Despite growing worldwide concerns about the environmental impact of aviation, Britain’s second-busiest airport is on course for a record-breaking year – and to add half as many passengers again without building a new runway.
The plan was confirmed by the new owner of the Sussex hub, Vinci Airports. The French firm has taken a 50.01 per cent stake in Gatwick, with the remainder continuing to be managed by Global Infrastructure Partners.
The Vinci group already owns nearly 50 airports including Belfast International, Lisbon and Kansai in Japan, but Gatwick is by far the biggest.
Annual passenger numbers at the Sussex airport have grown by 50 per cent in a decade to 46 million. Heathrow remains way ahead as the UK’s leading hub, with 80 million passengers in 2018.
The government has pledged a third runway at Heathrow, to increase passenger numbers to 130 million.
But Gatwick expects to increase to 48 million this year, and plans an increase by almost half to 70 million annually by bringing its standby runway into use as well as the main runway.
Nicolas Notebaert, president of Vinci Airports, said: “Combining our expertise will further improve our operational excellence and sustain our shared vision of putting passengers’ satisfaction at the heart of everything we do.”
The new owners plan to spend £1.1bn on “a range of passenger improvements” by 2023.
Plans to introduce robot car parking at Gatwick, outlined earlier this year, will be informed by the experience at Vinci’s leading French airport, Lyon – where the first “live” tests of the innovative technology are under way.
Gatwick’s senior management will remain in place, including the chief executive, Stewart Wingate. He told The Independent: “As we grow the airport, we’ll certainly be planning to deliver record levels of service.”
A local anti-expansion group, Communities Against Gatwick Noise and Emissions (Cagne), said: “It is extremely disappointing that Gatwick’s release mentions nothing of reducing noise for the communities of Sussex, Surrey and Kent.
“The standby runway is a second runway by stealth.”
The news comes as Airports Council International (ACI) said passenger numbers at European airports increased by an average of 4.4 per cent in the first three months of 2019.
The fastest growth was at Berlin Tegel (up 32 per cent) and Vienna (24 per cent). Among British airports, Edinburgh added 12 per cent.
ACI Europe said: “Sweden was the only country reporting passenger traffic declining (-4.1 per cent) mainly as a result of the country’s aviation tax and fast increasing environmental pressures limiting demand.”
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