Airports Commission reveals expansion shortlist


Speeded up video from of an hour of plane movements over south-east England

New runways at Heathrow and Gatwick are among the options that have been short-listed by the Airports Commission for expanding UK airport capacity.

The three short-listed options include adding a third runway at Heathrow, lengthening an existing runway at Heathrow, and a new runway at Gatwick.

The commission, led by businessman Sir Howard Davies, will also consider a new airport in the Isle of Grain in north Kent.

A final report is due by summer 2015.

Sir Howard Davies sets out the airport expansion options

The commission has not shortlisted proposals for expanding Stansted or Birmingham, but said there was likely to be a case for considering them as "potential options" for any second new runway by 2050.

Sir Howard was asked in 2012 to investigate the options for expanding the UK's aviation capacity and try to come up with a plan.

He said the Commission's analysis showed one net additional runway was needed by 2030.

"The capacity challenge is not yet critical, but it will become so if no action is taken soon," he added.


There are four interesting elements of today's report.

It's Heathrow-heavy.

It hasn't written off the ambitious, expensive idea of building a new mega-airport on the other side of London in the Thames Estuary.

It misses off Stansted, despite it being picked for expansion by the last government. Stansted lost a lot of passengers in the recession.

It also suggests that we might not need one huge hub airport after all, because all the growth in recent years has come from low-cost carriers. In a nutshell, it makes the case stronger for a bigger Gatwick.

When I first took over the transport job, about two years ago, the government told me straight away that it would not expand Heathrow.

One of the first things the coalition did when it came to power was to cancel Labour plans for a third runway at the airport.

I've gone through my old notebooks and found this phrase written down, "dead and buried".

But after a great deal of lobbying from the airport's owners, other business leaders, airlines and the unions, as well as support from the Transport Select Committee, Heathrow is emerging once again, as a front-runner in the fight to get a new runway.

Sir Howard has set a deadline of 2030. But believe me, there are plenty in the industry - like Willie Walsh at British Airways, for example - who still don't think that in the end, anything will actually ever get built.

The Commission has short-listed the following proposals to investigate ahead of its final report:

  • A new runway at Gatwick Airport more than 3,000m in length
  • A new 3,500m runway at Heathrow Airport constructed to the north-west of the existing airport
  • An extension of Heathrow's existing northern runway to the west to at least 6,000m, enabling it to be used for both take-offs and landings

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has said that putting a new runway at Heathrow would be a "catastrophe".

Following the commission's report, Mr Johnson said he continued to support the creation of the Isle of Grain airport in north Kent.

"A new airport in the inner estuary is the only credible hub option left. By keeping it on the table, Davies is saying you have a choice - between a damaging U-turn or a radical new vision for expansion," he said.

In its report, the Commission calculates an Isle of Grain airport would cost up to £112bn - around five times that of its three short-listed options.

However, it said it would look at it in the first half of 2014, to reach a view on whether the option offered "a credible proposal".

"The overall balance of economic impacts would be uncertain - particularly as an Estuary airport would require the closure of Heathrow for commercial reasons and London City for airspace reasons," it says.

Meanwhile, supporters of Heathrow's expansion say it will be quicker and cheaper than other options and will help to maintain the UK as an international aviation hub.

Heathrow's owners submitted evidence to the commission arguing that a new runway could be in place by 2029, allowing 260,000 more flights.

Start Quote

Keeping the banking system solid and sound looks a rather more important priority than whether or not Heathrow gets a new runway or the London Mayor builds his vast new flying city on the Isle of Grain”

End Quote

Colin Matthews, Heathrow chief executive, told the BBC: "The case for Heathrow is strong. It's important that businesses can get around the globe to where economies are growing.

"We've got Paris and Amsterdam, Frankfurt desperately trying to eat our lunch, they want to have the business that the UK benefits from today."

John Cridland, head of business lobby group the CBI, said that urgent action was needed from the government when the commission's final recommendations were made in 2015.

"It is no longer acceptable to bury our heads in the sand on this," he added.

Heathrow is one of the world's busiest hub airports, handling 70 million passengers in 2012.

Graphic: Expanding Heathrow

But the airport operates at 98% of its capacity.

When the coalition government came to power in 2010, it scrapped the former Labour government's plan for a third runway at Heathrow.

The government said on Monday that it had not ruled out any options when it came to airport expansion in the south-east of England.

Map: Gatwick options Gatwick identified three options for a second runway, but the Davies Commission shortlisted Option 3, which would allow fully independent operation.

On Sunday, Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said that the government would stick to its pledge not to build a new runway at Heathrow before 2015.

He told the BBC: "We will not be building a third runway in this Parliament. We will stick by our manifesto commitment."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 1195.

    Given the usually daily horrendous traffic situation on the M25 and associated roads, where it crosses the Thames, under or over, getting to ANY new hub airport on or by the Thames to the east of London, with no others around London, would be one great BIG nightmare scenario. The major roads both sides of the Thames, where an airport might be built, already needs a NEW cross Thames road link.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1194.

    Heathrow is far from the viable option, its noise foot print alone if expanded will include thousands more people.
    Supporters of this interim proposal continually use the jobs issue, yet always ignore the amount of jobs that go, even without expansion.
    This report is little more than a rehash of the RUCATSE report and the reports and recommendations that have come after.
    SHAME on the authors

  • rate this

    Comment number 1193.

    Tell me something. All this talk of expanding yet further of the London and South Main airports, has anyone stopped to think about the rest of the country and the space that already established more northern (and more central airports) already have. Take for instance Birmingham International or East Midlands. Both are in the middle of the country and would be easier for northern people to get to.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1192.

    1187 - your reasoning is now so circular you're arguing with yourself.

    Like so many of the Tory policies it just doesn't add up. They have also told us we are getting HS2 to enable people to travel high speed to London from different parts of the country, if that were true then why would it matter if the airport expansion were outside London?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1191.

    I think we should have a UK passenger hub in Birmingham as it's central in the country with plenty of capacity. This frees up London airspace for the business hub which is the real money-maker.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1190.

    1180 - we live on a finite planet with finite resources. Do you SERIOUSLY believe that just because air transport has been expanding for the past 100 years, it inevitably follows that it will continue to do so for the next 100.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1189.

    I don't believe the UK needs any more flying capacity at all. I fly often (work) from London and the amount of flights half empty is staggering. The government needs to start charging per plane, not per seats sold, and you will see the reduction in flights immediately, freeing capacity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1188.

    This 'shortlist' is an obvious bit of window dressing. The delay until 2015 alone indicates that Heathrow is already the chosen option. Confirming this prior to the next election would risk Cameron losing face through a massive U-turn & the probability of losing a lot of existing & potential Tory voters in that area. It's academic though as he won't be making that decision or any others come 2015!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1187.

    1180--we are consumer-led------MOST flights WANT to go to London,
    We're not in the business of bringing more investment to Manchester, Newcastle,Wigan here.See all the Chinese tourists loving the trip to London ?!
    We're talking about what's best for our airport NEEDS, not regional investment.
    There are other Blogs to push for much-needed regional investment.This Blog is REALITY for air traffic

  • rate this

    Comment number 1186.

    I personally think the Thames gateway airport is the best solution, and the TCPA proposal (nicked by Boris) is the way forward.

    However if not, I vote for all three extra runways aswell as the runway extension. Lets solve this issue once and for all.

    National interest trumps local. Time that applied to london like it does elsewhere.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1185.

    @Mick J
    I agree. I just don't get why those that choose to buy a house under or near a flight path moan about it. The airport came first.
    The truth is if there was no airport, there would be no jobs and their house prices would not be what they are, and that's the truth. Move the airport to Thames Estuary and watch the value of your house tumble along with your business.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1184.

    With planes now being built getting more and more fuel efficient and capable of taking up to 800+ passengers it should be possible, with suitable boarding gate changes at airports, to fly more people in less planes at less cost for fuel. What is needed may not be any real increase in landing & takeoff capability but terminals big enough to process the number of passengers using the planes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1183.

    1180 - a good example of circular reasoning.

    If you continue to invest in just one city, it ensures we remain a one-trick pony with about as much variety as the SPL.

    Lets build even more in London, beyond saturation - where the locals don't even want it and when the rest of the country is crying out for investment. Does that make more sense?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1182.

    Heathrow is the flagship airport for UK----and most foreign flights want to go to near London. It should be enlarged as far as possible, not just for next 15-20 years but foir longer as the inevitable increase will only escalate in future.

    Gatwick is a grotty place which houses the third-rate airlines and cheap package flights---and it shows in the sort of place it is and people who litter it !

  • rate this

    Comment number 1181.

    Over the next 10-15 years all of the UK's airports will see increased traffic but only Heathrow has full holding stacks. But that's no argument to build another runway there, just to expand runway capacity in the SE.
    With 8 airports and 9 runways, London is already a uniquely successful "distributed hub" taking more traffic than Amsterdam & Paris put together. Heathrow is full, build at Gatwick.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1180.

    1179---rubbish. London is where most of the world's passengers want to go---not Birmingham or Scunthorpe !!!
    Are you SERIOUSLY suggesting "air travel will contract" in this century when anybody on this Blog will tell you that exactly the OPPOSITE will occur----and is doing so as we speak. Isn't it past your bedtime ??

  • rate this

    Comment number 1179.

    Not withstanding that both Heathrow and Gatwick are in an inconvenient corner of the country for most the population, the whole concept of expansion of air transport expansion is flawed. Fossil fuels are becoming increasingly expensive as reserves diminish. As the only form of transport with no viable alternative in the foreseeable future, air travel will inevitably contract during this century.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1178.

    Typically Britain a la 2013 : we need major upgrade, don't know what to do, let's leave it and take another look in 2015 and then discuss that, then take 20 years to build the damn thing !
    My own preference is Boris Island.Go for new and innovative, as if we were China or America instead of some third rate faded nation ( which we are!).
    If not, it has to be Heathrow.Gatwick is a dump already.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1177.

    Dithery David will dodge picking up the gauntlet laid down by Boris' stalking horse, which would hand his rival the nimby artillery to woo the Tory voters.
    It's obvious to (nearly) all, the last thing the country needs is more reliance on London & proves HS2 only intended to be the concord of train travel (the posh boys train set) that only BoJo's elite class can afford but the plebs will pay for

  • rate this

    Comment number 1176.

    @Malc virtually every person who lives under the flightpath of Heathrow has moved there since the airport was in existence they have no arguments if they don't like the noise Move.


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