What with an opinionated mayor who wants and airport island, bickering airport operators who want new runways, major airlines that want to increase capacity, and a population enamored with carbon emission restrictions, London's runway drama isn't going to wrap up any time soon.
London’s Gatwick airport, the busiest in the world with a single runway, said it’s exploring the possibility of adding a second landing strip to boost capacity and win traffic from the capital’s larger Heathrow hub.
A report on options for a new runway will be submitted to the Independent Commission on Aviation Connectivity and will comply with a commitment given 33 years ago not to begin any construction project before 2019, Gatwick said in a statement.
London’s airports are suffering a capacity squeeze, with Gatwick and Heathrow close to full and Boris Johnson, the city’s mayor, pledged to block any expansion in favor of a new hub in the Thames estuary. The situation may ease after Prime Minister David Cameron, who undertook in 2010 not to sanction a third Heathrow runway, ordered an inquiry into capacity requirements that’s due to report after the next U.K. election in 2015.
“There are clear practical advantages of a new runway at Gatwick,” Stewart Wingate, the airport’s chief executive officer, said in the statement. “When compared with a third runway at Heathrow we would have a significantly lower environmental impact while adding significantly more capacity.”
Gatwick, acquired by Global Infrastructure Partners Ltd. in 2009 after antitrust regulators ordered a breakup of Heathrow owner BAA Ltd., is located about 30 miles (48 kilometers) south of central London and serves 197 destinations, more than any other U.K. hub, according to flight schedule data provider OAG.
Land required for a new runway has been safeguarded since the change of ownership, according to Wingate, who said that Gatwick has the required “space, capability and access to financial resources.” Johnson’s concepts for an estuary airport raise “major questions on affordability, environmental issues and whether they are deliverable,” he added.
About 650 million pounds ($1.05 billion) has been spent on Gatwick since 2009 and the submission to the government commission — led by Howard Davies, former head of Britain’s Financial Services Authority — will also evaluate how to squeeze maximum capacity from the single runway, Wingate said.
London’s Evening Standard newspaper reported today that Johnson told Cameron in a phone call last week he might take legal action in a bid to speed up the review. It cited a spokesman for the mayor as saying Johnson had made it clear to Cameron that he thinks the commission should report next year.
Akbar Al Baker, CEO of Qatar Airways Ltd., the second- largest airline in the Middle East, said today in London that a third runway at Heathrow is a necessity.
“Heathrow is bursting at the seams and has already reached a critical point,” he said. “Measures to expand need to be taken soon to avoid a catastrophic situation in the future.”
While the “Boris Island” solution is also a good idea, that project could take 20 years or more to materialize, Al Baker said in address at a U.K. Aviation Club luncheon. Qatar Airways agreed on Oct. 9 to join the Oneworld airline alliance led by British Airways, Heathrow’s biggest user.
Other sites serving the U.K. capital include City, Luton and Stansted airports and the more distant Southend and Oxford.
With assistance from Tom Metcalf in London. Editors: Chris Jasper, Eddie Buckle. To contact the reporter on this story: Kari Lundgren in London at firstname.lastname@example.org. To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chad Thomas at email@example.com.