Plans for a new runway at either Gatwick or Heathrow and an extended runway at the latter have made the shortlist of those proposals being taken forward by the government commission charged with reviewing airport strategy over the coming decades.
However, suggestions of a Thames Estuary airport – including the most famous dubbed Boris Island – have been dropped at this stage.
The Airports Commission, led by Sir Howard Davies, concluded there is a need for one additional runway to be operational in the South East by 2030.
Further study will now be made of the following three options:
- Gatwick Airport’s proposal for a new runway to the south of the existing runway
- Heathrow Airport Ltd’s proposal for one new 3.5km runway to the north west
- Heathrow Hub’s proposal to extend the existing northern runway to at least 6.5km, enabling the extended runway to operate as two independent runways.
Following a detailed appraisal of the three shortlisted options a public consultation will be launched next autumn.
The commission ruled against including proposals for a Thames Estuary airport at this stage because of the associated challenges and uncertainties.
“While the potential they offered to reduce aviation noise impacts in the South East of England and to support economic development on the eastern side of London was attractive, they presented many challenges and uncertainties,” said the report.
“They would be extremely expensive, with the cost of an Isle of Grain airport (the most viable of those presented) around five times that of the three shortlisted options at up to £112bn.
“They would present major environmental issues, especially around impacts on protected sites.
“The new surface access infrastructure required would be very substantial, with potential cost, deliverability and environmental challenges of its own.
“And the overall balance of economic impacts would be uncertain - particularly as an Estuary airport would require the closure of Heathrow for commercial reasons and London City for airspace reasons.”
However, it said the most viable Isle of Grain proposal would be given additional analysis in the first half of next year and could be potentially added to the shortlisted options but not necessarily consulted on in the same time frame.
Proposals at Stansted airport had also not made the shortlist.
“Its volumes have fallen in recent years, and there is considerable spare capacity, unlike at Gatwick,” says the report.
“In addition, a large hub airport would be close to the cost of the Estuary, highly disruptive to airspace and would not present the same regeneration opportunities. Stansted may however be a plausible option for any second additional runway in the 2040s.”
The commission said there was also likely to be a demand case for a second additional runway to be operational in the South East by 2050.
“Decisions on airport capacity are important national strategic choices and must be based upon the best evidence available,” said Davies.
“The Commission has undertaken a fresh, comprehensive and transparent study of the issues.
“This report is the product of extensive consultation, independent analysis and careful consideration by the commissioners.
“The UK enjoys excellent connectivity today. The capacity challenge is not yet critical but it will become so if no action is taken soon and our analysis clearly supports the provision of one net additional runway by 2030.
“In the meantime we encourage the government to act on our recommendations to make the best of our existing capacity.”
Davies said the commission would now focus on the challenge of appraising the three options, further assessing the case for a new airport in the Thames Estuary, and delivering
a robust final recommendation to the government in 2015.
Immediate action recommended
The report also contains recommendations to the government for immediate action to improve the use of existing runway capacity.
They include the establishment of an Independent Noise Authority to provide expert and impartial advice about the noise impacts of aviation and to facilitate the delivery of future improvements to airspace operations.
Also recommended is a package of surface transport improvements to make airports with spare capacity more attractive to airlines and passengers, including the enhancement of Gatwick airport station and development of a strategy for enhancing Gatwick’s road and rail access.
It also calls for work on developing proposals to improve the rail link between London and Stanstedand work to provide rail access into Heathrow from the south.
Trials at Heathrow of measures to smooth the early morning arrival schedule to minimise stacking and delays and to provide more predictable respite for local people are also called for.
The full details are set out in the commission’s interim report found here.