The airport unveiled its draft master plan on Thursday (18 October), confirming that it would begin a 12-week consultation into whether it should spend £100m to widen its emergency runway to help increase its annual capacity by 100,000 flights by 2032.

If the proposals are carried out, the runway will be extended by 12 metres and used to allow an additional 10-15 short-haul flights to take off every hour.

The plans state that a terminal expansion, construction of an additional aircraft pier of landing gates and work on roads around the airport could also be carried out to accommodate the extra passengers.

Friends of the Earth campaigner Oliver Hayes criticised the plans as “expansion by the back door”, arguing that they would have “huge” detrimental impacts on biodiversity and air quality.

“The challenge of preventing dangerous climate chaos means that further expansion of any airport, anywhere, can’t be up for consideration,” Hayes said.

“We can’t be serious about stopping catastrophic climate change on the one hand and send aviation emissions soaring on the other. The environmental case for expanding airport capacity is non-existent and increasing airport capacity, which obviously means more flights, is totally at odds with the policy direction needed to meet the unfolding climate crisis.”

The Gatwick Area Conservation Campaign (GACC) estimates that the runway expansion could see an additional 80,000 flights departing from Gatwick every year.

Gatwick is currently required to remain a single-runway facility as part of an agreement it signed with local councils 39 years ago – but this agreement is set to finish in 2019. This would allow the company to apply for planning permission to widen the emergency runway in 2020 and to complete these works by 2025, the master plan states.

‘Most sustainable’ option?

Commenting on the plans, Gatwick’s chief executive Stuart Wingate insisted that the expansion of the airport’s capacity would be achieved in “the most sustainable way” possible.

“From using new technologies on our main runway, to the innovative proposal to bring our existing standby runway into routine use, our draft master plan offers agile, productive and low-impact ways of unlocking much-needed new capacity and increased resilience from within our existing infrastructure,” Wingate said.

Gatwick claims that the expansion will prove to be an example of “sustainable growth” and said in a statement that it reflects the Government’s recent call for airports to make best use of their existing runways.

Gatwick has previously claimed it is the “only” airport that can deliver the economic benefits of expansion without “dramatic and unacceptable” impacts on air quality. Heathrow, meanwhile, has argued that “real, independent evidence” from both the Transport Committee and the Airports Commission – which claims the installation of technology will mitigate any environmental impacts – continue to highlight how an expansion at its own airport would create an “economic powerhouse”.

Sarah George

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