul.

Supporters of Heathrow expansion point out that it is the country’s only “hub” airport allowing passengers [in transit] to transfer flights to complete their journeys. But the vast majority of passengers flying from London [over 80%] go directly [point-to-point] to another UK destination, Europe or North America and these destinations are likely to remain the most popular.

Only 13% of passengers are “hubbing” i.e. using the airport to change planes and transfer to an onward destination. Also an increasing trend at airports is “self-transferring”: passengers switching from a low cost short haul or charter airline onto separate long haul flights with a different airline operator. In 2011 some 800,000 passengers at Gatwick “self-transferred” and it is an increasingly popular transport model. Different airline companies are even entering into agreements about sharing parts of a route in this way.

Decisions on new airport infrastructure should be based on these new models rather than the concept of a national “mega hub” airport, like Heathrow, being of overriding strategic importance. Larger aircraft,  like the Dreamliner and the Airbus, carrying more people longer distances, will also undermine the hub model.

Gatwick claims that the three airport model for London would spread the environmental impact of increasing capacity. Increased capacity anywhere in the south east will have environmental impacts especially greenhouse gas emissions [from both planes and increased road traffic] and also noise pollution which is increasingly being seen as an important issue for people living under, and close to, flight paths.

Gatwick's plan claims that the environmental impact of proposed expansion at Gatwick is markedly lower than Heathrow; noise pollution alone is expected to affect less than 5% of the number of people that Heathrow currently impacts on today. However, opponents point out that this effectively means that the number of people falling into the contour defined as causing "significant community annoyance" would increase to nearly 12,000 from the current 3,000. Gatwick's estimates put number at about 5,000.

Opponents also say that, if the second runway is positioned at the maximum distance from the existing runway [1,035m] it would be just 400 metres from the edge of Crawley and be constrained at one end by the Brighton to London mainline and the other by rising ground. They also suggest that 18 listed buildings would be "at risk" or demolition but Gatwick airport considers that not all would be affected.

Connectivity outside an airport facility is equally important and Gatwick is the best connected airport in the country with rail links to 129 destinations, compared to 6 for Heathrow. But it has also lost some important links in recent years e.g. Oxford, Birmingham and Manchester. Because of this, notwithstanding a doubling of capacity on the Thameslink franchise in 2018, expansion plans at Gatwick also include a contribution towards improving rail links.

The expansion at Gatwick would have significant implications for the south east economy: the airport already generates £2bn of Gross Value Added and this would be expected to increase to £3.6bn. The loss of the airport would also have serious implications.

The Mayor of London has put forward proposals for a brand new airport in the Thames Estuary providing capacity for all of London which could result in the closure of Heathrow and Gatwick. Indeed the expansion of Heathrow at the expense of Gatwick would probably also have a deleterious knock-on effect on Gatwick as carriers switched to Heathrow.

If Gatwick is to maintain a function as a business airport supporting inward investment and business retention in the south east [and Brighton], its expansion plans take on a very local importance.

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