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Analysis | Gatwick to ramp up capacity 

Gatwick north terminal

Gatwick Airport is making the best of the government’s decision to choose Heathrow as the site for the South East’s new runway. It is still ready to step in at a moment’s notice if called upon by government to build a second runway. 

Heathrow was chosen over Gatwick in late 2016 as the site for a new runway in the South East, but the UK government’s announcement has its critics.

“As stated in our proposal, our scheme is shelf ready, we would engage in the consultation process and so forth. We’re ready to go tomorrow,” said Gatwick’s director of construction Ray Melee. He was speaking at New Civil Engineer’s Airports 2017 conference this week.

He added: “Is the government’s decision right now really deliverable? But more importantly does it deliver the capacity the aviation market in the UK needs?” said Melee.

“We stand ready should the government need us to step in to deliver more capacity to the South East.”

Gatwick is nevertheless pushing forward with a £1.2bn capital investment programme over five years, seeking continued growth within existing infrastructure. Of this, £240M is to be spent in 2017.

“In terms of a middle and long term level strategy, we’re trying for what we can be, and then also safeguarding for a second runway later on,” said Melee.

The airport is seeing growth on international routes, adding 20 long haul options last year, and currently handles 44M passengers a year on its single runway.

Melee said with no extra land available to Gatwick, added capacity will be sought first through better processes, then technology, then as last resort, building new infrastructure.

Like other airports such as Stansted, Gatwick has reduced its retail space to increase its check in booths, and now boasts the “world’s largest self-service bag drop”.

“One of the mantras is we want to put the customer in as much control as possible,” Melee said.

Three major infrastructure specialists — Arup, Atkins and Jacobs — have been selected to work with on capacity analysis and simulation modeling to evaluate the processing capacity of the airports existing infrastructure. The three companies will also assess facilities needed for any future growth, as well as functional layout planning.

Facing questions on the general election and Brexit, Melee, formerly involved in the US aviation industry, said the UK had its own unique opportunities and challenges.

“I say this sincerely, as someone from the US who’s been in aviation for 30 years, the UK has always been a pioneer, on privatisation and international development. While some of the processes with government seem cumbersome the British aviation industry is really pioneering and I’m happy to be part of it,” said Melee.

“There’s a lot of exciting opportunities, Brexit is here and the UK more than ever needs to invest in infrastructure to maintain its global position.

On plans for digitisation, Melee says his airport had an ambitious “digital revolution” in its infancy, but was being careful not to take it too far.

“To the point on future proofing you have to be careful because you can over design for flexibility because technology moves so fast now and can pass you by as you are designing for it.

“Who would have thought of the power of smartphones, with their effect on boarding, and everything else? So trying to stay ahead can in effect be limiting at times.”

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