Gatwick airport is reported to be planning to use an existing emergency runway to bring in more flights.

The airport applied to build a second runway, but its request was denied two years ago and the government instead chose to approve a third runway at Heathrow.

According to the Sunday Times, Gatwick will publish a master plan on Thursday, which will put forward the idea of using an emergency runway – currently used for taxiing and as an alternative when the main runway requires maintenance – to accommodate an increase in smaller short-haul aircraft.

The move could bring an extra 84,000 flights a year to the airport.

A legal agreement signed in 1979 that prevents the emergency runway from being used for routine flights expires next year, which could open the door for Gatwick to increase capacity after 2023 – three years before Heathrow is expected to complete its third runway.

However, the plan would need to be approved by the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

Campaign group Communities Against Gatwick Noise and Emissions (CAGNE) said it has major safety concerns in relation to the plan – namely the fact that the airport had been issued two safety notices this year because pilots using the runway took off from the wrong position, raising fears the aircraft might hit obstacles at the end of the runway.  

The group is also unsure whether the airport would need to conduct a full CAA consultation because the emergency runway is already used for some flights when the main one is undergoing maintenance.

A spokesperson for the group said: “With the proposed usage of the emergency runway, Sussex, Surrey and Kent are now expected to see huge increases day and night from two runways – approximately a 20 to 30 per cent increase. The decision to allow it could be a simple planning decision by the local authorities if the CAA approves it on safety grounds.

“With no investment in the roads and rail, with the Smart Road M23 put in place for natural growth in the southeast up to 2040, and the investment by the government in the Croydon upgrades for natural commuter growth, Gatwick must not be permitted to swallow up this surface access capacity and public purse investment to benefit their shareholders.”

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