Gatwick Airport to submit plan for second runway
Gatwick Airport bosses are to begin work on detailed plans for a second runway which would double annual capacity to 70 million passengers.
The West Sussex airport's owners say they will scrutinise the options to develop the site up to 2020 and beyond.
The plans will now be put to an independent aviation commission led by former Financial Services Authority boss Sir Howard Davies.
Campaigners fear expansion will raise noise levels and harm the environment.Noise impact
Gatwick said no runway would be built before 2019 under a legal agreement signed in 1979.
Its bosses believe additional "capacity and flexibility" would help ensure London's airports provide south-east England with the connectivity needed.
Chief executive Stewart Wingate said it could be "affordable and practical" and a better option than new runways at Heathrow or Stansted airports.
Is this a surprise? Probably not. Despite the airport saying in July it had "no current plans for a second runway" and was "focused on making the best use of its single runway" the owners of Gatwick have clearly been working behind the scenes on plans for extra capacity.
The airport has always said it needs to plan for all eventualities.
The last time I spoke to one of their board members they shrugged and smiled when I suggested a second runway was probably discussed at every board meeting.
Land to the south of the current runway has been "safeguarded" for this moment and while all parties are committed to the legal agreement not to build until 2019, I have to wonder how soon after the end of that agreement the owners would like to see bulldozers starting work.
"Over the last three years we have transformed the airport, invested around £650m and have a strong track record for delivering key routes to growth markets," he said.
"However, we must now look to the future when Gatwick will become full and outline its long-term role in ensuring London has an efficient and resilient airport system that creates the crucial connectivity London and the UK needs."
The plans sent to Sir Howard Davies's commission, which will report back in 2015, include evaluations of environmental and economic impacts.
Gatwick said its "masterplan" for the airport contained a "scenario" for a new runway. The plans were put to public consultation for 18 weeks, which ended in January, it said.
Gatwick serves 197 destinations and currently handles about 34 million passengers a year.
Residents living under the flight path fear a second runway would increase noise levels and cause air quality to deteriorate.
The Gatwick Area Conservation Group said hundreds of thousands of people across Surrey, Sussex and Kent would oppose a second runway.'South East obsessed'
Chairman Brendon Sewill said: "We have always been totally opposed to a new runway on environmental grounds, and have had massive support from across Surrey, Sussex and west Kent.
"We have been supported by all the local MPs and all the county, district and parish councils in a wide area. If necessary, we will resume the battle."
- UK's second largest airport
- Serves 200 destinations in 90 countries
- Used by 34 million passengers a year
- Directly employs 2,200 people
- 23,000 total jobs at the airport plus 13,000 more through related activities
- Generates about £2bn a year for the economy of south-east England
Source: Gatwick Airport
Heathrow Airport said the UK was not short of "point-to-point" capacity provided by airports like Gatwick, Stansted, Birmingham and Luton.
"What the UK is short of is hub airport capacity," a spokesman said.
"Hub airports use transfer passengers to pool demand from different countries - and all the evidence suggests this is the only way to support the frequent and direct long-haul routes that are vital to business and trade."
In September, the government began a review of how the UK might expand its airport capacity in the South East.
The coalition said it was committed to pre-general election manifesto pledges that ruled out a third runway at Heathrow but some MPs argue that increased airport capacity is needed to help bring the UK out of recession.
London Mayor Boris Johnson, who opposes expanding Heathrow, has backed plans for an airport on an artificial island in the Thames Estuary, known as "Boris Island".
Architect Norman Foster has also proposed building a £50bn hub airport on the Isle of Grain.
Last month Liberal Democrat delegates voted against new runways at Heathrow, Gatwick or Stansted and against plans for a Thames Estuary airport at the party's conference in Brighton.
They branded aviation policy "South East obsessed" and suggested the Midlands would be a better location for a hub airport.