If Gatwick Airport builds a second runway, 95M passengers will use the airport each year by 2050, up from 34M today.
It’s my job to look at how we can get these people to and from the airport and, as this publication has reported, our public transport plans will see rail capacity doubled by 2020 and a train leaving to mutiple central London destinations every 2.5 minutes.
This represents a rapid transformation of the airport’s public transport network, and the improvements will happen whether Gatwick builds a new runway or not. The transformational Thameslink programme, £1.5bn of new trains and the new “mega” franchise recently awarded to Govia, will help connect 175 stations directly to Gatwick and 1,000 with a single change of train.
At a national level, the decision on where to locate a new runway is one of the most important strategic choices a country can make. The Airports Commission has shortlisted three locations, one at Gatwick and two at Heathrow, and will make its recommendation after the election.
A key distinction between the arguments for building a second runway at Gatwick, compared to a third at Heathrow, is our focus on making London’s airport system work as a whole. At its core, the system would have two major airports with two runways each, delivering vigorous competition, consumer choice and cheaper airfares for everyone.
Expanding Gatwick rather than Heathrow will ensure we don’t put all our eggs in one basket. Focusing too much capacity in one airport would stifle competition and leave us without the resilience to respond to unexpected events.
London is a world city, and other global cities rely on airport systems. New York and Paris have three, and Shanghai and Tokyo two. A single hub airport - where most people transfer onto flights elsewhere - may be needed for smaller cities like Frankfurt or Amsterdam, but London is not a city people pass through, it is a destination where people want to end up.
The UK will still need some “hubbing capacity”, however it is important not to overstate the case, as only 13% of people using London’s airports transfer to other flights. Aviation is also changing, and there are currently five times more “hub-busting” aircraft on order than Airbus A380 Super Jumbos, because they fly the longest routes in one go, without stopping off at a hub.
A second runway at Gatwick would create a balanced pattern of economic growth and a transport system that spreads passenger loads across our nation’s network - capitalising on the integrated connectivity we already have. This follows the way the world is going, with “smart cities” creating and connecting resilient, integrated systems that adapt, improve and grow.
Gatwick can deliver additional capacity quickly and more cheaply than the other options. The land is set aside, there is local support, and the construction is relatively simple and low risk. The project could be completed by 2025 without any funding from the taxpayer.
For those reasons, Gatwick is the obvious choice.
- Hugh Sumner is senior transport advisor to Gatwick Airport