London Gatwick announces controversial plan to bring its emergency runway into full-time use

Key Points
  • London Gatwick recently lost a campaign to expand its airport to include a second runway.
  • Now it says a second runway is possible within the existing footprint.
  • Campaigners claim the move is designed to boost the airport's value, ahead of a sale.
Gatwick Airport

London's Gatwick Airport has unveiled a growth strategy which includes a controversial plan to use an existing taxiway as a permanent second runway.

Gatwick was recently overlooked for expansion by a U.K. government decision to back a third runway at rival airport, Heathrow. Campaigners have now accused Gatwick's New York-based owners of expansion "by the backdoor."

At present, the second runway at Gatwick is currently only allowed to be used for emergencies or when the main runway is closed for maintenance. However, that 40-year restriction is set to expire at the end of 2019.

Gatwick said Thursday that it believed it could bring the standby runway into routine use for departing flights by the mid 2020's, potentially years before additional capacity is online at Heathrow.

The Chief Executive Officer at London Gatwick, Stewart Wingate, said in a statement Thursday that with the U.K. set to leave the European Union, global connections are "needed more than ever," before adding that bringing the standby runway into routine use would unlock "much-needed new capacity."

At present, the main runway and standby runway are just 198 metres apart, 12 metres too close to satisfy official guidelines set down by The International Civil Aviation Organization. However, Gatwick believe they can lay additional asphalt, repaint markings, and move landing lights to satisfy the legal requirements.

The airport also claimed that their plan would meet safety rules, reduce delays, and would have no impact on noise footprint. But some local residents disagree and are furious at the announcement.

"This is totally underhand, a stab in the heart for residents that thought they could get on with their lives after the runway debate was won by Heathrow Airport," said Sally Pavey chair of CAGNE (Communities Against Gatwick Noise Emission).

Gatwick Airport

CAGNE has claimed that using the emergency runway in conjunction with the main runway could mean a 30 percent increase in flights, causing more pollution and noise impact while putting strain on existing rail and road infrastructure.

It has been reported recently that the New York-based investor, Global Infrastructure Partners, is readying a sale of its 42 percent stake in Gatwick. Pavey claimed that runway plan is cynically designed to allow a short-term boost to the airport's value.

"This announcement today is shameful, a second runway by the backdoor, this announcement just blights lives further purely to satisfy the greed of Gatwick's owners, GIP, so that they can sell their shares next year for a escalated price," she added.

The airport operators have said the next step toward a second runway is a 12-week public consultation followed by a detailed plan that would be submitted to planning authorities.