There is increasing comment on the merits of expanding either Gatwick (LGW) or Heathrow (LHR) to fulfil the requirement for an extra runway in the South East. However, I think we, local councils, the Davies inquiry and the airports are all missing the main point.
Of course Gatwick needs a second runway: It has done so for years to alleviate the congestion at the world’s busiest single runway airfield, reduce the environmental impacts of long holding periods both on ground and in the air and to reduce the resulting general noise pollution.
A close in parallel second runway would do this at relatively low cost and minimal impact.
However, this is required to deal with the airport at its current, accepted, planned level only. Building anything else to satisfy the larger concept of another runway in the South East, is unsound.
The area around LGW is already constrained by existing, and extensive planned building. The infrastructure required for major airport expansion here would be huge, and almost certainly not properly deliverable.
As to environmental considerations, the extra noise pollution demonstrated by the recent, stupid, inept, departure route trial made it quite clear that this was not acceptable.
However, when we look at the current and proposed alternatives we are missing the main point; that of the Hub concept.
Every major country generally has one airport which acts as the junction for incoming flights to go on elsewhere, or to serve regional parts of the country. There is Paris Charles de Gaulle, Frankfurt, Amsterdam Schiphol, Rome, Brussels, Copenhagen, etc. etc.
Here in UK, ours is LHR. This has the added advantage that it is actually the preferred Hub for Western Europe. Quite often, operators use the others only because there is no room at Heathrow.
So the place needing extra capacity is at Heathrow. Of course it is difficult and recent ideas put forward have been less than sensible. First there was the proposal to build another runway North of 27 Right. Silly, because it was far too short and there would be enormous operational problems accessing it.
Second, there is the recent, and very expensively advertised idea of extending the Northern runway to form two, with a 700 metre gap between them. I really cannot see any real advantage or even how it would work.
Ideally a modern airport should have two pairs of close-in parallel runways separated by a terminal complex, so that the pairs can operate independently, with easy access to the main service areas.
There has been a study which shows this could be done at Heathrow by moving the main area of the airport a short distance to the west. This could be done at relatively low cost and with minimal disruption.
here are always comments about using other existing airfields to take the load off LHR. But these airports are not and never will be the main hub and therefore are not considered by major airlines. Promoting a second hub in the North would be useful, but again has been proved unacceptable, as we can see by the low take-up at Manchester, with its much underused second runway.
So, having revised my own views, I think we need to ‘bite the bullet’ and drive the Heathrow option forward with four runways acting as the main UK hub. Anything else is a wasteful compromise.
Gatwick is a non-starter for commercial, environmental and space considerations.
I would note that these are my personal views only and not those of any organisation I belong to.
(Con) Horsham district councillor for Holbrook West, North Street, Horsham