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.

During 2017 the government consulted on its proposed approach for developing a new aviation strategy for the UK  – click here to see GATCOM’s response to that consultation.  The government published its ‘Next Steps’ document in April 2018.

The government published its consultation document ‘Aviation 2050: the future of UK aviation’ on the specific policy proposals for inclusion in the final aviation strategy. The consultation period has now closed. GATCOM responded to the consultation – click here to see response.

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.

Work submitted to the Commission by the three scheme promoters was 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.

The Government 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.

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 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 published an Airports National Policy Statement in 2018.

Gatwick architecture

Gatwick Airport Limited’s Vision for Growth

Airport Master Plan 2019

Gatwick Airport Limited issued for consultation its draft Airport Master Plan 2018 on 18 October at the GATCOM meeting.  The draft Master Plan set out Gatwick Airport Limited’s ambitious vision for the future and looks at how the airport could grow across three scenarios, looking ahead to the early 2030s:

  1. Main runway – using new technology to increase capacity – In the near term, the airport has considered how deploying new technology could increase the capacity of the main runway, offering incremental growth through more efficient operations.
  2. Standby runway – bringing existing emergency/maintenance “standby” runway into routine use – Under its current planning agreement, Gatwick’s existing standby runway is only used when the main runway is closed for maintenance or emergencies. However, the 40-year planning agreement will come to an end in 2019. The draft master plan sets out for the first time how Gatwick could potentially bring its existing standby runway into routine use for departing flights, alongside its main runway, by the mid-2020s.
  3. Additional runway – safeguarding for the future – While Gatwick is not currently actively pursuing the option of building a brand new runway to the south of the airport – as it did through the Airports Commission process (see below for more detail) – Gatwick believes it is in the national interest to continue to safeguard this land for the future as part of its draft master plan.

 The deadline for responses to the draft Master plan was 10 January 2019.  Click here to see GATCOM’s response to that consultation.

Gatwick Airport Limited published its final Master Plan at the GATCOM meeting on 18 July 2019 – click here to see.

In line with Government policy, Gatwick will continue to make best use of its main runway using new technology to build capacity and resilience – Master Plan growth scenario 1.   Gatwick is also preparing plans to bring the existing standby runway (the Northern Runway) into routine use for some aircraft departures only alongside the use of the main runway – Master Plan growth scenario 2.  The airport’s management has emphasised that Gatwick Airport Limited is no longer actively pursuing plans for an additional runway – Master Plan growth scenario 3.

The Northern Runway project will need to go through the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP) planning process, defined by the Planning Act 2008. This means that Gatwick will need to apply for a Development Consent Order (DCO) to get planning permission. NSIP applications are examined by the Planning Inspectorate and finally decided by the Secretary of State.

Gatwick’s Northern Runway Plans

On 9 September 2021 Gatwick Airport Limited  launched a 12 weeks public consultation on its plans to bring into routine use its standby runway – the Northern Runway project – for some aircraft departures.  This consultation ran from 9 September 2021 to 1st December 2021.  For full details of the consultation material, how people can find out more information and how to respond to the consultation please visit Gatwick Airport Limited’s website at

Click here to  see Gatwick’s press release announcing the consultation.

Click here to see Gatwick’s press release at the close of the consultation and next steps

Click here to see GATCOM’s response to the initial consultation and click here for GATCOMS response to a further consultation on updated highway matters.

Gatwick Airport Limited submitted an application for a Development Consent Order (DCO), to bring its existing Northern Runway into routine use,  on 6 July 2023 – see press release here

To keep up to date with the Development Consent and Planning Process for the Northern Runway Project see the Planning Inspectorates Project Page here

Click here to see GATCOM’s relevant representation submission to the Planning Inspectorate

Departures board