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Heathrow third runway 'best option' for long-term growth, says Parsons Brinckerhoff study

A third runway at Heathrow is most likely the best option for long-term hub capacity growth, according to a study into south east airport capacity published this week.

Consultant Parsons Brinckerhoff’s Greater South East Airport Capacity study on behalf of the South East Local Enterprise Partnership found that a third runway would provide capacity where airlines and passengers want to fly to and from and said it would be cheaper than the alternative planned Thames Estuary airport.

However, the study warns that without a clear and ambitious aviation policy it is “unlikely” that a single additional runway would be developed in the next decade, adding that since the Air Transport White Paper in 2003 the UK had experienced the equivalent of a “lost decade”.

As a result of the ensuing constraints on London airports’ capacity, the study predicts an annual rise in passenger growth of 1.25% to 1.75% over the next decade – slightly below Department for Transport (DfT) predictions.

“The main justification for this low forecast is that with the main London airports capacity constrained we do not believe that regional airports will ‘pick up’ the spare capacity, as do the DfT forecasts,” it says.

If capacity improvements were realised at Heathrow, growth at Gatwick and other London airports could rise to between 1.75% and 2.50% a year.

Other short-term enhancements suggested for increasing capacity over the next decade include:

  • Mixed mode operations at Heathrow, allowing runways to be used for both take-off and landing
  • Reviewing “artificial” planning caps at Heathrow, Gatwick and London City
  • Incentivising airlines to move point-to-point services away from Heathrow to free up slots
  • Improved management of slot allocation at Heathrow and to a lesser extent Gatwick
  • Developing a “two airport hub” between Heathrow and Gatwick, or Heathrow and Stansted.

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