While it was to be expected that Sally Pavey, Brendon Sewill and Derek Meakings of anti-Gatwick Airport Expansion groups CAGNE, GACC and One’s Enough and their co-campaigners would celebrate “the ‘unambiguous and unequivocal’ recommendation and decision from Government” of preferring to build an additional, third runway at Heathrow instead of another, second runway at Gatwick (Emotions take flight as runway opponents ponder expansion decision, Crawley Observer, 26 October 2016), it is becoming clearer by the day that this was based on controversial modelling techniques that systematically overstated the likely economic benefits over 60 years from when an additional runway became operational at Heathrow while doing the opposite if this happened at Gatwick.
This revelation in the national media, together with related comments of Sir Howard Davies and other members of the Airports Commission in defence of their recommendation in favour of Heathrow, seem to point towards an institutional bias against Gatwick. It also highlights the pointlessness of a purely political exercise to appoint a commission at the huge expense of £20 million to the UK tax payer to tell us what we already knew, namely that both our main South East airports are at bursting at the seams and urgently need new runway capacity to satisfy future demand, and then come up with a recommendation that not only gives an unfair advantage to one airport over the other, but is also likely to fall short of demand for additional runway capacity by the time it is implemented. All this will achieve is to restore the old Heathrow monopoly, where the owners of that airport would have no long-term incentive to not fleece their customers for want of real competition in their catchment.
For Gatwick to be able to compete on a level playing field with an expanded Heathrow and to continue catering to the requirements of a wide variety of airlines that serve the needs of both business and leisure travellers, as well as to maintain its role as the main economic driver of the Gatwick Diamond business region, it is essential that it retains the ability to build a second runway, independent of what is going to happen at Heathrow. But Gatwick needs to be much more pro-active and to engage much more closely with both local businesses that support the second runway and those who live and work in its local communities. A good start would be to enter into a legally binding agreement with Crawley Borough Council and West Sussex County Council that would commit the airport to eliminate night flights completely once the new runway opened. This should also include no longer using the taxiway that runs parallel to its existing runway as an emergency runway when the new runway becomes operational. New runway capacity should be used to eliminate the delays as a consequence of maximum utilisation of the exisiting runway first before releasing any additional capacity, within verifiable, strict environmental limits. Requiring Gatwick to legally commit itself to there being no further runways and capping runway slots at 85% of the two runways’ total capacity should also be part of the agreement to prevent a recurrence of today’s situation at Heathrow and Gatwick at peak times, where runway utilisation at or close to total capacity increases pollution by keeping aircraft in holding stacks over populated areas in the Southeast. Also, Gatwick should be legally required to pay for improving surface accessibility to an expanded airport where resulting benefits mainly accrue to airport users or workers. Government could help to alleviate the current pressure on the London-Brighton rail line by building another line linking these two points that bypasses the main bottleneck between Three Bridges and East Croydon. This would provide an alternative route for the many commuters between Brighton and London, which in turn would help to free up space for additional airport-related passengers.
Depriving Gatwick of the option to build a second runway could cause it to revert to being a “bucket and spade” airport with pronounced seasonal peaks and troughs in activity that would make it difficult to hold on to its current role as a successful regional employer and economic driver.
Krishnan R Iyengar
Maiden Lane, Crawley
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