The Capacity Debate and Airport Expansion

Government’s Aviation Policy Framework for UK aviation

The Government published the Aviation Policy Framework on 22 March 2013. The aviation policy framework sets out the government’s policy to allow the aviation sector to continue to make a significant contribution to economic growth across the country. It provided the baseline for the Airports Commission to take into account on important issues such as aircraft noise and climate change. It sets out government’s objectives on the issues which will challenge and support the development of aviation across the UK.
Evening takeoff

The Airports Commission & Government’s preferred option

The Airports Commission, led by Sir Howard Davies, was established by the Government in 2012 to consider how the UK could maintain its status as an international aviation hub and in particular provide new capacity in the south east. The Commission was asked to report to the Government no later than the end of 2013 on:

  • its assessment of the evidence on the nature, scale and timing of the steps needed to maintain the UK’s global hub status; and
  • its recommendations for immediate actions to improve the use of existing runway capacity in the next five years – consistent with credible long term options.

The Commission was also asked to report no later than summer 2015 on:

  • its assessment of the options for meeting the UK’s international connectivity needs, including their economic, social and environmental impact;
  • its recommendation(s) for the optimum approach to meeting any needs; and
  • its recommendation(s) for ensuring that the need is met as expeditiously as practicable within the required timescale.

As part of its work the Commission invited all UK airports and scheme promoters to submit proposals for providing additional airport/runway capacity for consideration. Gatwick Airport Limited submitted options for a second runway at Gatwick which were subject to local consultation.

On 17 December 2013, the Airports Commission published its Interim Report to the Government on its review into airport capacity and connectivity in the UK which concluded that there was a need for one net additional runway to be in operation in the south east by 2030. Its analysis also indicated that there was likely to be a demand case for a second additional runway to be operational by 2050.

The Commission included on its shortlist for further detailed study proposals for new runways at two locations:

  • Gatwick Airport: a new runway over 3,000m in length spaced sufficiently south of the existing runway to permit a fully independent operation.
  • Heathrow Airport: two potential runway options:
  • A new 3,500m runway constructed to the north west of the existing airport, as proposed by Heathrow Airport Ltd, and spaced sufficiently to permit fully independent operation.
  • An extension of the existing northern runway to the west, as proposed by Heathrow Hub Ltd, lengthening it to at least 6,000m and enabling it to be operated as two separate runways: one for departures and one for arrivals.

Scheme promoters were asked to develop these proposals further and to undertake a wide range of assessments required under the Commission’s appraisal and assessment framework.

The Commission also set out in its Interim Report a range of measures for making best use of existing capacity in the short to medium term and specifically recommended that a package of surface transport improvements to make airports with spare capacity more attractive to airlines and passengers. In respect of Gatwick, the Commission suggested that:

  • Government works with Network Rail and Gatwick Airport to implement a significant enhancement of the airport station, with an emphasis on making the station more accessible to users with luggage (which should also enhance access for users with disabilities). The Government should pursue an ambitious (circa £180 million) option for enhancing the station through the construction of a new concourse and ticket hall with enhanced access to platforms, subject to the airport providing an appropriate contribution to the costs of the scheme.  The plans for the Gatwick Station redevelopment project are progressing and detailed designs are currently being prepared.
  • the Government and Network Rail accelerate work to produce a detailed plan for the enhancement of the Brighton Main Line, with a particular emphasis upon enhancing capacity and reliability, so as to accommodate growth in both airport and commuter traffic. This could focus on the alleviation of particular pinch points (such as East Croydon).
  • the Government should enhance through the franchising system the need to improve the suitability of the Gatwick Express rolling stock to make it more suitable for airport users, for example by the provision of additional luggage space. The rail franchise has since been awarded to GoVia Thameslink Railways (GTR).
  • the Government works with the Highways Agency to develop a forward route strategy for the sections of the motorway network connecting to Gatwick Airport, with a particular emphasis on the connections between the M25, M23 and the airport itself. The strategy should consider options for expanding the slip-roads between the roads in question, which could become substantial congestion pinch points.

On 11 November 2014, the Airports Commission published its consultation on the three options it shortlisted for increasing the UK’s long-term aviation capacity. The consultation document is available on the Commission’s website and the Commission’s press release here.

There is also a large number of supporting documents such as a sustainability assessment and business case for each of the 3 schemes. Click here to see the Gatwick business case and sustainability assessment. Click here to see the detailed technical reports which underpin the Commission’s analysis.  GATCOM submitted a response to the Airports Commission for consideration – click here to see.

Work submitted to the Commission by the three scheme promoters has also been published. Click here to see Gatwick Airport Limited’s submission.

The Commission published its Final Report to the Government on 1st July 2015. The Commission unanimously concluded that the Heathrow Northwest Runway option in combination with the significant package of measures to address its environmental and community impacts presented the strongest case and was the preferred option. The Commission recommended that the Government should support the delivery of the Commission’s plan in its entirety.

GAL published a summary of its initial response to the Commission’s Final Report outlining what GAL believes to be the most important weaknesses in the Commission’s Report. A copy of the summary is available on the airport’s website: http://www.gatwickobviously.com/sites/default/files/downloads/lgw_initial_reponse_to_the_ac_report_14.07.15.pdf.

GATCOM also wrote to the Secretary of State for Transport setting out its comments on the Commission’s Final Report – click here to see.

The Secretary of State for Transport, Rt Hon Patrick McLoughlin MP, received the Airports Commission’s Final Report and will now consider the conclusions. In his statement to Parliament he made clear that Government now had to make progress on this issue and must:

  • study the substantial and innovative evidence base the Commission has produced
  • decide what is the best way for achieving planning consents quickly and fairly if expansion is to go ahead
  • come back to Parliament in the autumn to provide clear direction to everyone on the government’s plans

The Secretary of State made two further statements (a statement 10 December 2015 and then an oral statement in Parliament on 14 December 2015) outlining the progress of the Government’s consideration of the Airports Commission’s Final Report. The Government has accepted the case for airport expansion in the South East and the Airports Commission’s shortlist of options for expansion, all of which it believes are viable.

The Government has also identified that the most appropriate way of delivering planning consents for new capacity will be under the relevant provisions of the Planning Act 2008, which were introduced to streamline the decision-making process for nationally significant infrastructure projects. Accordingly, the Government proposes to prepare an Airports National Policy Statement, following which the scheme promoter would need to apply for a development consent order under the 2008 Act.

Following further work and analysis by the Government on four key areas  – air quality, noise, carbon emissions and managing the impacts on local communities, it announced on 25 October 2016 that a new north-west runway at Heathrow Airport was its preferred option to deliver airport expansion in the south-east – click here to see the Secretary of State’s statement. Click here to see the Government’s press announcement.

The Government has also published background information and rationale for the Government’s preferred option –click here to see.

The DfT published its consultation “Draft Airports National Policy Statement: new runway capacity and infrastructure at airports in the South East of England” in early February 2017. The consultation sets out the need for additional airport capacity in the South East and the reasons why a Northwest runway at Heathrow is the Government’s preferred scheme for delivering new airport capacity in the South East. It lays down the planning policy framework which the applicant for a new Northwest Runway at Heathrow would have to comply with in order to obtain development consent.  The deadline for responses is 25 May 2017.  Click here to see GATCOM’s response.

Gatwick architecture

Gatwick Second Runway Options

On 25 March 2014 Gatwick unveiled its campaign – ‘Gatwick Obviously’ to step up its case for expansion. Gatwick Airport Limited has advised that emerging findings from new research that will be submitted to the Airports Commission in May 2014 show that with a second runway at Gatwick there would be more connections to more destinations than with a third runway at Heathrow.
On 4 April 2014 Gatwick launched its public consultation on possible options for a second runway at the airport.

Gatwick consulted on three options:

  • Option 1 is a new runway 585m south of the existing runway
  • Option 2 would be 1,045m to the south

For both of these options, one runway would used for landings and the other for take-offs

  • Option 3 is also 1,045m to the south but the two runways would be used independently.

Based on its work to date on the options, Gatwick has established a provisional order of preference which is detailed in the consultation document, with Option 3 being the preferred first choice. The Airports Commission focused its assessment on this option for last December’s Interim Report but said it would, however, keep this under review.
GATCOM submitted its response to the consultation on 15 May 2014.
Departures board