Battle lines are being drawn between Heathrow and Gatwick over which airport will be endorsed by the Airports Commission for a new runway.
The commission today (December 17) announced its shortlist of options to increase airport capacity which include a new runway at either Heathrow or Gatwick, as well as extending one of the existing runways at Heathrow.
The chief executives of both airports were quick to emphasise their own cases within minutes of the publication of the commission’s interim report recommending one new runway in the south-east by 2030.
Heathrow boss Colin Matthews said the proposed new full-length runway to the north-west of the current airport was better than the previous plan for a shorter third runway, which was backed by the last Labour government.
“A third runway is the quickest, cheapest and surest way of connecting the UK to growth,” he added.
“We have thought afresh about how a third runway can be delivered. Our new option is different from the previous proposal for a third runway and will deliver the flights Britain needs while continuing to reduce the total number of people affected by aircraft noise.”
Heathrow said a third runway could be built within six years of approval and be operational by 2026 at a cost of £17 billion.
Matthews added: “We do not oppose other airports being permitted to grow or add new runways. Heathrow is the UK’s only hub airport and competes with Frankfurt, Paris and Amsterdam for transfer passengers to support long haul routes.
“Point-to-point airports like Gatwick serve a different market. Heathrow does not agree with Gatwick’s stance that there can only be one new runway in the south-east.”
But Gatwick’s chief executive Stewart Wingate argued that a second runway at the Sussex airport would offer “lower fares and greater choice that passengers want”.
“It is the only option which can the deliver the right type of capacity for the UK as it is the only airport serving all airlines models including both low-cost and legacy airlines as well as both transfer passengers and people flying direct,” said Wingate.
“The real debate starts now, not least on the environmental impacts and business case of each option.”
Meanwhile London mayor Boris Johnson said his proposal for a new hub airport in the Thames estuary was “not dead yet” despite failing to make the commission’s shortlist.
Johnson told BBC Radio 4 that expanding Heathrow was “completely crackers” and that the airport would be calling for a fourth runway as soon as the third one was completed.
Although the Thames estuary proposal did not make the commission’s shortlist, it will still be examined to see if it is a “credible” alternative to expansion at Heathrow and Gatwick.
The commission will submit a final report with its recommendation for the new runway in summer 2015 after the next general election.