Go, Gatwick!

As originally featured in this month’s Total Politics

Gatwick’s announcement regarding a second runway has widened the scope of Britain’s aviation debate. This had been trapped in a false binary argument between Boris’s pie-in-the-sky proposals for a Thames estuary airport and a third runway at Heathrow.

While Boris proposed a brand new Estuary Airport as the sole solution for aviation capacity, he missed the point that there are other options, including a second runway at Gatwick, which could provide a valuable contribution to Britain’s aviation capacity. His spokesman seemed unaware of any irony in saying that ‘there is absolutely no point in simply scattering new runways randomly around the south-east’, when Boris himself continually seems to endorse new ways of scattering floating runways or whole airports around the Thames Estuary.

Since Gatwick was sold by BAA, it has undertaken a series of enhancements which have improved customer service and attracted new airlines from a variety of emerging markets. This expansion has already provided Britain with new trade routes to Asia. These improvements show how it could be viable for Gatwick, with an extra runway, to become a second London hub airport, competing – including on price – with Heathrow.

Gatwick currently operates with close to 10 per cent of its passengers connecting to another flight, compared to nearer 30 per cent at Heathrow, and is for now better placed than any other UK airport to develop as a real competitor to Heathrow. Competing hubs could improve service and even drive down ticket prices as the airports compete for customers and contracts. Heathrow could potentially focus on serving transatlantic routes, while Gatwick developed large numbers of new routes to Asia, with both airports operating dense European route networks.

Gatwick has already done significant preliminary consultation and opposition to Gatwick expansion could be less widespread and vociferous than for either Heathrow or a new airport in the Thames Estuary. Additional flight paths for Gatwick would disturb fewer people than at Heathrow and, unlike a Thames Estuary airport, would not intrude on Amsterdam Schiphol’s flight paths or put planes at high risk of bird strike.

The existing transport infrastructure from Gatwick to central London is reasonably good and Gatwick could easily have an improved and dedicated Gatwick Express Service, as well as good rail services to Kent. Infrastructure costs would be incomparably lower than the almost unimaginable levels of spending that would be needed to support a Thames Estuary airport.

Gatwick currently serves 197 destinations and 34 million passengers a year. It would be ridiculous not to take seriously the prospect of future expansion at Gatwick when it has long safeguarded space for a second runway, and now has the demand, capability and willingness to make use of it. What possible objection can Boris have to Gatwick spending its own investors’ money to provide yet greater connectivity for London and the UK?



Filed under boris johnson, conservatives, estuary airport, Heathrow, hoo peninsula, isle of grain, Lord Foster, mark reckless, medway, No Estuary Airport, rochester and strood, Thames Hub

7 responses to “Go, Gatwick!

  1. Niall Collins

    As someone who comes through Gatwick every three/four weeks, just wanted to let you guys know what a great job you’re all doing. It’s easily the best airport to visit. Security is so efficient and the path through the shopping area really works. To illustrate, I flew from Dublin on Friday and arrived early with the intention of buying some aftershave. It took so long to get through security, that I ended up running for the plane. I bought the said aftershave in Gatwick this morning. One of my executive MBA classmates is a market intelligence analyst for the Dublin Airport Authority and I was hoping to suggest this evening that DAA should be imitating Gatwick. Would it be possible to forward stats on the passenger through rate, required security staff per passenger, average amount spent in the airport etc so I could make my case.

    Much appreciated if you can help! If not, keep up the good work.


    Niall Collins

  2. tony brooks

    What he fails completely to appreciate is that the passengers don’t want to fly to Gatwick – over twice the distance from London as Heathrow – which is why Gatwick is running at well below full capacity. Forcing passengers to fly to the wrong airport is a sign of not having thought the issue through. This is the trouble with many MPs.

    • K.R. Iyengar

      Complete rubbish! Gatwick may be further from the geographical centre of London than Heathrow, but who actually lives there. Relatively few passengers actually live on Heathrow’s door step (within 30 minutes drive, 45-minute train journey or 1-hour bus ride). Also, London’s economic centre has shifted east over the past 20 years, which is why many business travellers now prefer City to Heathrow. In addition, Heathrow’s surface access is poor for an airport of its size; the only fast rail link from there takes you to Paddington which isn’t a convenient rail terminal for many passengers heading into London. Though Gatwick’s rail link aren’t as good as those at the main European and some of the leading Asian airports, they’re arguably better than Heathrow’s, with more scope for improvements because much of the infrastructure is already in place. Last but not least, airlines and passengers alike will get take to an airport once all facilities are in place (i.e. a second runway, 3rd terminal, improved surface transport etc.) as the example of Newark has clearly shown. That airport now rivals JFK as a major hub even though as recently as 20 years ago it was one of the most unpopular airports on the US east coast.

      • Karl Hurst

        There is this age old mindset in this ‘innovative’ country that only Heathrow can be the solution to our capacity issues. Serving the region well is what Gatwick currently does. It’s also only around 30 minutes from London Victoria, right in the very heart of London, via standard commuter trains (granted, could do with some improvement) that don’t cost an absolute fortune to use. If you buy an advance fare, you can get from Gatwick to Victoria for around £4. Gatwick previously had a reputation as a bucket and spade pit of an airport because that’s what it’s previous owner, BAA spent over 40 years marketing it as. As you say, geographical position means nothing when the surface transport is the most critical thing, and it’s that critical thing that Gatwick has. Let’s get with the times, UK, for a change.

  3. jaybee

    Mark, what is your opinion on LONDON THAMES GLOBAL AIRPORT, Thurrock, Essex…..do you recognise this proposal as a viable alternative to other airport proposals currently being considered by Central Gov and indeed yourself……HEATHROW 3rd Runway, STANSTED EXPANSION (post 2019), GATWICK EXPANSION (post 2019), BORIS ISLAND, THAMES HUB, HEATHWICK, JOHN OLSEN CLIFFE AIRPORT, LUTON EXPANSION, HS2 + BIRMINGHAM EXPANSION, etc, etc.??……LTGlobal….shovel ready…delivered in under 10 years, etc, etc, etc……..comment please….

  4. Richard Lane

    Gatwick is the busiest single runway airport in the world .So an extra runway would be good but by the time its built the way things are im sure it would be near full capacity by the time its open.The Estuary Airport in not Pie in the sky as Mr Reckless keeps saying .If its built it would be answer to all the South East Aviation problems and i realy wish he would stop going on about the cost because its nothing compared to what we would lose when all the business starts to move away because this country has such rubbish airlinks .I live in Medway and have all my life I was born here but I welcome the new airport and the funny thing is I have not met anyone against it unless they are old Dinosaurs who dont like change

  5. Kenton Ward

    The infrastructure between Gatwick and London is already stretched with current levels usage (ref regular traffic jams and rail problems) the upheaval of trying to upgrade this infrastructure (in economic and social terms) for the normal people of sussex (stretching down to Brighton) is being totally ignored. The only people that would benefit for an additional runway at Gatwick are the private equity firm that own it (Global Equity Partners), not the residents, voters, passengers (who find that they have landed nowhere near London) or the environment.

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