Gatwick vs. Heathrow: Where will London's Extra Airport Runway Be Built?

- Leadership - Nov 25, 2014

There is a strengthening consensus that London requires an extra runway to help burden some of the pressure on its air capacity.

Many options have been exercised and discussed, including a second runway at Stansted Airport in Essex, another runway at Heathrow and even a whole new airport dubbed ‘Boris Island’ in the Thames Estuary.

Though Stansted appears to be off the agenda after the Airports Commission ruled out the option this time last year, one of Heathrow and Gatwick looks likely to be chosen.

The Airports Commission will not be deciding until after the next UK general election, due to be held in May 2015.

Gatwick is already the world’s busiest airport operating a single runway, and its CEO Stewart Wingate is unsurprisingly adamant his site is the only viable choice.

Heathrow appears to be the most threatening competition, especially given the huge Crossrail project which better links the airport with the rest of London by underground train.

Wingate said in an interview with Management Today that “'Heathrow is in an area that is already overheated - you have aircraft flying over one of the most densely populated parts of the entire planet. Expand there and it will affect about 350,000 people. But Gatwick is in a sparsely populated area - expand here and it will only affect 30,000 people.”

Added to this the Gatwick boss also claims that landing costs will be more favourable if his airport were to expand. Heathrow already has a landing charge of £22 which Wingate believes would rise to near £40; Gatwick on the other hand would see a rise from £9 to £13.

Pressure will be on Gatwick to demonstrate that it can compete with the rail infrastructure at Heathrow, especially in the advent of Crossrail. The Gatwick Express service into Victoria station is rightly criticised as being slow with extremely dated rolling stock.

Wingate will also be under pressure to improve the two terminals, the South Terminal being 50 years old. According to consumer group Flightright Gatwick was the worst UK airport for delays this summer. A new runway would no doubt strain already-stretched ground facilities which handle 37 million passengers a year.  

A new Thames Estuary Airport (Dubbed Boris Island because of its firm support from London Mayor Boris Johnson) has been proposed at various times since the 1970s, chiefly because the likes of Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted are all situated in locations that are sub-optimal in various ways, such as being too close to built-up areas or requiring aircraft to fly low over London.

There are many disadvantages holding this back however, including the need to alter a great number of flight paths, environmental concerns and a feeling of bias towards the affluent south east of England among many others.

It is as yet unclear as to what the major political parties in the UK are going to back, with the victors of the next general election no doubt facing a conundrum when the time comes to finally make a much needed decision.

The issue is already causing rifts at the top of the Conservative Party, with Johnson, now a parliamentary candidate for 2015, fervently opposed to any expansion at Heathrow. 

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