Three options to expand airport capacity in the UK have been shortlisted by the Airports Commission in an interim report published on 17 December.
Options include adding a third 3,500m-long runway to the north west of Heathrow Airport; lengthening an existing runway at Heathrow to at least 6,000m; or adding a new 3,000m runway to the south of Gatwick Airport.
The Airports Commission, which was set up as an independent body by the British government to investigate the UK’s need for extra runway capacity, said plans for a Thames Estuary airport have not been shortlisted.
Concepts for the Thames Estuary were rejected due to too many uncertainties and challenges surrounding the option at this stage. However, a new airport in north Kent on the Isle of Grain is being considered. The commission, chaired by Sir Howard Davies, will reach a verdict on the Thames Hub idea by the end of next year.
“The capacity challenge is not yet critical but it will become so if no action is taken soon and our analysis clearly supports the provision of one net additional runway by 2030,” Davies said. “The commission also considered whether the UK requires additional hub or non-hub capacity. It has concluded that the UK will need an airport system that can support both hub and non-hub capacity, and cater for a range of airline business models.”
In response to the commission's report, Gatwick Airport said its second runway option offers the quickest and lowest cost for the government.
“It is the only option which can deliver the right type of capacity for the UK as it is the only airport serving all airlines models including both low cost and legacy airlines as well as both transfer passengers and people flying direct,” said Stewart Wingate, chief executive officer of Gatwick.
Heathrow Airport, however, disagreed with Gatwick’s stance and said a third runway at Heathrow offered the best solution for linking the UK to fast-growing markets.
“We do not oppose other airports being permitted to grow or add new runways,” said Colin Matthews, Heathrow’s chief executive. “Heathrow is the UK’s only hub airport and competes with Frankfurt, Paris and Amsterdam for transfer passengers to support long haul routes. Point-to-point airports like Gatwick serve a different market. Heathrow does not agree with Gatwick’s stance that there can only be one new runway in the South East.”
Proposals for the expansion of Stansted or Birmingham airports were not shortlisted, but the commission said there was likely to be a case for considering them as potential options for any second new runway by 2050.
Charlie Cornish, chief executive of Manchester Airports Group (MAG), which took over operation of Stansted Airport earlier this year, said, “As London continues to grow to the East and high-tech industries along the London to Cambridge corridor grow Britain’s economy, Stansted has a critical role to play in supporting the country’s economic growth. At the right time we will bring forward proposals for a second runway at the airport to support this growth.”
The commission will focus on appraising the three options, further assessing the case for a new airport in the Thames Estuary, and delivering a final recommendation to the UK government in summer 2015.