By Rob Russell
London’s Gatwick Airport has submitted its proposal for a £2.2 billion expansion project. The ambitious project would see its northern runway enter routine use. If approved, the expansion would enable the airport to expand passenger capacity to around 75 million per year. At present, Gatwick is the busiest single-runway operation in the world. Unknown to many people, there are actually two runways at Gatwick - the northern runway is used for taxiing or when the airport's main runway is out of use. It would enter routine use under the proposal - the project would see its centre line repositioned 12 meters north to enable dual usage with Gatwick's main runway. The northern runway would be used for "smaller departing aircraft only," which includes popular narrow bodies like the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737, which constitute the majority of movements there.
London's second-busiest airport formally submitted its application - known as a Development Consent Order (DCO) - to the Planning Inspectorate (PINS), after reviving its plans for a second runway in 2021. The expansion will create around 14,000 new jobs and, once complete, contribute around £1 billion to the region’s economy each year.
Stewart Wingate, CEO of Gatwick Airport, commented "The Northern Runway plan will help secure the long-term future of the airport and economic prosperity for thousands of families, businesses, and future generations across the region. If approved, our plan will also improve airport resilience, meet future passenger demand, and increase competition in the London airport market, by providing vital new international connections to support ‘Global Britain’."
The approval process for the 30,000-page application is expected to take around one year, and would then go to the UK's Transport Secretary for final approval. With a second runway, yearly flight numbers would increase from 285,000 to 386,000, amounting to around 275 additional flights per day. This would bring it to within 20% of London Heathrow Airport's (LHR) current flight movements. Gatwick is presently the busiest single-runway operation in the world.
Gatwick has faced huge opposition to its growth ambitions over the years. Along with an increase in noise emissions for local residents and wildlife, environmental campaigners claim a second runway will hamper industry-wide efforts to achieve net zero by 2050. Gatwick says its proposal "will be delivered in a sustainable way which helps to achieve the government’s overall goal of net zero emissions by 2050," whilst pointing to a YouGov poll that showed 78% of local residents who expressed an opinion are in favour of its plans. It has also made legally-binding commitments to reducing noise emissions, stating it will generate less noise within nine years of the second runway opening compared to 2019 levels.
If all goes to plan, Gatwick says work on the second runway could begin in 2025 and be operational by the end of the decade. However, the project has lost support from key political figures, including the government advisory group The Climate Change Committee, which has stated no expansion should go ahead until a UK-wide climate framework is implemented.
Meanwhile, a hop, skip and short flight across the English Channel sees huge turmoil, at Amsterdam’s Schipol airport. The Dutch Court of Appeal in Amsterdam has ruled that Amsterdam Schiphol, the main airport in The Netherlands, may still reduce its annual flights from 500,000 to 460,000. The state and the airport had appealed a previous decision by a judge, who ruled that Schiphol must go through time-consuming procedures before reducing the number of flights.
Last year, the Minister of Infrastructure and Water Management had initially decided to reduce flights to 440,000 due to noise nuisance but later reconsidered the decision, pending assessment by the European Commission.
The court ruled that an experimentation scheme to reduce aircraft noise may continue, despite objections from national and international airlines, including flagship airline KLM.
KLM reaction to appeal:
“The court has ruled on appeal that a temporary experimental scheme would not violate the Aviation Act, provided a number of conditions are met. We are disappointed about the ruling and are studying it. The court does not specify in concrete terms how an experimental regulation can be applied. As a result, it is currently unclear when, how and in what way the ruling will be implemented and what it means for the number of aircraft movements at Schiphol. KLM will continue to engage with other stakeholders, including other airlines, in seeking the best way to reduce the number of people affected by aircraft noise. To this end, we have submitted a plan for cleaner, quieter, more fuel-efficient flight operations on 15 June. We are convinced that these measures will enable us to reduce noise impact and CO2 emissions while retaining our network. We would very much like to achieve this in cooperation with government and airport authorities, Air Traffic Control the Netherlands (LVNL) and other stakeholders, within the framework of the balanced approach required by the EU in the context of the noise reduction targets the ministry has set.”
KLM has embarked on an ambitious plan to order newer generation Boeing 737 and/or Airbus 320Neo, in a determined effort to reduce both noise and engine pollution. Further plans involve the use of electrical power supply at boarding gates and banning the use of APU’s except in emergency situations.