Gatwick Airport has been accused of trying to create a second runway “by the back door” after unveiling a proposal to routinely utilise its existing standby runway. The draft master plan, published by the London hub on October 18, “reflects Department for Transport guidance for airports to provide regular updates on their long-term plans, and responds to the government’s recent call for airports to make best use of their existing runways.”
A 40-year agreement struck by Gatwick and local councils has so far ruled out a second runway, but with the deal due to expire next summer the airport is currently looking at ways of addressing shortfalls in capacity up to the early 2030s. The paper, now subject to a 12-week public consultation, proposes the use of new technologies to further improve utilisation of Gatwick’s main runway. More controversial are plans to bring its parallel standby runway – presently used for cover during periods of maintenance or emergencies – “into routine use for departing flights, alongside its main runway, by the mid-2020s”. Such a move would enable the airport to handle more than 80,000 additional flights, a 30% increase over current levels.
Gatwick CEO Stewart Wingate said the draft, “offers agile, productive and low-impact ways of unlocking much-needed new capacity and increased resilience from within our existing infrastructure.”
Such a proposal, which the airport suggested can be delivered “without increasing the airport’s noise footprint”, would be subject to planning permission and public consultation as well as CAA approval. It has been welcomed by airlines and local businesses, but residents group Communities Against Gatwick Noise and Emissions was critical of the plan. Spokesperson Sally Pavey told The Guardian: “Extra flights mean thousands more passengers every day trying to get to Gatwick, but they are trying to increase capacity without any of the cost of the infrastructure. This is simply betrayal of the communities of Sussex, Surrey and Kent who have already endured 24% increases in long-haul movements this year. This is a second runway by the back door. How can communities ever trust Gatwick management again?”
The plan is due to be agreed early next year and, if approved, could deliver much-needed capacity to the capital several years before Heathrow – where a new third runway is not expected to be operational until at least 2026.