Gatwick bids for second runway as alternative to Heathrow expansion

Sixty years after idea was first mooted, owners proposing new runway to south of existing one

Travel Correspondent

Safer, quieter, cheaper: those are the likely benefits of a second runway at Gatwick, according to the airport's chief executive.

Stewart Wingate has revealed the Sussex airport's submission to the Davies Commission, which is studying the aviation capacity crunch in south-east England.

Sixty years after the idea was first mooted, Gatwick's owners are proposing a new runway to the south of the existing main runway. An agreement not to build another runway expires in 2019, and the expanded airport could be ready by 2025.

Three options have been presented to Sir Howard Davies' commission: a close-spaced, medium-spaced or wide-spaced runway. The first would not allow both runways to be used simultaneously, but could double the present annual passenger numbers to 66 million. The middle option would allow one runway to be used for take-offs and the other for landings, and increase capacity to 82 million - leapfrogging Heathrow's current passenger numbers.

A wide-spaced runway would allow full "mixed-mode" operations, with take-offs and landings from both runways extracting a maximum capacity of 87 million passengers.

The airport's submission asserts that, in terms of safety, "expanding Gatwick would be preferable to expanding locations closer to densely populated areas". This is a reference to Heathrow's plans for a third runway, which require flight paths that traverse Greater London.

Gatwick's owners claim that, even with a second runway, the number of people affected by noise would be only five per cent of those currently affected in the environs of Heathrow.

The cost is estimated at between £5bn and £9bn, including improvements to road and rail links. Heathrow's proposals for a third runway range between £14bn and £18bn.

Mr Wingate told The Independent: "Our scheme would be privately funded and be completed at a fraction of the cost of another runway at Heathrow". He said that charges at Gatwick would rise to pay for the expansion, but at "nowhere near the levels that Heathrow is talking about".

Gatwick's submission insists that a second runway would give London's airport system greater resilience to bad weather. At present the Sussex airport is much quieter in winter, when weather-related disruption is most likely, than in summer

Gatwick's owners have called for a "constellation of airports" around the capital, with a second runway at Stansted in due course to stimulate competition. But Heathrow's submission to the Davies Commission maintains: "Gatwick's proposal for three competing two-runway airports in the south east would not deliver a UK hub with the size and scale to compete internationally. The UK needs one Premier League airport to compete, not three second-tier airports."

Meanwhile Heathrow has stepped up its campaign to raise passenger charges above the rate of inflation. A survey conducted by Europe's busiest airport claims passengers they would be willing to pay a mean increase in charges of £44 per journey rather than see investment fall. The airport is proposing a £5 rise over five years.

Colin Matthews, chief executive of Heathrow, said: "We're making clear that passengers want these improvements and are prepared to pay for them".

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