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Gatwick runway expansion plans cause controversy

Gatwick Airport runwayBosses at Gatwick Airport announced plans for a second runway at the second largest airport. Such an expansion would allow for double capacity, increasing passenger numbers from 34 million a year to 70 million. The airport currently serves 200 destinations across 90 countries.

However, a legal agreement prevents the airport from building another runway until 2019, and the bosses insist they will honour the deal. After the deadline, they say nothing will be holding them back. They are starting to detail work on an option for a second runway, which could be constructed in the next ten years. The bosses believe that the expansion is a better option to boost aviation in the UK than a third runway at Heathrow Airport, a new hub in the Thames Estuary or expansion at Stansted Airport.

The second runway plans will be submitted to the government’s aviation commission as part of a masterplan. Sir Howard Davies, a former chief for the Financial Services Authority (FSA), is leading the commission, which will submit a full report mid-2015. The earliest a new runway at Gatwick could be opened is 2023.

However, as expected, there is some opposition to the plans. The Gatwick Area Conservation Campaign (GACC) criticised the announcement, claiming it was being made to increase the value of airport owners Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP). Chairman Brendon Sewill says they have been opposed to a new runway at the airport due to the impact it will have on the environment. They have also had a lot of support from local MPs and parish and district councils across the area. It added that they will continue fighting if necessary.

The GACC also said in a statement that they are ready to launch a huge campaign to defeat any plans for a new runway, as they have done so before. This would mean double the planes flying overhead, twice the pollution, double the noise, twice the damage to climate change and double the amount of airport vehicles. On top of this, twice the number of airport workers would need the same amount of homes.

Heathrow Airport officials objected to the plans as well, saying there’s already enough space for capacity at Luton, Stansted and Birmingham airports. The UK needs hub airport capacity, as hub airports use connecting passengers to pool demand from other nations. All the evidence suggests this is the only way to boost the direct and frequent long-haul routes important to trade and business.

However, Stewart Wingate, the chief executive of Gatwick Airport, defended the plans. He says a new runway could be practical and affordable, while it’s a better option compared to expansions at Heathrow or Stansted. He noted that GIP owns 42% of the airport and was clear when it bought it in 2009 that it would keep its holding between five and ten years before selling. This could take up to 2019, when construction on the expansion can start. He added that the plans were decided for the airport’s long-term interests by all shareholders.

The plans have been praised by London First chief executive Baroness Jo Valentine. She says anything that will increase runway capacity is good news for the nation’s economy and passengers. If Britain is going to stay competitive, it needs more flights to emerging and growing markets. This announcement from Gatwick Airport widens the debate on how this can be achieved and offers the potential for more competition and choice for passengers.

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