2024 looks to continue the theme of airport expansion in London. However, if it can’t happen, should there be a new airport built in the area?
Airport expansion at Heathrow has been a challenging decade-plus ordeal that has had opposition, support, and difficulty.
Within this feature, we will take a look at Heathrow and Gatwick, and see whether based on their current situation, whether building a new airport would be better feasible.
Plans For Third Runway At London Heathrow To Be Shared This Year…
As we know, the ideal plan for London Heathrow Airport in expansion is to have a third runway with an additional terminal and facilities to help with it’s overcapacity problem at the moment.
However, over the course of this year, the airport has experienced change in the context of leadership.
John Holland-Kaye departed his post, and was replaced by CEO Thomas Woldbye, with his CFO Javier Echave halting the focus on expansion over financial recovery, as mentioned via a post by Simple Flying:
“We paused the expansion primarily because of the impact on aviation and the associated impact on our financials.”
“Looking at the recovery over the past few months, we are not far from turning a corner and getting back to 2019.”
As per The Independent, it was confirmed also that plans for the third runway plans at London Heathrow will be shared again in 2024.
However, before 2023 ended, such plans like the third runway had come into disrepute slightly, as per reporting from FT.
Woldbye is understood to be exploring options that would prioritise smaller improvements to the airport before construction of Runway #3 being considered.
He has launched a review into the processes, and is looking into a plan that would see expansion take place within the current existing airport boundary as well.
So whatever is revealed this year will no doubt lay down the foundations for how London Heathrow aims to grow in the coming years.
What About The Gatwick Expansion?
London Gatwick Airport is also in the process of wanting to expand it’s facilities, which include dual usage of the Northern Runway to help boost the number of feasible departures and arrivals.
At the moment, they only operate single runway operations, with capacity demand at an all-time high.
Rather than building another potential runway (See image above), they are opting to bring it’s Northern Runway into routine use alongside it’s main runway, which was accepted by the Planning Inspectorate back in August 2023.
Today, they revealed that members of the public have their last chance to add their comments to the proposed plan, of which that consultation is set to end on January 21.
Tim Norwood, the Chief Planning Officer at Gatwick had this to say on the consultation:
“Our engagement with the public and stakeholders to date has been invaluable in helping us shape our Northern Runway plans.”
“However, since the submission of our DCO application we have identified a number of small improvements we would like to make to our proposal.”
“We are therefore asking for views on three discrete changes to our plans and would welcome any feedback people may want to make.”
Over the years, many have argued that a London Heathrow expansion would be more beneficial than a Gatwick one due to the location of the airport.
However, from Central London, all it takes realistically is a train from Victoria station and then you are there.
The critique to that of course is that if you are a passenger at Heathrow and need to connect at Gatwick, then that’s when things can get relatively tricky.
On top of this, there were previous arguments that Gatwick didn’t really cater to international traffic like Heathrow has.
However, as we have seen over the course of 2023, many carriers have been switching over or using Gatwick, such as Singapore Airlines, Azerbaijan Airlines, China Southern & Air Mauritius, to name a few.
So, with each expansion plan, there are benefits, and there are also drawbacks. That can never be stopped.
Will Any Of These Developments Ever Come to Fruition?
The topic of airport expansion within London has been one that has gone on for many years now, with some believing that this may never come to fruition due to the amount of bureaucracy and loopholes that the operators need to get through.
These developments will no doubt come to fruition in the future, but for now, there is an existential problem within many airports in the area, like Heathrow and Gatwick.
Almost similar to problems in the likes of New York JFK, Amsterdam Schiphol, and others, slots are always in very high demand, and can be quite costly too.
Relieving this pressure via expansion should bring airfares down in the long-term, and will provide a better experience for airlines and it’s passengers.
Particularly on the Heathrow side, there has been opposition groups forming who don’t believe that such expansion will be good for the area, especially for those who may need their houses knocked down to facilitate the expansion.
The same will also apply to London Gatwick, as the usage of their other runway will no doubt cause concerns regarding noise, pollution and more.
In due time though, we will see either Gatwick or Heathrow’s expansion completed, or if the industry is lucky, both.
Should Another Airport Be Built for the London Area Instead?
During the decades long discussion of airport expansion in London, one other proposal was to build a brand new airport on the Thames Estuary, which never acquired the approval nor the consideration for such a build.
However, even after expansion of Heathrow and Gatwick is completed, will that just be facilitating a temporary solution to a very long-term problem?
Many airlines have ordered dozens, if not hundreds of aircraft, for use and operation in the next 10-15 years, which will mean the skies could become more congested.
What goes up, must come down and land in an airport. What if Heathrow & Gatwick experiences the same issue again post-expansion?
With London being a very sought after location in terms of tourism, business & more, we could envisage another period where another airport could be built closer to the city’s area.
We, of course, do have Stansted, but within that comes another question about connectivity, which is strong via the use of the Stansted Express, but the same argument to that of Gatwick may apply again in the future.
Moreover, if Stansted is utilised more, then it would only be a matter of time before the airport gets full, like their counterparts at Heathrow & Gatwick.
For the UK aviation industry, these are the sorts of questions that need to be asked continuously in the process of expansion.
What remains clear is that expansion has to happen in London for air travel. Capacity constraints have been either at the brink or have been overflowing for years, with no clear progress made.
As we approach the mid point of this decade, approaches need to actually be implemented, with construction to begin too.
All eyes will be on what the next few years holds, as well as whether either Gatwick or Heathrow get the expansion that both they want, but also what the country needs as well to facilitate the incredible demand we have seen post-pandemic, but also what it will be forecasted to look like in the many years ahead.
Rather than a focus on short-termism, the industry needs to continue on the path of transitioning that thinking back into long-termism, as without that, it all comes crumbling down.
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