Under a 1979 legal agreement with West Sussex County Council, the airport is not allowed to build a second runway before 2019. However, since the change of ownership in 2009, Gatwick has continued to safeguard the land that would be required for a new runway in the future and thinks this could be the answer to meeting air travel demand in the southeast.
The airport is now preparing a report on its options, to be submitted to the Independent Commission on Aviation Connectivity, chaired by Sir Howard Davies, so that ‘the Gatwick option’ remains part of the equation.
The work programme will look in detail at the implications of a new runway, including environmental, surface access and economic impacts. Relevant environmental issues will include noise and air quality impacts on local communities.
Stewart Wingate, chief executive of Gatwick Airport Ltd, said: “Over the last three years we have transformed the airport, invested around £650m and have a strong track record for delivering key routes to growth markets. However, we must now look to the future when Gatwick will become full and outline its long-term role in ensuring London has an efficient and resilient airport system that creates the crucial connectivity London and the UK needs.
“I believe a new runway at Gatwick could be affordable, practical and give passengers a greater choice of routes to key markets. A new runway will allow Gatwick to compete and grow, increasing the choice available to passengers today. We have the space, capability and access to financial resources.
“There are clear practical advantages of a new runway at Gatwick. When compared with a third runway at Heathrow, we would have a significantly lower environmental impact whilst adding significantly more capacity. Stansted is half empty today, we already have much better surface transport links and feel our business case will be much stronger. As for the Estuary airport concepts, there are major questions on affordability, environmental issues and whether they are deliverable.
“The process of evaluating the runway options will be complex. I am committed to undertaking a comprehensive and in-depth assessment that considers not only the economic benefits but also the environmental impacts. We will be consulting with our key stakeholders throughout the process.”
Baroness Jo Valentine, chief executive of business lobby group London First, reacted to Gatwick’s decision by saying: “Anything that could increase runway capacity at London’s airports is good news for passengers and for the UK economy.
“If the UK is going to remain a competitive economy, we need more flights to growing and emerging markets. This announcement from London Gatwick broadens the debate on how we can achieve that and offers the potential for further competition and greater choice for passengers.
“If the government needs any signal that the private sector is willing and able to invest in building the infrastructure Britain needs - this is it. It is ready to invest, create jobs now and support economic growth in the medium and long term.”