The Airports Commission report published yesterday has recommended extra runways to be built at Heathrow and Gatwick.
The recommendation is contrary to the Boris-backed Thames Estuary options because ‘there are too many uncertainties and challenges surrounding them at this stage’. The Mayor of London said in the Guardian that the plans to have the hub airport at the Thames Estuary are “not dead yet” as he has another six months to put forward new arguments in favour of the idea.
The current recommendation is for a new runway south of the existing one at Gatwick Airport. For Heathrow there are two options – a new 3,500m runway to the northwest and extending the existing northern runway to at least 6,000m enabling it to operate as two independent runways.
The report also advises on an ‘optimisation strategy’ to improve UK airport efficiency with better en route traffic management systems to keep airlines to schedule. It also recommends enhancing rail and road access to make other airlines with spare capacity more attractive to passengers.
Launching the report Sir Howard Davies Chair of the Commission said: “Decisions on airport capacity are important national strategic choices and must be based upon the best evidence available.
“This report is the product of extensive consultation, independent analysis and careful consideration by the commissioners.
“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.”
The report’s findings have not been wholly welcomed, with the Gatwick Area Conservation Campaign (GACC) stating that the wide-spaced runway at the airport is the option that will cause the most environmental damage.
Virgin Atlantic Chief Executive Craig Kreeger also outlined the wider issue on UK hub capacity: “Although Gatwick is a very important airport to us, additional runway capacity there does not address the UK’s chronic hub capacity shortage.”
David Cameron set up the review in order to delay a final decision on expansion plans until after the 2015 election. When the coalition came in to power they scrapped the former Labour government’s plans for a third runway at Heathrow, but now the line on the issue has softened and could look set for a u-turn.
Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin told the BBC on Sunday that the government would stick to its pledge not to build a new runway at Heathrow ‘in this Parliament’.